FROM STONE TABLETS TO MICROCHIPS ‘SAPIENS’ IS QUITE THE JOURNEY
My favorite books are those that give me either a new perspective on, or a newfound appreciation for, life. This month, I wanted to review a work that does both. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” is an engaging dive into the events, trends, and attitudes that have shaped our world. By following the story of our earliest ancestors all the way up to our latest scientific breakthroughs, history professor Yuval Noah Harari presents some truly unique takes on the human experience — some uplifting, and others deeply troubling. But don’t worry, this isn’t a heavy research paper filled with intellectual jargon. “Sapiens” is one of those rare works that manages to be academic and approachable at the same time. No doubt drawing on his experience as a lecturer, Harari’s writing is almost conversational, putting complex ideas in easily understandable terms. Still, he shows his work. Each page is filled with footnotes citing the foundations of his research.
This balance between readability and educational value is what makes “Sapiens” such a page-turner. Harari has great instincts as an author, knowing when to get into the weeds on a topic to explore a point, and when to jump back to the bigger picture. This sort of selective pacing is what makes a book that spans the entire known history of the human race feel like light reading. While the writing in “Sapiens” may be breezy and approachable, the ideas it conveys are heavy hitters. Relatively early in the book, the authors suggest that wheat may be the most successful species on the planet. After all, from the moment we learned to cultivate it, kingdoms and empires sprung up to monopolize its production. Humans went from being hunter-gatherers in relatively egalitarian communities to stratified societies with laborers, farmers, soldiers, and tax collectors. It’s telling that our first evidence of humans developing written language comes from stone tablets used to track grain storage. And that’s just the first section of the book. Throughout “Sapiens” Harari looks for the threads that tie us back to our pre- agricultural ancestors, looking for answers to the age-old question: “What makes us human?” He’s clever enough to know better than to land on a single answer, but the journey is well worth the book’s ultimately vague destination. From comparisons
between ancient religion and modern day banking systems to explorations of new ways to frame human history itself, “Sapiens” is nothing but thought provoking. If you’ve ever found yourself curious about our origins and our role in the world today, this book is well worth your time. It will likely challenge the way you look at the past and present, and will definitely have you thinking about the future. But if you, like me, enjoy entertaining new perspectives, “Sapiens” is right for you.
“THROUGHOUT ‘SAPIENS’ HARARI LOOKS FOR THE THREADS THAT TIE US BACK TO OUR PRE-AGRICULTURAL ANCESTORS, LOOKING FOR ANSWERS TO THE AGE-OLD QUESTION: ‘WHAT MAKES US HUMAN?’”
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