Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Sapiens explains how human behavior developed from its pre-human origins.
Posted Feb 23, 2017
I recently finished listening to the CD version of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by the historian Yuval Noah Harari, and beautifully narrated by Derek Perkins. Sapiens is a wonderful book that synthesizes materials from multiple fields, and takes us all the way from our emergence among contemporaneous pre-human species and up to the present day. It is elegantly written, in a clear and engaging style, with a skeptic’s eye and ironic sensibility. The book provides many insights into who we are as a species, and toward the end, provides interesting speculations (clearly labeled as such) into where we are headed.
Whenever an author attempts to integrate knowledge from multiple fields outside his own, there is a risk of getting something seriously wrong. However, from my knowledge of psychology and anthropology, I can say that there are no significant problems with information and interpretations from at least those fields.
In some ways, the Sapiens can be seen as an updated version of the 1990 book Our Kind—engagingly written and still well worth reading—by the anthropologist Marvin Harris, a work that views the history of our species from a somewhat different disciplinary perspective.
From an even broader perspective, both Sapiens and Our Kind can be seen as companion volumes to The Story of Earth by Robert Hazen, a mineralogist. Hazen’s book—also beautifully written—traces the entire history of our planet, and shows how the earth’s geology has contributed to creating life, and how life forms have in turn contributed to creating new minerals. In essence, then, Hazen leads us to a view of our planet’s geology and life forms as constituting a co-evolving system.
For readers interested in the big picture—what we are like as humans, and where our behavior in 21st century America fits into the history of our species on planet Earth, I can recommend Sapiens with enthusiasm.
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Harari, Y. N. (2014). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. London: Vintage.