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'Sapiens' is a short telling of the entire human history, from pre-anatomically modern humans through the agricultural and scientific revolutions and to the present. Or so it attempts to be.
Unfortunately, this enormous task is the book's own undoing. There is no room for any indepth discussions about the various complex issues, and no room to discuss the evidence. The book is filled with assertion after assertion, and virtually nothing to back them up. I looked in the reference section and I was shocked to see how few citations there were. Such a massive subject derserves ten times more citations. If you think you're getting a good scientific description of the facts, don't buy this book. This book is essentially his opinions, and not much else.
Any person who has strong knowledge within any of the subjects in the book will quickly realise that Harari is not an expert on much of what he writes about. He does not just make many claims. He makes many wrong claims. And many, many more misleading ones. It's one of those books that are popular with the layman, but not so much with the expert.
When he leaves the topic of evolutionary biology, premodern history, and starts talking about modern history the book gets slighter better. Or is that just because I'm not as well-versed in those topics? Do I just not see his errors there, just like a layperson would not see his errors in his account of evolutionary biology, intelligence research, and more? I won't know. The problem is I can't put much trust in him, because there are so many things wrong or misleading stuff elsewhere. And he doesn't provide sufficient evidence.
Even in the better parts of the book, it is ultimately somewhat dull. Not much new to learn for me, unfortunately. There are so many books about humans, many of them much better than this.
I wouldn't claim that this is the worst book ever, obviously. But to say that it is overhyped is to put it mildly. If you want to read a story, then perhaps you might find it interesting. If you want a factual account that is supported by an honest look at the available evidence, then go somewhere else.
Half the book is very interesting after which it becomes a drag to read. Too preachy with less history. His book begins in a most promising way, weaving history and narrative in a way that breaks down preconceived notions of linear evolution. It's terrific at this point. At roughly page 120, the book begins to veer into a bizarre social justice screed, and the author begins citing as true facts things that are neither footnoted nor true. It became so poorly sourced and agenda-driven that I had to set it down, as it differed significantly from all that preceded it.
It's not a history - it's "Pop History." Superficial with lots of bold assertions without any corroborating evidence. With five minutes on Google you can discover that some of the most outlandish stories are false. At many times in the book I felt the author departed from what scientific evidence/research supports and instead conveyed a more political/biased view of things.
I would have liked to have him bring his educated opinions, emotions and humanity into the book more directly and openly, with facts and ideas that show how he arrived at these beliefs, rather than disguise his emotions as science and cherry pick a few facts to support himself. It cheapened what could otherwise have been a very good, thought provoking and otherwise well written book.
Given his next book is about the future, I am going to avoid it. In the middle of the book, I even wanted to give it up. Towards the end I had to push myself through the book.
If you're pretty savvy when it comes to human history and evolution of course this book wont tell you anything new. What it does is speculate heavily on the facts and drivels endlessly on about the authors ideas then explains things that are self explanatory. There is about two chapters on why money isnt real for example. Who cares? Everyone knows that.
What it fails to do is be cognitive in conveying actual facts for anyone that wants to learn more about these topics. It is not scientificly written, it's not written in historical order and really just all over the place in terms of it's scientific content. For the most part this book is incorrect assertions made by the author.
Even the first chapter we have the author focusing heavily on brain size as a maker of intelligence however many animals modern mankind might not call intelligent (by our own definition of course) do have much larger brains than those found in homo so why is this important? Even by body size to brain size ratio it's pretty meaningless since we are still similar to a mouse for example and if you're a bit fat you'd be as stupid as a hippo by that logic.
On several occasions the author goes to the trouble of adding hypothesis thats likely true next to hypothesis he made up and that we know to be inaccurate.
He claims for example homosapien wiped out coexisting species however also notes a study that DNA shows that sapiens interbred. He then continues regardless with a made up story of sapiens killing other species to the point of extinction.
Overall I found the book bearable but I did find myself cringing at a few of the authors ideas and assertions and I found that there were very minimal references to studies and a lot claims made by the author or stories that can never be proven because nobody cares.
