Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

SapiensThis was another one of my increasingly frequent (on the timescale of my reading life) non-fiction reads, and another one I feel compelled to share my enthusiasm for.

I had in fact just about started hearing about the not so linear evolution of humanoids before reading Sapiens. So I did realise that the traditional tree or the very graphic illustration of a distinctly ape-like figure morphing in several stages into a modern man only tells a partial story. However, this book contains so much more than a simple presentation of that fact. I won’t summarise the book here or outline its contents. I’ll just talk about what stayed with me the most.

 

Without a doubt, the analysis of the true (OK that’s a subjective term, I should say the author’s assertion-backed-by-pretty-convincing arguments version of the truth, but as I find it makes complete sense to me, I’m going for the shortcut of “true”) impact of that major revolution in human history that was the agricultural revolution. I had never thought of it as being a  cause of massive population growth, with the majority of humans producing food from the sweat of their brow (which instantly made me want to check how “old” the agricultural revolution was when Genesis was written, but which I haven’t got round to doing yet, sigh) and the simultaneous establishment of an elite class fed by this labour. Like many others I’m sure, I’d always thought of it as the natural, fairly linear progress of humans of having one bright idea after the other: fire, tool-making, crop growing and livestock husbandry etc. In my mind, this would lead “logically” to population growth, accelerating first with the industrial information and accelerating perhaps again with the digital revolution (but I’m less sure about that). The fact that the agricultural revolution has had a far more profound role in the shaping of human destiny was a real revelation for me.

The focus on empathy to non-human beings was another thing that resonated particularly strongly. Here in France, which generally follows societal trends from Anglo-Saxon countries a little later than the latter, usually having tweaked it a little bit, usually with some conceptual definition no-one had quite formulated in that particular way, the words “végétarien”, “végétalien”  (but increasingly also, sadly, “vegan” although here is not the place for the defence of a range of languages) and “flexitarien” are given far more bandwidth than they used to get. Our (half-French half-British) family is right in the middle of this journey of changing our eating habits. Of course, that is only one aspect of empathy to other species than ours but I mention it because it is clearly linked to  a growing unease over the years of what we are doing to our planet and its inhabitants.

 

Of course, I’m now going to read Homo Deus (I’m assuming Deus would have been an awkward title?) and probably get my mind blown away by human-machine interfaces I have never even thought of thinking about.

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