Every once in a while I read a book that really impresses me. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari (HarperCollins books, more info on recommended books at left), is one of these. Maybe it is because I am working on a book concerning the influence of our evolution on problem solving. Sapiens is a book about us, including a bit about the evolution of our brains. Maybe it’s because I learned a lot and tend to agree with what he says.
It also impresses me because Harari writes better than I do, is better at referencing sources than I am, and perhaps is smarter and knows more than I do about the history of the human race. But I will only admit this to those of you who read my posts, because I trust you not to tell anyone. And it doesn’t make me feel too bad, because he is a historian (writing and referencing), and probably doesn’t know as much techy stuff as I do. But his photo doesn’t make him look very old…………..
I have read many books about the origins and evolution of homo sapiens, but none that are as fun to read and that cover as broad a span of material. There is a quote on the front of his book from Jared Diamond, who is definitely no slouch in the knowledge and writing departments, and it pretty well summarizes the book. It is “Sapiens tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in unforgettably vivid language”.
The book is divided into four sections, The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind, and The Scientific Revolution. It’s emphasis is more on relatively recent times rather than primitive (more history available after we developed writing). It gives a few insights into where the author thinks it is all going, and although he leaves open the option that we have that ability to destroy ourselves, and may do so, it is generally positive, although he does point out a few mistakes he thinks we may have made. One example I found interesting, was his questioning of the agricultural revolution. He suggests, for example, after talking about life before and after the Neolithic Revolution, that wheat domesticated us instead of the opposite, turning us into slaves to increase it’s population and health at the expense of our free time and relatively crime and worry free lives.
Another interesting section is his ambivalence about money (economics). He is definitely convinced that money was one of the main reasons that we went through a major change in our material world. When we bartered for our help and goods, we were restricted on what we could get by what we had to offer. When money, which could buy almost anything, came into the picture, we not only had more access to what we wanted, but we could now grow in our ability to do this buying through loans and other financial means.
But as he does a good job of pointing out, modern economic systems are entirely based on faith, require growth, and lead to leveraging. He believes that in the long term the world will become one (if nothing else, business pushes this), and our varying faith in money and financial institutions as to the value of money could cause much more serious and wide-spread panics and crashes.
But enough. If you haven’t already, read the book. You’ll enjoy it, learn some things, and be able to argue with your friends about it.