Book Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

It’s been at least twenty years since I’ve been so moved by a single book.  Since reading “Sapiens: A brief history of humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari a few weeks ago, I’ve recommended it to many friends.  I bought a copy and gave it to one friend, as I value his opinion so much and want to discuss the book with him.  I found and bought an illustrated version of the book for my grandkids and have also gotten a copy for one of my nephew’s kids as she is so smart.  I’m now reading it for the second time and finding even more reasons why it is so fascinating.

This is genuinely a life-changing book, full of high-impact ideas. It greatly influences any thinking readers sense of perspective because of the way the author outlines the history of humans on earth, how we evolved, how history was shaped by agricultural, industrial, and scientific revolutions and changes.  Never has one book contained so many obvious “we knew that, right?” moments, and does so in such an entertaining fashion.  One concept which struck me was how the pace of human understanding dramatically increased once we adopted the mindset of “I don’t know,” and accepted the reality of ignorance – ignorance that could be changed to knowledge through exploration.

In the first half of the book, I had no idea that the author, Harari, was going to bring all of this into the present day.  But he ties everything together in an extraordinarily meaningful way.  His conclusions and commentary on so many issues facing us today, when done in the context of this far deeper understanding of our history, provides significant insight into what directions and which solutions are most likely to enjoy the greatest success.

Just as important is how this book serves as a “self-help,” motivational page-turner.  Whatever you are seeking in life, whether it is love, money, security, community, family, wisdom, health, or whatever, seeing those goals from the view of Harari’s explanation of our history, helps you to understand your goal in an amazing new way and makes the achievement of those goals far easier and much more likely.

As I get older, this book, along with those of Simon Winchester, provide me with the deepest levels of satisfaction.  My only regret is that it wasn’t around for me to read when I was much younger.  It has my highest possible recommendation. I hope you love it as much as I did.

Here is a short sample: Chapter 14, page 249:  “While government and wealthy patrons allocated funds to education and scholarship, the aim was, in general, to preserve existing capabilities rather than acquire new ones.  The typical premodern ruler gave money to priests, philosophers, and poets in the hope that they would legitimize his rule and maintain the social order.  He did not expect them to discover new medications, invent new weapons or stimulate economic growth.”

I’m not the first to praise this book.  Here are some others:

“Beautifully written and so easy to understand.”  New York Times

Sapiens is learned, thought-provoking, and crisply written…Fascinating.” Wall Street Journal

“Thank God someone finally wrote this exact book.” Sebastian Junger

Sapiens  tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in unforgettably vivid language.” Jared Diamond

“In Sapiens, Harari delves deep into our history as a species to help us understand who we are and what made us this way.  An engrossing read.”  Dan Ariely (Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University).

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2 Responses to Book Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

  1. John J Gravley says:

    I just finished reading Sapiens a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve actually been thinking along some these lines the last couple of years (i.e. the thought that humans aren’t really constrained by natural selection any longer) but he does a much better job of articulating it than I ever could and also goes further than I would think to go. Thanks for the recommendation and I could definitely see myself re-reading this, too.

    • Steve Larsen says:

      Yes, it was a remarkable book, demonstrating a comprehensive grasp of or latest and best understanding of how humans evolved on this planet, backed up by a well-articulated vision for translating that into the most important things we need to pay attention to next. It wasn’t a month after I read it that I found myself picking it up again and I know I got even more out of it the second time. Thanks for posting a note here.

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