An Interesting, mind-bending Book on History of Sapiens

What’s the purpose of our life ? That’s a question many of us will have to grapple with at some point in our lives.

No, you don’t get answer to that here in this book. But you will start getting doubts about the question itself !

Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and a professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, does a terrific job explaining what it’s really like to go through a journey of Sapiens. He tries to convey this through 4 broad themes.

First, Cognitive Revolution.

It happened between 70,000 BC to 30,000 BC, led to many inventions that helped Sapiens to live better life. This period witnessed invention of Boats, Oil lamps, Bows and Arrows. This is mainly due to evolution of Cognitive abilities. “What caused it ?,” asks Harari “We’re not sure”.

“Accidental genetic mutation changed inner wiring of brain enabling Sapiens to think.”

Every animal species have language to communicate but Sapiens developed language capabilities mainly as a way of gossiping. This is why Homo Sapiens are social Animals.

Second, HIstory’s biggest fraud – Agricultural Revolution.

Agriculture revolution happened around 10,000 BC as a way to make Sapiens’ life easier. Now, they don’t have to wander different places in search of food and they can settle in one place. This revolution helped produce more food which ultimately led to population explosion and not leisure.

Farmer worked more than Hunter-Gatherer from dawn to dusk but only got poor diet in return

“Agricultural revolution kept more people alive under worst conditions”

Harari takes you through another concept called Evolutionary Success – which measures number of DNA copies produced to account for it. In that sense, Chickens, Sheep, Pigs and domesticated Cattle should be considered as evolutionary success, however they are the ones which undergo brutal sufferings.

Evolutionary success and individual suffering is the important lesson we can learn from agricultural revolution.

Agricultural revolution has also resulted in people forming larger groups which then leads to small villages and Kingdoms. Sapiens who are stronger gets to rule the kingdom while the weaker section works in fields and pays tax to the King.

Harari introduces another phenomenal aspect called Imagined Order.

Imagined order is something which everybody believes in. For example, if we believe that we all are equal, we’ll have a stronger and better society. No doubt in that!

Consider an example of “American Declaration of Independence” in 1776, that states all men are created equal. Every American believes in it hence unity of America is protected.

The irony, however, is that the same Landlords who signed “The Declaration”, did not consider the black slaves working for them as men. So, slavery continued for many more decades.

Harari argues that even God can be an Imaginary Order imbibed by different faiths.

“There’s no God”

Voltaire said about God that “There’s no God”. But don’t tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night.

One of the purposes of Imagined order is to maintain the Social Order. Sometimes, to maintain the Social order we need to use Military force. Who maintains Military order ?

Military order is also maintained by the same belief – God, Honour, Motherland, Money etc

Third, Unification of human kind

Harari argues that unification of human kind happened through the following three aspects,

Economic Order – For merchants entire world was single market. So, they tried to expand their territory to increase their wealth.

Political Order – For Conquerers entire world was a single Empire.

Religious Order – For prophets entire world held a single truth and all humans were potential believers.

Fourth, Scientific Revolution

Harari has a clear personal perspective on Scientific revolution. All of the revolution happened on behest of Kings, Emperors or Governments. Someone believed that Scientific Discoveries help them attain Political, Economical or Religious Goals and hence they funded only those discoveries which helped them.

For example, In 16th century, Kings wanted to conquer other parts of the world hence they funded Geographical exploration and not research on Child mortality. In 1930s, Russia and America funded those Research areas that focussed on Nuclear Physics which would help them win the war.

To conclude, even though this book is about history of Sapiens, Harai’s insights on specific topics like Agricultural Revolution, Imagined Order and Reasons behind Scientific discoveries are what will stick with you long after you finish reading it. I hope even you’ll get similar experience with this book