In his grand-scale book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harari provides a sweeping history of humankind that delves into our evolution, impact, and potential future. This uniquely broad perspective makes it a fascinating read for anyone interested in who we are and how we got here.
The book in three sentences
- The book provides a sweeping overview of human history and evolution, arguing that three revolutions – cognitive, agricultural, and scientific – particularly defined and transformed humankind.
- Harari explores the myths, biology, and mental capacities that allowed our rise from primitive hunter-gatherers to the technologically advanced yet ecologically destructive species we are today.
- Sapiens tackles humanity’s contradictions and future possibilities in an engaging grand narrative across disciplines.
Harari takes the reader on a journey across the entire history of Sapiens, from our primal origins through early foraging societies, the agricultural revolution, and the founding of empires and nations, to the modern age driven by science and industry. He explores the social myths and realities that enabled human dominance as well as our contradictions.
The book is divided into four parts examining different phases of human existence. Harari argues that three revolutions fundamentally changed history: the cognitive revolution around 70,000 years ago that enabled imagination and complex language, the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago, and the scientific revolution 500 years ago.
Harari’s analysis spans biology, anthropology, psychology, and more to investigate what makes us human. He discusses early human interbreeding with Neanderthals, how hunter-gatherer bands differed from other primates, and the interplay between biological and cultural evolution. Harari argues that human dominance relies on our ability to believe fictional myths and norms that bind mass cooperation.
The book does not shy away from examining humanity’s flaws and contradictions either. Harari discusses genocide, slavery, and inequality as part of our legacy, as well as existential risks we now face in our future. He ends on a note both cautionary yet also hoping to use our knowledge wisely.
Who Should Read
Sapiens provides fascinating insights for anyone interested in understanding our species – where we came from, what drives us, and where we may be headed. Historians, anthropologists, and philosophers will find Harari’s synthesis particularly compelling.
- Three revolutions – cognitive, agricultural, and scientific – define distinct eras in human civilization.
- Language, gossip, and social myths enabled early hunter-gatherer bands to expand cooperation beyond kinship.
- Agriculture led to cities, kingdoms, and inequality – as well as changed human biology and ecology.
- The scientific revolution opened the door to industry, globalization, and potentially dangerous technologies.
About the Author
Yuval Noah Harari is a historian and professor at Hebrew University specializing in world and military history. His books include Sapiens, Homo Deus, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.