As the subtitle indicates, Sapiens by Yuval Harari aims to give a brief overview of homo sapiens. He does this by highlighting the following key moments in our history.
Cognitive Revolution – 300,000 years ago many species of humans wandered the world. Why did only one emerge? Yuval believes that this was the result of the brain’s evolution around 70,000 years ago that resulted in our unique languages which allows for the creation and shared belief of myths. For e.g. our languages permit us to imagine gods and concepts such as nationalism, capitalism, consumerism etc. This allows for co-operation between groups that were much larger in size that other animals.
Furthermore, while all other animals adapt to change by evolving, which is an extremely slow process limited by their biology. Thanks to shared myths, sapiens can evolve by simply changing their myths. This allowed them to become masters of the planet.
Agricultural Revolution – The cultivation of crops resulted in a population explosion. Though humans were not necessarily better off individually, they were able to grow in numbers. The invention of math and writing was the result of attempts to solve the problem of accounting that rose due to the agricultural revolution.
The Unification of Humankind – For much of history, humans lived in small tribes and groups. Today we live in massive nation states. The following developments unified humans by enabling greater co-operation between them.
- Money – Allowed strangers to co-operate and exchange goods and services
- Empires – Assimilated smaller cultures into larger ones
- Religion – Though we think of religion as a divider today, it was one of the biggest unifiers in history
The Scientific Revolution – For much of human history, the average productivity remained the same. Around 500 years ago, it started to explode. The reasons were as follows
- The Discovery of Ignorance – The scientific revolution kicked off when humans began to admit that they did not understand things around them. Empires played a part as they raced to find new lands and discover technologies that would enable supremacy in the battlefield.
- Finance – Financial systems such as banks, stocks, bonds enabled the expansion in resources that fuelled scientific discoveries.
- Industrial Revolution – The discovery of the steam engine enabled the conversion of energy from one type to another (steam -> movement).
This book won critical acclaim upon release and deservedly so. Highly recommended.