Book Review: Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind

I was expecting this to be a lesson in evolution. and anthropology, especially regarding the origins of humans, and it was that – but in ways I never expected. Beginning with a review of the science about humankind’s origins, Sapiens does a wondrously thought-provoking job of showing what evolutionary success really means for species like wheat and rice and cows and lambs, whose populations have exploded over time while so many others declined or became extinct. Harari gives a richly and acutely drawn picture of the, shall we say, rise of humankind and simultaneously provides a somewhat unnerving dialogue on whether we’ve actually advanced as a species. On that question, the tone of the book is occasionally annoyingly pedantic and, particularly in its chapters on religion and economics, it’s thinking can be rather pretentiously unoriginal. But in those same chapters, it can also spring forth with surprising and important reflections. It struck me that this would probably be a valuable and better resource than the usual for a typical high school or college basic history class, because it examines the development of humans and our cultural evolutions in a way that gives far more fundamental insights into who we are and where we are headed than any traditional text.

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