Book Review – Sapiens By Yuval Noah Harari

The motivation for reading this book came during the Jagriti Yatra when I was recommended this book, not once or twice, but thrice during the 15 days by three independent people. I’d only heard about this book before that. So on returning, I made it a point to buy a paperback and read this book and see for myself what all the fuss it about. I wasn’t disappointed!

As the name suggests, the book is about us, humans (unless you’re a cat, in which case it is about your beloved owner). The author starts off by giving a description of what our species was like a hundred thousand years ago. From there, he describes the major events or changes, in his opinion, that shaped the world as we see it today. The book is divided into four major parts, namely; Cognitive revolution, Agricultural revolution, unification of humankind and Scientific revolution. Each part focuses on a change in the way of life of humans that carved the way things moved forward, until this very day. The main idea is that humans have learnt how to collaborate in large numbers by believing in a common ‘myth’, a concept that the author nicely explains with the example of Peugeot Company.

The book is really well written for a wide range of audience. If you have the slightest interest in historical events, pick this book up. If you have ever awed at the accomplishments of humans, telescopes in space, footsteps on Moon and on Everest top and deep down in the Mariana trench, give this book a shot. Love biology, or psychology or just reading about cultures? This book is for you. In short, the content is so widespread that it leaves you wondering how much must the author had researched to write this book.

One thing that you must consciously realize is that, if you leave out the first part, the next three contain huge amounts of opinions of the author. Initially, I made this small mistake of reading this book as a fact book, which my manager accurately pointed out, this book isn’t. This book is a novel (even the author mentions it), and not a history book, and as such, while most things are accurate, the inferences are author’s own and so are many other things. But that’s okay. You cannot possible fit in the entire human history in 450 odd pages, and hence there will be some subjectivity and biases (even history, for that matter, is biased based on who is recording the events), but on the whole, if you’re a person with an open mind, you’ll really appreciate the writing.

And there’s a lot to learn from even the author’s inferences. The entire book is like you taking a step away and zooming out on life. Why are things the way they are? Author tries to give you a reasonable perspective, based on historical evidence.

And it really widens your own thought horizon. Knowing about the lives of our ancestors, the hunters and foragers in the plains of Africa, then the farmers and all the dynasts and dictators, the wars and the discoveries, you inevitably question yourself, your priorities and the fundamental questions of life itself. It is as if, you knew many of these things only intuitively, but the author takes it a step further and explains them by joining the dots and drawing conclusions. Reading it from the author’s POV, understanding the ideas of liberalism and how it is very different from what Buddhism teaches, ideas of communism, of capitalism and the various religions that we identify ourselves with, is a good experience.

I’d highly recommend this book. An experience that you shouldn’t miss.