In-Flight Reading: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

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I think it’s important to read dense books.  Books that use big words and have big ideas that force you to slow down a bit.  Now that doesn’t necessarily mean breaking out Dostoyevsky (although that’s never a bad idea, The Idiot is one of my all-time favorites) but it means sometimes it’ll take you a bit longer to get through a book and that’s ok.

Sapiens is one of those books.

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I’m still not quite sure if Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, should be classified as nonfiction, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, or what.  Harari, and Israeli professor, simply sets out to take a dispassionate look at homo sapiens and tell the story of the species, almost like a biology textbook.

The book’s tagline, “A Brief History of Humankind” is both broad and deep.  From anthropological history going back to astralopithecus to looking at why homo sapiens was able to survive where homo erectus and the neanderthals couldn’t, Sapiens gives you a solid anthropological foundation to understand where our species came from and what we had to overcome to survive.  Harari constantly interweaved current-day examples of similar struggles in a modern context which helped me understand the plight of our ancestors.

But Sapiens goes deeper than just retelling biological or archaeological stories.  Harari delves into the history of how we think and believe.  In the process of doing this the author manages to turn many elements of modern belief inside out (the common claim that the agricultural revolution is when humans domesticated wheat, as an example.  Harari claims, rather accurately in my opinion, that wheat domesticated us).

Weaving something as complex as human history and philosophy into the same text is incredibly difficult to do.  Even though some sections of the book are more dense than others, it’s a worthy effort to get through it.  Along the way I will absolutely guarantee that you’ll have at least one or two beliefs challenged (which is ok) and will learn quite a bit.  I feel like I’m better equipped to be a human now that I know from where I came.

 

I just started the sequel to this book, Homo Deus, which is tagged as “A Brief History of Tomorrow”.  I cannot wait to finish it and tell you all about it, so go ahead and pick up Sapiens in the meantime, I give it a strong recommendation!

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