Ben Oliver

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

What do we want to want?
24 September 2020

Humanity has achieved so much over its short existence, gaining immense power and control over the world. Sapiens explores the reasons for this by giving us a quick tour through the history of our species.

Harari comes out all guns blazing in the first section of this book, covering the “cognitive revolution”. He argues that we pulled ahead as a species because of our ability to imagine things that are not real, allowing us to co-operate in huge numbers. Nations, currency, religions—none of these exist but they give us common beliefs that keep us pulling in the same direction. Not really a new idea, but the book does frame it in a novel and compelling way.

Then he argues that the agricultural revolution was the next great step in human history, while pondering whether it actually hindered us more than helped us. We went from foraging, to breaking our backs on farms and trying to cultivate animals. An interesting point but Harari already starts to give us a little taste of the pop-sci sensationalism that is to come.

The second half of the book begins to swing into conjecture and opinion. Harari free-associates around important topics like empire, capitalism, science and industry. It’s like reading Elon Musk’s twitter.

An enticing and clever piece of work, but as it goes on Sapiens starts making far too many spurious assertions to be taken seriously.