Sapiens — Book Review

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Cross-posted from Goodreads.

“I encourage all of us, whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues.”

Sapiens is an excellent read for history buffs and anyone who has ever been curious about the fundamental questions regarding humanity for which answers are hard to get. Questions like why God made ‘man’ or how cultures evolved.

Dr. Harari uses historical findings clubbed with science and biology to ask and answer some of the biggest questions about humanity and life. Each major section begins with a bunch of related thought-provoking questions that the section intends to answer.

Ques: Why is man the dominant animal?
Hint: Language, fiction, gossip.

Ques: Why did so many animal species become extinct?
Hint: Man caused it.

Ques: How did we transition from being hunter-gatherers to more “intelligent” farmers and industrialists?
Hint: Our perception of hard work and future planning.

Ques: How did various forms of discrimination come into being – racism, casteism, economy?
Hint: Abuse of social beliefs by the ruling elites to keep their dominance.

Ques: What is the basis for gender inequality?
Hint: It is not biological.

As you might imagine, the book is not a boring collection of historical facts regarding the various ages of human civilizations. Instead, it’s a string of fascinating questions and attempts at answering them.

Dr. Harari challenges many beliefs and notions about life – religion, human rights, money, law, nations – while not directly attacking a belief system. The case against each belief system or ‘imagined order’ is built gradually and naturally to appeal to common sense in a way that doesn’t sound offensive if one is reading with an open mind. Yet, as has always been true of humans, many people might be offended by the views expressed, except maybe atheists, scientists, and stoics.

The concept of money is explained wonderfully, starting with the limitations of barter. The boot goes on to provide answers to so many questions I had since childhood:

  • Is all money in banks backed by gold?
  • In other words, does RBI print money only when it has enough gold? (most modern money is based on credit, which depends on future profits rather than current physical wealth)
  • If imperialism and British Raj were 100% evil, why did we adopt their ways of life?
  • How to think of digital “cash” in banks?
  • How can a bank lend more money than it has?
  • Why are Europeans more capitalistic than Asians?
  • Is capitalism all bad? Does capitalism = greed?
  • Is selfishness/greediness 100% evil?

Some facts that we take for granted are also explained, like our obsession with shopping (consumerism) and timetables.

The book will challenge your most profound beliefs and probably change how you view humanity and life on earth. Enough said!

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