One of the resolutions I made during the New Year relating to book reading was that I would avoid buying new books as much as possible focusing as much as possible on “busting the backlog”. So I clearly broke that rule when I bought “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” on my Kindle (why does Amazon make it so easy and cheap for you to buy books on Kindle? Why? Why?). I only got to know about the book from a comment that I saw posted on twitter about Homo Sapiens and about cruelty to other species around us. And this prompted me to check the book out on Amazon.
The book is no doubt a fascinating read. What book about the evolution of human beings can’t be you can ask. If you have read any of Jared Diamond’s books (especially Guns, Germs and Steel) Harari’s book will seem familiar to you in style and some places the subjects that he discusses. So the author attempts to look at the evolution of Homo Sapiens – where we were, where we are and where we could be heading in the future.
The book has a number of interesting theories and concepts. For example Harari talks about what set apart the Homo Sapiens from say the Neanderthals or some of the other species of the genus Homo. About 70,000 years ago we had a “cognitive revolution”- including the ability to work together and the ability to believe in abstract concepts-something that helped Homo Sapiens work in larger groups and defeat other competing species. The author traces history through the “agricultural revolution” about 12,000 years ago- when he says the lives of Sapiens took a turn for the worse having to slave away in the farms and fields every day for a surplus or a security they may never have enjoyed. The author dwells on how our hunter gather ancestors could have been original affluents. Harari has an interesting way of turning things on their head- when he talks about the cultivation of wheat he talks about how it is not us who cultivated wheat but wheat that’s cultivated us. Think about it- wheat was just random grass but today it is the most cultivated crop- farmers everywhere around the world put in enormous amount of effort to cultivate it and secure it. If the genetic success of a species depends solely on the number of copies that exist then the wheat plant may indeed be ruling the roost.
Following the agricultural revolution was the industrial revolution and here again the author says that its our ability ot believe in and develop abstract concepts- such as money and religion that helps us be ahead in the game. So much ahead that we are mostly irresponsible and cruel. You only need to look at the dairy and meat industry to glimpse at this cruelty.
The book touches on many other things before ending in a meditation of what could be in the future. Surely no one can tell. Hindsight is always clear but from where we stand there is an ocean of mist stretching away that we can only hint at certain things such as ‘amortality’ (like the elves of the Tolkienien world) or biotechnological revolution that could probably signal the end of the Sapiens species.