Book Review: The ultimate history of humankind

“Sapiens: A brief history of humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari

For a history geek, this book is the ultimate source on pretty much everything.

Right at the beginning of this book Yuval Noah Harari presents his central thesis, that Sapiens can rise to the top of the food chain and become the rulers of the world because of our ability to create fiction, fiction that can eventually unites us more than the maximum 150 member-band found in any other species.

Unconventionally (or perhaps controversially) the fiction that Harari is talking about includes human rights charter, system of capitalism, system of communism, religion, caste system, border countries and its nationalism, all of which are not part of nature, are actually made up by humans, but can bring a large group of people together in their respective names.

This, of course, is only one of the many fascinating revelations, arguments, and explanations about human history from the book. One argument in particular was mind blowing for me, that humans have several diferrent forms like Homo Sapiens, Neanderthals, etc just as dogs have different breeds and cats ranged from kitty cat to lions and tigers. And more intriguingly, Sapiens have eliminated all form of (competing) humans except for themselves.

The book also provides the most concise history of the ancient era, polytheist religions, mercantilism, climate change, the science evolution, a very eye-opening history of capitalism, the condensed history of energy (which explains the industry better than Daniel Yergin’s long books), the most logical explanation on the current trend of consumerism which gives a surprise minimalism message, the best detailed explanation (and thus, the argument) on animal cruelty, and many more.

Moreover, it even covers about diet and exercise (e.g. what hunter-gatherers actually eat and why it’s different than the current crazed of paleo diet), one whole chapter on happiness that would make Gretchen Rubin proud, and gives a lot of new connections for previously thought separate occurrences, like how the Mississippi bubble eventually lead to the French Revolution, the 1821 Greek revolt against the Ottoman became the root of today’s Greek economic chaos, or who were behind the First Opium War and what the British initially use Hong Kong for.

In short, it is a mind blowing (successful) attempt at covering everything there is about human history, in the best possible approach: in any topic Harari lay down all the many angles of arguments, presents all the facts from all sides, gives his carefully constructed opinion on the matter, but crucially still leaves the conclusion open-ended for further research.

For these reasons, this book easily became the (newest) best book I’ve ever read, by a distinction. It gave me abundant new perspectives that directly change the way I see several things in life. No wonder that Many people from Bill Gates to Barack Obama highly recommend this book.