Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Written by Yuval Noah Harari
Review by Doug Kemp

Occasionally there are books published which simply demand the reader to take a new look on life. This is one – the reader may disagree with elements of Harari’s arguments – but it is nonetheless wholly engaging and stimulating. The author takes a long perspective, from the start of life on earth, through to the various homo genera and to the subsequent dominance of us – the homo sapiens species. Harari provides some intriguing arguments about how we were all duped by the Agricultural Revolution which turned us into farmers when we had evolved essentially to be hunter-foragers. Likewise, he analyses the Cognitive Revolution which allowed mankind to develop a consciousness about life and to believe in ephemeral and non-existing phenomena such as religion, culture and the nation state, but which are the essence underlying mankind’s progress. The role of empires and capitalism are thoroughly discussed, and Harari gives some interesting ideas on why it was that a then-comparatively backward Europe came to dominate the globe with its principles and core beliefs. He concludes with some challenging ideas about where we are heading as a species, given the outstanding changes that modern life is now subject to. (First published in Hebrew in 2011.)