I just finished reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hariri.
In my life, I’ve read many thousands of books. This is the one I wish everyone would read. Seriously. It had a few issues – but ultimately – at this moment in time, if someone were to ask me “What one book do you recommend that everyone on Earth read?” This is the one I would choose.
Yes, I admit it. In the moments or days when I finish reading a particularly good book, I am like a 13-year-old after his first kiss. My emotions are engaged, endorphins are spinning through my head and I have hormones coursing through my veins. I’m sure that everyone doesn’t react to a good book like that – but everyone reacts to something like that – because we are all humans. And ultimately, that is what this book is about – it’s the story of humans from begining to present without any fluff, lies, exaggerations, or unprovable beliefs or theories.
In many ways, I feel like this was the book that I have been looking to read for decades. The reason I got a degree in anthropology, traveled all over the world, and worked in archaeology was because I am fascinated with humans and why we do the things we do. If you want to see why I love this book as much as I do, go have a look at the one-star reviews on Amazon. Religionsists, nationalists, statists, ideologists, and other people who Hariri calls out as delusional. The ultimate message of Hariri’s book is this :
We just aren’t that important.
Lots of people hate to hear that, but there it is. We just aren’t that important. The universe is 13.5 billion years old. 6 million years ago our common ancestor that we share with chimpanzees emerged. 200,000 years ago – humans emerged – not just us but at least six distinct species of humans. Our species survived but probably had a hand in wiping out the others somewhere around 40,000 years ago. From there we spread out and just 12,000 years ago stopped being hunter-gatherers. Next we made kingdoms and religions and invented money and empires. Just 500 years ago the first industrial revolution began and 200 years ago the scientific revolution and so on and so forth until right nowwe are on the edge of the fourth industrial revolution. The bottom line is – our history is a blink of an eye in the history of the universe, the solar system, the planet, life, or even human species.
Hariri delves into the great questions and emerges with great answers – although, admittedly, sometimes his answers rely less on facts than on suppostions based on history, science, and medicine woven together. Essentially, the book looks at our political, economic, religious, social, and tribal constructs and demonstrates in the only way possible that they are imaginary and no more real than anything else we might imagine. If you read this book with an open mind you will learn two things 1) As a species we are pretty terrible and 2) On the whole, we are improving and getting better.
While the ‘-ists’ may hate to hear it – the truth is that humans and everything we have done so far – it’s all pretty unimportant. None of it really matters —empires, religion, capitalism, communism, nations, wars, movements, revolutions – none of it matters.
Except that actually – it does. It’s started to matter. We’ve entered a new era. We’ve started on a portion of our path where we might come to matter a great deal…or we might disappear with the other human species that came before us. In fact, it’s almost certain that we will disappear as we become something else, something wonderful, something brand new in the universe.
So, for those who hate to hear it – we aren’t that important but if they would have read on with an open mind they would have gotten to the real message. We do matter. The way we do things matters. Why we do things matters. How we do things matters.
I can understand why so many readers/reviewers got upset. It’s not easy to have someone slaughter your sacred cows. It’s not easy to hear that your religion isn’t the chosen one, your country isn’t the best one, your diet isn’t the most ethical one. To be honest, I was bothered by some of these things too – and I found myself saying things like ‘this guy is obviously pushing a vegetarian agenda’ which is probably true – but why shouldn’t we treat animals better? Why shouldn’t we eat less meat? Why shouldn’t we strive to protect biodiversity? Why shouldn’t we acknowledge that we treat other people terribly? Yes, it shakes our foundational beliefs – the ones that were put in place by our ancestors who knew less about just about everything than we do today, as a species. Maybe we need a good shaking. Actually, strike that maybe. We need a good shaking.
Ultimately, Sapiens is a very needed message of hope in a time of fear, dread, uncertainty, doubt and change. It’s a very welcome message.
Read this book.