“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” (2015) / Yuval Noah Harari / 10.17.17

21 Jan

Sapiens, Yuval Noah HarariSo Yuval Noah Harari is a pretty brilliant dude. I first heard him speaking on an episode of the Ezra Klein Show, a podcast put out by Vox. The way he constructed his arguments and proferred his wisdom just entranced me. He’s a guy who thinks in the big picture, and has that much-prized ability to take the most far-flung, wide-lensed idea and make it totally comprehensible to laypeople like myself, so much so that what began as a concept that sounded radical or inaccessible at first comes to feel intuitive the more he explains it.

Harari was making the podcast rounds at that time because his new book, Homo Deus, was just then being released. So I went and purchased copies of both Sapiens and Homo Deus promptly, both of them beautiful, thick-paged, hefty, textbook-like things. The conceit of these two books is this. Sapiens is a history of humankind, from as far back as we know anything about right up to our present moment. Homo Deus, though I haven’t yet read it, purports to be a forward-thinking look at just how human history might go from here, about how we’re poised on the precipice of a truly new era on earth, where one kind of being, us, has become master of everything, of even genetics and evolution itself.

Yuval Noah HarariNow, Sapiens is just thoroughly enjoyable and educational. I don’t have much more to say about it than that. He literally covers the entire expanse of human history, from the very first appearance of Homo sapiens on this planet, but does so with such ease, such breezy writing, that you can easily forget, as you’re reading, that you’re learning so damn much. And throughout, he pauses to provide all manner of super-helpful metaphors to explain this or that concept or historical innovation. It’s just marvelous.

And though you might be turned off by the daunting prospect of reading a book about all of human history, don’t be. This is not a dense, academic tome, like many others on this topic have been. Go for it; you’ll be pleasantly and mentally rewarded. As for me, I’ll be digging into Homo Deus.

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