Micro-Review #106: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari

Here is everything you ever wanted to know about the human race but were afraid to ask. Oxford-educated historian Harari takes us on a journey from the birth of the species through the beginning of language, the agricultural revolution, the advent of cities and industry and everything else interesting about humankind. The heavy-sounding subject matter is couched in layman’s terms and is both enlightening and enjoyable.

The highlights include descriptions of early humans (when six kinds of homo sapiens shared the planet) and the argument that agriculture and industry may not have been the civilizational godsends that we generally assume they were. There’s also an argument that humans won’t go extinct as a result of war or disease or ecological degradation. The thing that will end us: biogenetic engineering.

Fastidious readers might quibble with some of Harari’s finer points (e.g. his expansive definition of religion), but there’s no arguing the fact that this book is education in its finest form: science and social science presented without flag-waving or parochial rancor. There’s a reason this book has been a huge international bestseller. As the Russian said to Marlow in Heart of Darkness, “The man has enlarged my mind.”

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