A Brief History of Humankind
from the Collections of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
This blog presents a book review of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Sapiens belongs to the species of great syntheses, written in a playful tone and overflowing with information while developing a point of view. Drawing from all disciplines, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari answers fundamental questions about human history: How did our species (In the last 100,000 years, there have been six different species of hominids.) come to dominate the planet? Why did our ancestors join forces to create cities and countries? How did we manage to create the concepts of religion, nation and human rights? But also others, which are less usual: How did we come to rely on money, books, laws? Etc.
For the author, three revolutions punctuate our journey: one is cognitive (70,000 years ago), the next is agricultural (12,000 years ago) and the third is scientific (500 years ago). In the first (which remains unexplained), we acquired unprecedented skills to think, communicate and collaborate in larger groups (giving us effective coordination; McNutt, 2015). This revolution played a great role in the fictions (Myths) that our ancestors developed.
The second, agricultural (Neolithic), revolution was a trap, a “Faustian pact” between men and grains. As for the scientific revolution, it is less the discoveries themselves than their combination with politics and money that propelled Europeans to conquer the world (Stanford, Allen, and Antón, 2016).
Harari examines the case of the disappearance of our species as we have known up to now, or conversion such as make possible biological engineering and other technical future. Harari mixes the history of science with anthropology to challenge everything we thought we knew about humanity: our thoughts, our actions, our heritage, and our future. Sapiens has quickly established itself as a must-read book around the world, because it addresses the biggest questions of modern history in clear and precise language.
The author of Sapiens has exceeded his contemporaries because he is in tune with the times, although he may be rejected and reviled later. He writes with genuine clarity and humor, does not take himself too seriously, and showed great curiosity about scientific advances, including research on anthropomorphic robots (Lindebaum, 2015). He himself is a vegetarian and does not hesitate to denounce in his essay bad luck that pets since the beginning of the Neolithic. He also stressed that all sexual practices are found in the animal world, so homosexuality in humans cannot affect the natural order.
This work is in the tradition of phenomena tests that aspire to reconsider the history of humanity in the light of a particular phenomenon (unlike the usual history books that seek to illuminate the present in the light of the past). Harari focuses on ancient history without regard to upsetting well-established ideas. This is probably what gives the book its charm.
He recounts with clarity and precision the origins of Homo sapiens while ripping down the veil surrounding recent discoveries about the Neanderthal genome: “It appeared that 1% to 4% of the unique DNA of modern populations of the Middle east and Europe is the Neanderthal DNA,” and “If the theory of miscegenation is accurate, it may well be genetic differences between Africans, Europeans and Asians that date back hundreds of thousands of years. This is political dynamite, which can yield materials with explosive racial theories” (Harari, 2015; p. 17).
Harari mentions that” chimps and sapiens (humans) can only organize in groups of up to 150, without organizing into a hierarchical structure. So, how did cities grow to their enormous size? “Through fiction. Yes, that’s right, through fiction, through beliefs in common myths. These are myths about ideologies. These imaginary fictions include human rights, nations, and currency; they work because many people cooperatively believe in them”. Book of Humankind, 4th ed. Boston: Pearson.
Harari, Yuval, Noah. 2015. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. New York: Harper.
Lindebaum, D. 2015. “Book Review: Sapiens: A brief history of humankind.” Management Learning 46, no. 5: 636–38.
McNutt, M. 2015. “The Beyond-Two-Degree Inferno.” Science 349, no. 6243: 7–7.
Stanford, C., Allen, J. S. and Antón, S. C. 2017. Biological Anthropology: The Natural