There is also - as is to be expected from a book written by a homosapien - a huge bias toward how intelligent sapiens are as a species.. and a assumption that intelligence is important. It doesn't matter and probably is inaccurate anyway regarding other homo genus. It's the 21st century is it too much to ask for some perspective? Or just leave the ego stroking, humans are not the centre of the universe.
In conclusion this book is highly speculative with facts loosely interwoven but the author does not have particularly interesting ideas.
I can understand why so many people like this book. It is comforting to read a narrative that attempts to summarise a huge topic in such a persuasive style. Harari adopts a centre-left, globalist view that describes the liberal world in 2015. However, it sounds somewhat naive and idealistic in the world post 2016. He does not anticipate the populous uprisings, and the return of nationalistic attitudes that threaten individual humanism; nor the demise of the traditional liberal. Having read it more than once, it describes the world as I would like it to be, rather than the split world we now live in. I particularly liked his chapter on ‘The Law of Religion’, where he charts the demise of religions based on supernatural gods, and the ascent of Humanistic religion, based on “All humanists worship humanity”. He calls it a religion, and he goes further in dividing it into Liberal Humanism (or traditional liberalism), Socialist Humanism and Evolutionary Humanism. What we are witnessing in the West then, is infighting amongst humanists for a definition of what constitutes ‘humanity’. Traditional humanist liberals believe that ‘humanity’ is individualistic, while socialist humanists believe ‘humanity is collective. Evolutionary or progressive humanists believe that ‘humanity’ is “a mutable species. Humans might degenerate into subhumans or evolve into superhumans.” Harari speaks in 2015, as if liberal humanism is the major religion in the world. Since 2016, however, the world has experienced far less traditional liberalism, and more collective and progressive attitudes. This is a great summary of the infighting going on in the politics of the left. However, he teases us with great insight but fails to follow up with the implications. For instance, at the end of the same chapter he writes, “At the dawn of the third millennium, the future of evolutionary humanism is unclear. For sixty years after the end of the war against Hitler it was taboo to link humanism with evolution and to advocate using biological methods to ‘upgrade’ Homo Sapiens. But today such projects are back in vogue.” He goes on to assert “…many contemplate using our increasing knowledge of human biology to create superhumans.” Wow! Really? This is too big an assertion to make without spelling it out and without any evidence. Either he has not appreciated the implications of his own work, or has already decided the future of mankind in his own follow up book. He ends the chapter rather ominously saying “But in all frankness, how long can we maintain the wall separating the department of biology from the departments of law and political science.” As a student of biology, law and politics, I was both relieved that Harari was brave enough to assert Humanism as a religion (where we worship ourselves rather than a supernatural God), yet alarmed that he perhaps saw the return of evolutionary humanism, progressivism and possibly eugenics. Progressive politics is all about creating a ‘superhuman’ from a ‘subhuman’. It believes in the superiority of some and the inferiority of others. It uses identity politics to pit one group of humans against another, exploiting the suffering and misery of some to demonise others and thereby grab power for themselves. I just wish that Harari had opined less and evidenced more. There were too few sources for such an extensive project. Some of his stances in life, for instance his view that “industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history”, is an opinion but comes across as a ‘superior’ stance. Likewise, his dismissal of free will, of humans having souls and of nationalism, are political stances masquerading as facts. I get concerned whenever I come across individuals that adopt ‘morally superior’ positions such as veganism. What does it make of those of us who refuse to convert? Does it make me morally inferior because I still eat meat? This is truly at the heart of humanist progressivism – a ‘superiority complex! For that, and for making assertions without evidence, I give this book, 2 stars.
This book starts off well and promises so much. By page 80, I was getting concerned with some of the leaps of faith the author makes - none of which are backed up with any evidence (scientific or otherwise). As I read further, my initial hope disappeared - some the statements and theories are pretty wild, the links get more tenuous and it's a harder slog to read.
Ultimately, couldn't finish. It got heavy going and, imho, this is a collection of loosely linked author theories with no evidence to back them up.