Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Book Review

Sapiens –   A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is a big book. Honestly, I probably haven’t read anything this heft (or academic) since university and was intimidated by it to be honest. But oh, it is so worth the read. 

466 pages isn’t enough to cover everything, but it was enough to change my world view. I found a lot of thoughts I’ve had but couldn’t verbalise were finally in front of me in black and white – and there were lots of things I had never considered and am still struggling to grasp. 

I’m not ashamed to say it took me months to read this book. There were times the content was so heavy I read 20 pages and needed a few days to think about what had been presented to me. I found The Cognitive Revolution (the first 80+ pages) hard going and felt at points the book was over written, using too many examples when a point had been clearly made. However, the facts and the author’s musings were insightful. 

One aspect I found most interesting was the idea of global community and how traditional community has changed; gone are the small, romanticised village communities of England and now we are a ‘rootless urban proletariat’. We no longer shop ‘on tick’ in our local shop, instead we put it on a credit card or use Klarna. It was eye opening to see the way the idea of the individual and the global community has minimised a local community. This, of course, has its benefits. We can go online and make friends who share our obscure interests, we don’t have to see the person who bullied us for the rest of our lives because we are expected to move away and not stay in our home town but to make it on our own somewhere new. 

 ‘The nation is the imagined community of the state. The consumer tribe is the imagined community of the market’

Like most people in the UK my history classes didn’t exactly cover slavery, it wasn’t until I was at university that I began to scrutinise the way non-white races were portrayed in literature and understand the real-world cost and horror. ‘The slave trade was not controlled by any state or government. It was a purely economic enterprise, organised and finance by the free market according to the laws of supply and demand’. This phrasing struck me, slaves were a product and not a person stolen from their home. Sapiens offered a blunt education in the price put on a human life by a capitalist system. 

‘Capitalism has killed millions out of cold indifference coupled with greed’

Sapiens has changed the way I view the world and the systems we accept as a concrete part of our modern world. 

A must read? No. A should read? Yes. Now, more than ever, I think it is important to interrogate the systems around us, to question the world we live in and the reality that we accept. Sapiens offers a very good starting point to understanding where we have come from and where we as individuals and a community might want to go.