Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. Pub 2011 (English translation 2014)
I chose this book after seeing it on Bill Gates’ top-ten book list, reading a bit about it, and then finding it during my January top-up splurge. I was daunted by the length of it (466 pages), and skeptical about getting through it. A previous attempt at a book like this was Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jarod Diamond, and I gave up on that one after ~100 pages as it felt like a required textbook. I was pleasantly surprised with this one.
Eminently readable, with a compelling story-telling style chock full of facts and figures, Sapiens covers the entire arc of humanity. Using three revolutions – cognitive, agriculture, and scientific (aka industrial) – as the historical milestones, the book presents the history of mankind in ways both enlightening and terrifying, especially looking towards the future.
There were many parts of this book that were meaningful to me – that led to a moment of pause. Despite not wanting to read a textbook, I ended up reading this like it was one, complete with highlighter (which I didn’t use) and flag tape (which I did, 25 times). The biggest highlights:
- The three elements that enable the advancement humankind are money, religion, and empire. And that each of these is an artificial construct and collective mythology that is the foundation of civilization.
- The relationship between scientific research and capitalism. I already knew this, but it was enlightening to read it presented so starkly.
- The double-edged impact of the industrial revolution on society.
Near the end, the book gets a bit preachy, relying on rhetoric rather than facts to emphasize points. But this is in keeping with the final point – where humankind goes next is unknown, but we would do well to know where we’ve been to help us prepare for those next steps.
19 – a book with a one-word title
20 – a book that is translated (or in) another language
24 – a book by an author whom you’ve never read
25 – a non-fiction book about science
30 – a non-fiction book about philosophy/religion