Book Review: Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind

Astounding. Insightful. Page-turner.

That’s how I’d describe this book.

The nearly-500-page book ‘Sapiens’ written by Yuval Noah Harrari, a historian and professor, is a comprehensive package of extremely interesting observations and appalling facts about who human beings are, how they came to be what they are today and what their future might have in store for them.

The book is divided into 4 parts, each talking about momentous turning points in human history – the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the Unification of Humankind, and the Scientific Revolution. With a total of 20 beautifully written chapters, the author succeeds at keeping the reader hooked so much so that despite being a huge book one could finish it in a couple of days or at least less than a week. Yuval has written the book in such a way that any layman with basic reading skills can easily comprehend what he’s saying despite the idea behind it being complex.

The book starts by busting the common fallacy of picturizing evolution as one straight line of descent where Erectus evolves to Neanderthals and Neanderthals to us. Though there are many species of bears, dogs, and the like, humans enjoy exclusivity today which, we’ll realize as we read further,  is peculiar and incriminating at the same time. It is fascinating to see how from 6 different human species (including Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Erectus, and Homo Rudolfensis) that co-existed seventy thousand years ago, our variety narrowed down to just one – the Homo Sapiens.

Owing to the power of constructed language, human imagination, and the consequent community network, Homo Sapiens rose from being as insignificant as fireflies or jellyfish to being deadly ecological serial killers obliterating life in every single island they set foot in. Yuval rightly points out, Don’t believe the tree-huggers who claim that our ancestors lived in harmony with nature. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinction. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology.

If you are as curious as me about the origins of religion, myths, culture, society, and the like, this book could be your starting point. Being a literature student, the book reminded me of Jacque Derrida’s and Michael Foucault’s ideas about deconstruction and discourse analysis. It’s an intellectually stimulating read which sets us on a ride to explore more. Reading this book helps us understand our world better and prompts us to see it in a different light. 

Even though the book primarily focuses on the history of mankind, it does so by connecting various ideas to our present, thus making it more relatable and easy to follow. The book employs the method of storytelling and each chapter ends with a hook that’d make us turn to the next. It is also supported with an ample amount of images, illustrations, and tables to make the process easier. Despite being a factual book, the author occasionally makes us chuckle with his witticism.

‘Sapiens’ became an international phenomenon selling over 16 million copies worldwide and has also been translated into almost 60 languages. It became the New York and Sunday Times bestseller, holding its position for 96 consecutive weeks in the latter. Major names like Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Janelle Monáe, and many others recommended it and it also received credits for revolutionizing the non-fiction market and popularizing “brainy books”.

Despite his best efforts, the book did come out with some factual errors which were later noticed and mentioned on his official site and it was also accused of sensationalism at certain points. But nevertheless, ‘Sapiens’ is one of its kind and definitely, a must-read!

My rating: 4/5 

P.S. Even though I’m a lover of physical copies, I highly recommend the audiobook version of Storytel narrated by Derek Perkins with a run time of 15h 17 min. It is incredibly well-paced and well-narrated so much so that you’ll be swooped up by his enchanting voice into the narrative. 

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