I don’t read much non-fiction. The desire to read Harari’s Sapiens stemmed from the hype that was surrounding the book when it was first released. My motive, I initially thought, was to find out what someone else considered to be the future of humankind. We’re constantly told that humans are destroying the planet at a rate faster than ever before, that by 2050 many species on Earth will be extinct due to the actions carried out by our own hands, and that given time, the melting of the ice caps and rising of the oceans – again directly because of us – will place a lot of nations under water.
How could this book be any different to that narrative? What could Yuval Noah Harari tell me that the media hadn’t already?
History bored me to tears during the three years I was made to do it at school. Harari, however, maps out the history of pre-Homo-Sapiens and their consequent journey to present day Zombie Consumers in a way that made me second-guess everything I’d ever been taught. Taking us through the stages of our history as a species, from the foragers journeying across untouched lands, to the Agricultural Revolution, empires, the Scientific Revolution and the inevitable beyond, Harari explains, sometimes in Lehman’s terms, what got us, as humans, from Point A, and whether indeed there will be a Point B. Or C, or D.
Sapiens took me a very, very long time to read – because of my tendency to start other books alongside – but I nevertheless took much away from this Brief History of Humankind. In particular, the portion on happiness captured my attention. Humans these days tend to place much emphasis on happiness, and the ways in which we can create and extend our own personal joy – and sometimes even the joy of others. Harari takes us through the various theories on what makes us truly happy, all the while questioning if we’re actually more than, or at least equally satisfied to those who had to stalk and climb for their sustenance. Personally, I’m very much attracted to the Buddhist practice of separating myself from my feelings. It’s very true that much significance of late is given to how we feel, meaning we potentially feel worse if we’re not achieving a particular ideal. But we spent so much “money” on face fillers, clothes and shoes, iPhones and the latest model of car. Why are we still craving more? Harari takes us through the various theories for this.
Did I get really impatient with this book? Yes. Did it seem to go on forever? Also yes. The ways in which I had to read Sapiens meant sometimes re-reading portions several times in order for the information to sink in. That probably accounts for my dislike of history, though. Call it a short attention span.
Would I recommend Sapiens? Oh, wholeheartedly. I’m also keen to get started on Harari’s other books. Not before I’ve finished a few others on my shelf, though.