Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind – is a mind-trip of an adventure through the journey of human beings on planet Earth.

I’m just over half way through the book and I am quite enjoying it.

At the front of the book, there is a handy time-line of Sapien activity, for example:

-from 2.5 million years ago where the evolution of the genus Homo took place in Africa and the first stone tools were used

-through the Cognitive Revolution that emerged as language and mass cooperation

-all the way to the present, where Sapiens have left their cozy planet to reach other floating rocks

This timeline helps me with navigating the confusing evolution of humans. For example, when the author says something like “1300 BC” and then “1300 AD” I had a challenging time trying to figure out the actually timeline. Use it for reference.

With the handy time-line, so far the book has been a straightforward and easy to understand history of humans.

I used to have this idea of ancient humans being mouth-breathing cave-dwellers with minimal skills. I always wondered, “How did these dummies ever get out of the food-chain?”

Well lucky for me this book was able to give me a glimpse:

“What then drove forward the evolution of the massive human brain during those 2 million years? Frankly, we don’t know. Another singular human trait is that we walk upright on two legs. Standing up, it’s easier to scan the savannah for game or enemies, and arms that are unnecessary for locomotion are freed for other purposes, like throwing stones or signalling”

And also:

“Just as woodpeckers specialise in extracting insects from the trunks of trees, the first humans specialised in extracting marrow from bones”

Freeing up our bodies helped give rise to this Cognitive Revolution. What also accompanied this human-update? Possible mass inter-breeding or mass genocide.

“The ‘Interbreeding Theory’ tells a story of attraction, sex and mingling. As the African immigrants spread around the world, they bred with other human populations, and people today are the outcome of this interbreeding.”

And also:

“The opposing view, called the ‘Replacement Theory’ tells a very different story – one of incompatibility, revulsion, and perhaps even genocide. According to this theory, Sapiens and other humans had different anatomies, and most likely different mating habits and even body odours. They would have had little sexual interest in one another. […] The two populations remained completely distinct, and when the Neanderthals died out, or were killed off, their genes died with them.”

Homo Sapiens were not alone. There were others:

“The members of some of these species were massive and others were dwarves. Some were fearsome hunters and others meek plant-gatherers. Some lived only on a single island, while many roamed over continents. But all of them belonged to the genus Homo. They were all human beings”

Well it turns out, like most things in life, it’s probably both. Homo Sapiens killed AND interbred with others.

Some portion of the world population has 1-3% of Neanderthal or Denisovans DNA. They walk among us.

There are so many cool topics covered in this book, like: chimps and early humans, kings and kingdoms, masters and slaves, life in reality and life in imagination.

I also made a ton of highlights:

Yuval has been able to weave the intricate details of human history into an easy to read history manual. Not to mention, he has a guy by the name of Derek Perkins read the audiobook. Sounds like a smart Brit reading you history, real cool.

Everyone reading this blog is a Homo Sapiens. If you want to know almost everything about the history of yourself, check out Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

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