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“Sapiens” pays homage to our evolutionary foibles

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

I’ve never seen a book that has taught me so much about the world in just a few pages. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari is a beautiful exploration of what makes us human, both the good and the bad. As an anthropology major, I had to read this one (I’ve seen it a few times in bookstores in the past) and it just so happened that someone got it for me as an early birthday present.

Photo by Malcolm Streitfeld

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” looks at humankind from a biological point of view, explaining how we came to form religions, laws, currency etc. It dismisses a lot of common myths about who we are and why we do the things we do. However, it does this in a very straightforward and easy to follow manner. This book doesn’t get bogged down in technical jargon. Instead, it addresses its chosen topic within the bounds of a simple narrative that flows elegantly from one section to the next.

The book is divided into four parts. “Part One: The Cognitive Revolution” analyzes the lifestyles of the earliest peoples to walk the earth and provides a concise explanation for why the brains of Homo sapiens developed the way that they did. “Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution” addresses the benefits and issues of switching from hunter-gathering to a more sedentary farming lifestyle. It also flashes forwards to the modern day, showing where we are now when it comes to our lifestyle involving food. “Part Three: The Unification of Humankind” tells the story of the growth of the first civilizations and empires, which ended up bringing humans together in a way that had never been seen before. Finally, “Part Four: The Scientific Revolution” explains the relationship between science and ideology while also briefly exploring what awaits us in the future.

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” taught me to look at the world from a broader perspective than I’ve ever done before. It taught me to be more comfortable with who I am, and to accept that the world will always be significantly changing all around me. Because of this book, I can now think very long term while still focusing a lot on the present. Reading “Sapiens” built up my confidence and my self-esteem significantly. I can finally come to terms with the uncertainty of the future instead of being terrified of it. We as a species were built to overcome overwhelming odds, so I know that whatever happens I’ll get through it. 

Honestly, everyone should take time out of their day to read “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” It has a great deal of life lessons within its pages. I now have a better understanding of people too, at least from a biological perspective. I’ve learned so much about economics, law and politics. It would be impossible to talk about everything I’ve taken away from reading this.

Yuval Noah Harari is a genius author. His intricate yet delicate approach to the history and evolution of our species isn’t so glib as to be disrespectful but isn’t so dry as to be boring. It achieves a perfect balance of both being sharply witty and admiringly blunt. I recommend everyone read it for themselves. Whether you’re an anthropology student or just someone looking to understand the world more or really are just a person in need of a good book, pick this one up. It’s a masterpiece. 


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