“Sapiens : A Brief History of Humankind” by ‘Yuval Noah Harari’ is a pleasant read for all the Non-Fiction – History Genre lovers. This book presents history of evolution of homo-sapiens (us, humans) on this planet and the relationship that mankind nurtures with nature. Though the subject matter of the book might sound a bit boring but the writer successfully manages to keep its readers interested by staying away for archaeological jargon reserved for academics. Readers associate easily with the lucid tone of the book and instead of coming across as a lesson in History, this book comes across like an adventure where the author slowly unfolds the mystery of human evolution.
The book explores definitive eras in human history that indicate how human beings branched away from other animal species to become the most successful and powerful species on Earth. The author has divided the entire human history in to phases and human beings crossed over from one phase to another after certain critical events. The author terms these events as ‘Revolutions’. Human beings experienced 3 kinds of revolutions during the entire human history till date : Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific revolutions. These revolutions guided humankind to evolve into a complicated creature not only biologically but also socially. These critical events brought radical changes to human beings and the way they interact with their surrounds. Some changes were beneficial while others caused great turmoil.
The first part of the book is very exciting where the author describes how early humans came into existence in Africa and spread around the globe. Early humans (homo-sapiens) were co-existing with other ‘Human’ species like Homo Erectus, Neanderthals etc much like members of cat species that co-exist today. Today it is difficult to imagine another ‘human’ species sharing our space. Hence its exciting to learn about their behaviors, habitats in which they lived and how they changed their physical features to adjust to their habitat. For ex, Neanderthals lived in colder regions and hence they were heavily built and had broad faces. There also existed a dwarf human species on islands of Indonesia whose small stature was a result of scare natural resources on these remote islands. The stories of how early humans reached such far flung places are really fascinating.
The first revolution ‘Cognitive’ revolution happened at this stage. The result of a genetic mutation in sapiens resulted in giving them cognitive skills of thoughts, imagination and reasoning. This change enhanced the communication and organization skills of early sapiens. humans with common shared imagination could come together in large numbers and thus organize their hunting and gathering activities in a better manner. This shared imagination was also a predecessor of Religion. With better cognitive skills , sapiens wiped out their competition (Neanderthals and other human species) from the face of the earth. Thus cognitive revolution enhanced Sapien skills but killed of all other human species.
Even after cognitive revolution, early humans were hunters and gatherers and very primitive as per today’s standards. The second revolution completely changed this aspect. ‘Agricultural Revolution’ gave power to sapiens to control nature and bend it as per their needs. With agriculture, wandering hunters and gatherers settled down at one place. This resulted in formation of small settlements. These small settlements then progressed to cities and eventually huge empires. Increasing agricultural activities gave rise to trade and commerce thus introducing new occupations for people. The author has given interesting accounts of why and how the non agricultural occupations of artists, scientists and mathematicians emerged from Agricultural revolution. But here authors views come about as pessimistic. It seems like author wants to paint a picture that hunting and gathering was better than agriculture because population was small and people were free to roam about with minimum belongings. Agriculture reined in human freedom of movement. But there are radical changes that need to be accepted after every revolution.
The last and the latest revolution is off-course the ‘Scientific Revolution’. We are currently living in this revolutionary phase reaping all its benefits and absorbing all its banes. We may not have evolved physically but we have evolved tremendously in social behavior. The author talks about new age science revolutionizing the way we interact with each other and nature. The shared imagination during cognitive revolution has reached a new level with many thoughts and beliefs and religions existing in the world today. The last few chapters drag a bit which talk about concept of philosophy and emotional intelligence.
The USP for this book is its clear language and the logical interpretations that the author puts forth for some the most dramatic events that happened throughout the course of human history. Overall its a very nice read.