Sunday, May 21, 2017

Simple Book Review: "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" (2014)

This book is not a quick read, but worth the investment of time (it took me a month and a book in between to finished reading it. 466+ pages) and money (RM51.80). If you are not bothered by reality and willing to face the uncomfortable truth about human race from the writer’s perspectives, this book is for you. It is brilliantly written, challenging, humorous at time and totally non-politically correct. To appreciate a book you need to have an open-mind and critical thinking. Don’t believe everything you read and – don’t simply condemn that you don’t know in depth.

Okay, Sapiens first published in 2014. It is a critically acclaimed international best-seller. Mark Zuckerberg and ex-president Obama were among influential people that recommended this book. In it Harari tracks the evolution of Homo Sapiens from hunter-gatherers into self-empowered “gods” of the future (which he expounds more in his second book, Homo Deus). He focuses on the 3 great revolutions of human history: #1 Cognitive, #2 Agricultural and #3 Scientific.  

We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers,” writes Harari, historian from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He continues, “And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.”

What I like about Harari is that when he doesn’t have any real answer to certain topics, he just say ‘I don’t know’ and then outline 3 to 4 possible theories or reasons and ask us to decide for ourselves. But when he really know the topics very well – as historian, he is also very good with scientific knowledge – he writes with simplicity, clear and clarity. Jared Diamond similarly fascinated: “Here is a simple reason why Sapiens has risen explosively to the ranks of an international bestseller. It tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in unforgettably vivid language. You will love it!” Yes, you will.

This book is divided into 4 parts and 20 chapters. Part 1, 2, 3, and the last chapter are my favourites, especially part 3 entitled The Unification of Humankind where Harari claims that commerce (money), empires (nations) and universal religions are the three secrets of success that virtually bring every sapiens (humankind) on every continent into the global world we live in today. He ends this book with an afterward entitled The Animal that Became a God. He argues that we have become more powerful than ever before “but have very little idea what to do with all that power.” We seem to be more irresponsible than ever. “Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one.” We are the ones that wreaking havoc on wildlife, ecosystem and environments. With a question, he ends this book: “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

Fire gave us power
Gossip helped us cooperate
Agriculture made us hungry for more
Mythology maintained law and order
Money gave us something we can really trust
Contradictions created culture
Science made us deadly

A must read!

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