The title itself speaks a lot about how we have been primarily viewing history and why we must now change the way we look back.
Reading this book has been a humbling experience. It has helped me reduce my unwanted ego I had, just because I’m a human. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is isn’t just filled with facts but also with discomforting (out of the box) questions and varied perspectives. This blog isn’t a review but I only want to share this great experience I had with the book.
So I have a short story about how I stumbled upon this marvelous book. I had just started my new job and it was really difficult getting accustomed to the new busy life. As a person I’m always curious to learn new things. Mostly about history, science and politics. In my new monotonous life, I had everything but still felt somewhere something is lacking. One fine day I was strolling through a nearby Crosswords store with one of my friends, I came across this book. I quickly googled about it and found that it was already a big name in the literary world. Checked it’s contents page and found all that I was seeking. History, science and politics all in one. My friend was a bit sceptical if I would read the whole book. He asked me thrice, “Are you really going to complete this book?” , “Are you sure?” I could see that dread in his eyes 😂. And now I want to proudly state that I didn’t just complete Sapiens but also the second and third part of the series.
Honestly it is difficult to summarise the whole experience in a single blog. And I’m sorry but I won’t be able to keep this blog as short as possible. Patience is the key. The book starts with the beginning of everything. Of not only humans but also the plants, animals, birds, every insect, the rich marine life and all of the various regions. From tropical to the tundras, from desserts to grasslands. We all share a single story. A story divided by our own ambitions and inhibitions. A story that gave birth to fire, power, wars, money, civilizations and religion.
The spectrum of aspects discussed in the book range from as simple as fire to the complexity of present burning political situations. Almost all of them, in some or the other way trace their roots back to the origins of evolution.
The first point which intrigued me, was the presence of other human species some five lakh years ago i.e the Neanderthals. Until I read the book, I thought evolution is a linear process. But I was wrong. Many human species co-existed at the same time. Gradually due to some reasons ( that are discussed in detail in the book) Homo sapiens emerged victorious (?)! Fire was discovered three lakh years ago. So for a vast period of time Neanderthals lived their nights in absolute darkness. They survived this planet for almost two lakh years without light. I find this very intriguing. On the other hand the sapiens who evolved two lakh years ago, went through a cognitive revolution (I do not understand this term completely, but I guess that means we became smart) some 70,000 years ago. I wonder how the Neanderthals would have survived the ferocious predators at nights. The book also discusses about the other human species and how they evolved but eventually got extinct. And how only we, the Homo sapiens survived.
There is a distinct pace to all the three books written by Harari. Not too slow not too fast. Gradually unfolding the process, explaining how we reached to the present point. Showcasing perspectives with facts and inspiring our minds to imagine our world in a different light. While reading the book I felt like I was living one of the Carl Sagan’s quote, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality”.
Migration. Animals migrate due to changes in seasons. For a lot of animals migration is a seasonal activity. It requires observation, experience and co-operation. I wonder what prompted humans to migrate from Africa to Eurasia. Further crossing seas and settling in America and Australia. Seems like the concept of settling down in life has it’s roots in these great migrations undertaken by our ancestors. But settling down required some other skills, like agriculture. The book discusses in detail, the lasting impact of agriculture upon the lifestyle of our ancestors.
As we proceed in the book, Harari introduces us to the ancient civilizations, their understanding of moral code of conduct, of power and religion. But the one complaint I have with the book is that while discussing ancient civilizations, there isn’t much discussed about the Indus valley civilization. There are very few examples, which hardly made any impact on my mind. I would love to read a book which gives a much deeper insight into Indus valley civilization. If you know any please recommend me in the comments section.
Civilizations are made up of an order. A societal structure, mostly in the shape of a pyramid. With most power in the hands of the least people and the most people having the least power. The power struggle is somewhat ingrained in our blood from thousands of years. Harari in his book, effectively exposes the shallowness of these “imagined orders” as he calls them in the book. While exploring this topic he emphasized on the art of “storytelling” and “co-operation” which sets sapiens apart from others.
While reading this part I observed, for most part of history, we have only wanted to increase our reach. Increase our power. And while doing so, the only effective method we thought and sought was through oppression of the weak. The rise of money gave humans one more reason to term someone as weak or powerful.
The world started changing considerably only five hundred years ago. Before that it was all about the kings and queens and their same old stories of political conquests. In the book, scientific revolution is discussed in detail. The way agricultural revolution helped (or forced, read the book to know more) humans to settle down, scientific revolution paved way for another revolution, the industrial revolution.
And it was only 75 years ago, humans for the first time thought about peace (remember only in our thoughts) after loosing millions of lives in two brutal world wars followed by a nuclear attack. Harari is an expert in forcing the reading to think in multi dimensions. Starting from 2.5 million years ago to the present day. This morning.
Coming back to the day I bought the book, there was one old man standing behind me in the queue at the cash counter. He said, “That’s a very interesting book you have bought, I have gifted this book to many of my friends, they have liked it”. I replied (naive, stupid reply), “Oh is it, I don’t even know the background of the book, not even the writer, I just saw the cover photo, found it interesting”.
Read the book!