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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Hebrew: קיצור תולדות האנושות‎‎) is a book by Professor Yuval Noah Harari first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011,[1] and in English in 2014.[2][3] Harari cites Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) as one of the greatest inspirations for the book by showing that it was possible to "ask very big questions and answer them scientifically".[4]

Sapiens
A Brief History of Humankind
Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind.jpg
Book cover of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Author Yuval Harari
Original title קיצור תולדות האנושות
Country Israel
Language Hebrew
Subject History, Human evolution
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Harper
Publication date
2014
Pages 443
ISBN 978-0062316097

Contents

SummaryEdit

Harari's work situates its account of human history within a framework provided by the natural sciences, particularly evolutionary biology: he sees biology as setting the limits of possibility for human activity, and sees culture as shaping what happens within those bounds. The academic discipline of History is the account of cultural change.

Harari surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century, focusing on our own species of human, Homo sapiens. He divides the history of Sapiens into four major parts:[5]

  1. The Cognitive Revolution (c. 70,000 BCE, when Sapiens evolved imagination).
  2. The Agricultural Revolution (c. 12,000 BCE, the development of farming).
  3. The unification of humankind (the gradual consolidation of human political organisations towards one global empire).
  4. The Scientific Revolution (c. 1500 CE, the emergence of objective science).

Harari's main argument is that Sapiens came to dominate the world because it is the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. He argues that prehistoric Sapiens were a key cause of the extinction of other human species such as the Neanderthals, along with numerous other megafauna. He further argues that the ability of Sapiens to cooperate in large numbers arises from its unique capacity to believe in things existing purely in the imagination, such as gods, nations, money and human rights. Harari claims that all large-scale human cooperation systems – including religions, political structures, trade networks and legal institutions – owe their emergence to Sapiens's distinctive cognitive capacity for fiction.[6] Accordingly, Harari reads money as a system of mutual trust and sees political and economic systems as more or less identical with religions.

Harari's key claim regarding the Agricultural Revolution is that while it promoted population growth for Sapiens and co-evolving species like wheat and cows, it made most individuals' (and animals') lives worse than they had been when Sapiens were mostly hunter-gatherers, since their diet and daily lives became significantly less varied. Humans' violent treatment of other animals is indeed a theme that runs throughout the book.

In discussing the unification of humankind, Harari argues that over its history, the trend for Sapiens has increasingly been towards political and economic interdependence. For centuries, the majority of humans have lived in empires, and capitalist globalization is effectively producing one, global empire. Harari argues that money, empires and universal religions are the principal drivers of this process.

Harari sees the Scientific Revolution as founded in an innovation in European thought, whereby elites became willing to admit to and hence to try and remedy their ignorance. He sees this as one driver of early modern European imperialism and of the current convergence of human cultures. Harari also emphasises the lack of research into the history of happiness, positing that people today are not significantly happier than in past eras.[7] He concludes by considering how modern technology may soon end the species as we know it, as it ushers in genetic engineering, immortality and non-organic life. Humans have, in Harari's chosen metaphor, become gods: they can create species.

ReceptionEdit

PositiveEdit

Translated into 45 languages (as of June 2017),[8] the book won the National Library of China's Wenjin Book Award for 2015.[9]

NegativeEdit

Reviewing the book in The Washington Post, evolutionary anthropologist Avi Tuschman pointed out several problems with the book, but nonetheless wrote that "Harari’s book is important reading for serious-minded, self-reflective sapiens."[10]

Reviewing the book in The Guardian, philosopher Galen Strawson concluded that among several other problems, "Much of Sapiens is extremely interesting, and it is often well expressed. As one reads on, however, the attractive features of the book are overwhelmed by carelessness, exaggeration and sensationalism."[11]

Science journalist Charles C. Mann concluded in The Wall Street Journal that, "There’s a whiff of dorm-room bull sessions about the author’s stimulating but often unsourced assertions."[12]

John Sexton, then a graduate student in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, writes several critiques on the whole work of Sapiens.[13]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Harari, Yuval Noah; Vintage (2014). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. ISBN 9780099590088.
  2. ^ Strawson, Galen (11 September 2014). "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Payne, Tom (26 September 2014). "Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, review: 'urgent questions'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Kennedy, Paul (2015-01-12). "Sapiens". Ideas: with Paul Kennedy. CBC Radio 1. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ short overview
  7. ^ Were we happier in the stone age?, The Guardian, 2014 sep 05
  8. ^ Barnea, Nahum (2017-06-16). "Lifnei she-Sorfim et ha-Machashefoth (Before they burn the witches)" (Ha-Musaf la-Shabat weekend supplement). Yedioth Ahronoth. 
  9. ^ China Book Award, CCTV News, April 23, 2015
  10. ^ Tuschman, Avi (16 June 2016). "How humans became human". the Washington Post. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  11. ^ Strawson, Galen (11 September 2014). "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – review". the Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  12. ^ Mann, Charles C. (6 February 2015). "How Humankind Conquered the World". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 15 June 2016. 
  13. ^ John Sexton, http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/a-reductionist-history-of-humankind on "A Reductionist History of Humankind"], The New Atlantis, Number 47, Fall 2015, pp. 109–120.