Book Review: Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s an impressive feat, to tell the history of humankind, in a relatively short amount of pages, and Harari does it in a voice that is engaging, challenging and often funny. It is the sort of book that is so big and so intelligent that I sort of feel inadequate to review it, and indeed, checking out a review in the Guardian, I see that some take issues with some of his theses and interpretations, but really, you have to be on top of these issues to be able to give a critique. In any case, I found it fascinating and … depressing. Many of the systems we’ve created have done little to help a large group of people to be more content. Power corrupts. We’re destroying ourselves and our surroundings. I found his brief review of happiness research to be an amazingly succinct summary, and was particularly amused by his observation that Western thinking couldn’t really figure out the Eastern concepts of detachment as a way to be content, and so twisted it into ‘Find happiness inside’. I was also shocked to read about how pretty much our whole modern society and civilisation is based on the idea and concept of credit. Since doing basic courses in economics in university, I’d always wondered why we can’t come up with an economic model that is sustainable, one that is not built on growth, and therefore contributes to preserving the planet and our species. Three decades later, Harari spells it out for me. Our economy is built on credit. The idea of sustainability is pretty much incompatible. And there are many more arguments and theses, whether about the agricultural revolution, imperialism or religion, that are challenging, enlightening and big picture. The book is as good as I’d heard it is.

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