What we've been reading - Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

By George Williams

In this book review, Castlefield's George Williams discusses Yuval Noah Harari’s 'Sapiens', which charts the progress of the human species from our hunter-gatherer past to the world-domination of today.


How much of modern science owes itself to the conquest of empire?

Just how beneficial was the agricultural revolution?

Is the car manufacturer, Peugeot, even real?

Questions like these and more are answered in the book, Sapiens.

I must confess that this book has been on my radar for a while but it wasn’t until recently that I finally picked it up. I now implore yourself, the good reader of this review, to not make the same mistake I did - get stuck in immediately.

In this work the author, Yuval Noah Harari, has created nothing short of a masterpiece. I marvelled to find with each passing chapter just how deep his knowledge of humanity is, and all the more grateful for his beautiful writing style which allowed each chapter to flow with ease.

The book opens with an explanation of how we came to be, biologically speaking, and where we went with our new-found evolutionary traits. For all the natural historians, these initial chapters are a fantastical journey through the bountiful natural world humankind entered, and eventually went on to destroy.

Following on Yuval carefully discusses the circumstances which led us to cease our nomadic lifestyles and settle down with the agricultural revolution. The short answer to the aforementioned question is; it wasn’t actually very beneficial to us. A quick analysis would go some way to explaining why we find activity, movement, and the occasional ‘change of scenery’ to be so inextricably linked to mental and physical health. For a much deeper analysis, I would repeat, read the book!

this is a book about all Sapiens, for all Sapiens

Further on, his assessment of the modern nation state, religion, culture, and economics is incredibly accurate whilst also offering original ideas about them. For example, political ideology is the same as religion, who knew? It seems an apt comparison when one thinks about the vitriol so unfortunately present in modern politics and the dogma of religious extremists.

His final chapter offers an intriguing insight into the world ahead of us. The belief that we are on track to become ammortal - not immortal but impervious to fatal natural causes - could be seen as realistic given how much medicine has already conquered. Nevertheless we should heed his warning on the justice in distributing such powers. As we have seen from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still gaping inequalities in healthcare access.

It’s pertinent we don’t waste our 400,000 years’ worth of experience on allowing only the wealthiest to flourish.

To conclude, this is a book about all Sapiens, for all Sapiens. I hope you love it as much as I did.