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Andrew (he/him)
Andrew (he/him)

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Book Review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014)

This might be a bit off-topic for Dev.To, but I recently came across a list of recommended books for software developers and saw Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari on the list. The recommender put forth this book as an example of a work that should be read to understand our role as humans at large, rather than particular humans accomplishing particular things. Obviously, it's not directly related to software development. But anyone interested in the bigger picture, or especially in anthropology, human cultures, and the history of our species would certainly love this book as much as I do.

Without further ado, here is my review of this book:


Just 6 million years ago, the human species did not exist: "a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother." The wide variety of human species -- sapiens, erectus, neanderthalensis -- evolved from evolutionary pressures like any other species. Why did sapiens survive and thrive and what particular characteristics enabled our species to dominate the planet so completely as we do today?

The mastery of weapons and fire enabled us to hunt, to cook our food, and to control our environment (primarily by burning down forests and as weapons against predators). But all human species enjoyed these technologies. It was Homo sapiens' big brains, evolved only ~150,000 years ago, which enabled us to conquer the planet, eliminate all other human species, and control the planet.

Around 30,000 years ago, a cognitive revolution occurred -- sapiens were now able to imagine and describe things which do not exist in the real world. This "fictive language" has enabled all finance, culture, religion, and politics in the millennia since. The ability to believe in an afterlife can lead to a belief in morality, which can lead to a belief in human rights. None of these concepts exist in the natural world, they are all collective imaginations of humanity. Yet they all shape the destiny of our species and our planet, more than our genetic code ever has.

This book is a fantastic exploration of the evolution of modern humans from their appearance in Africa millions of years ago, to their extreme technological and self-improving advancements today. Why did Homo sapiens dominate the other species of humans? How did we move from a primarily hunting-and-gathering society to a primarily agricultural one? How have capitalism, religion, liberalism, and the scientific revolution improved or degraded our lives? And are any of these inherently good things? Are any of us happier now than our early ancestors, hunting game on the plains of Africa? I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the answers to the above questions.

Discussion (15)

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bigj1m profile image
Jean-Michel Plourde

Hands down one of my fav books. I really like anything wrote by Yuval Noah Harari. One of my favorite quote from Yuval Noah Harari is from 21 questions for the 21st century, when he talks about terrorism in these time of peace and safety: "A small coin in a big empty jar makes a lot of noise"

Another good one from the same book: "Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question".

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Alex Parra

I have this one to read on my vacations coming up. Yeah!!

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Hendrik Ras

In the last chapter the author wrote about a possible AI being born from a computervirus making a 'copy mistake' mutating its code. That may be a valid way of explaining creation in biology, but in the world of IT I found it harder to believe. Although I loved reading that book, it left me wondering what other facts were overlooked.

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Alex Parra

Loved this book.
Recommended.

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th3n00bc0d3r profile image
Muhammad

I am thinking on starting this book, dont know why am just a bit hesitant

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awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him) Author

Just read the first chapter. I guarantee you'll be hooked.

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th3n00bc0d3r profile image
Muhammad

Just placed an order based on community recommendation... Should arrive in 2 days.. I guess

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

This might be a bit off-topic for Dev.To

Good #watercooler content 👌

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Nicolò Rebughini

I've just finished Homo Deus and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sapiens is already sitting in my bookshelf waiting to be read, let's see if I can enjoy it even if I've already have the next under my belt.

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Bigyan Thapa

Thanks for the article. My friend read this book a while ago and had recommended me as well. I will add this to my reading list.

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Karol Adamczyk

You’ll definitely love Homo Deus.

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Andrew (he/him) Author

Ooh I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

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Damien Cosset

One of the best books I have ever read! Highly recommended.

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Coding Sam

I am currently reading this book.
I am loving it! Can't recommend it enough

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Edgar X. González Cortés

Awesome recommendation. Thanks!