Science Books For The Curious – ‘Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind’

Photo of the cover of the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Abbie Turner

I’m your typical BA student, my brain is wired for analysing poetry and translating passages, not for working out chemical equations or splitting atoms. Quite frankly, I am the definition of a non-scientist and I always will be, a statement that my GCSE Chemistry teacher would definitely agree with!

However, something that has always baffled me is our own history. Where did we come from, what happened to the other ancient humans (such as Neanderthals etc.) and how did we get to where we are today? I have never been able to get my head around these concepts, not even the classic question “what came first: the chicken or the egg?” (although my instincts are telling me the egg… surely?) and so I decided to use my time in lockdown #2 to try and get a general grasp on the subject.

Harari calls us, “masters of the planet”

I was pointed in the direction of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

Sapiens looks into our evolution as a species and proposes three important revolutions that have shaped the course of human history. The first is the Cognitive Revolution which kick-started our history about 70,000 to 30,000 years ago, then the Agricultural Revolution (10,000 years ago) and finally the Scientific Revolution which only began about 500 years ago. It puts into perspective how minuscule our time on earth has been, and how in that time sapiens have gone from an insignificant animal to, as Harari calls us, “masters of the planet”.

Before I started reading this book I was very apprehensive. Lots of science books are overly detailed and confusing which can put many of us non-scientists off, but Sapiens felt different from the moment I started reading. Harari is able to convey complex ideas in such a simple and accessible style that I came away from this book feeling as if I had a genuine foundation of knowledge and an insight into our history as a species.

You’ll definitely gain a new perspective on the world

Sapiens has been described as a “study-guide summary” and I think that’s the perfect interpretation Harari doesn’t go into great depth of detail because it’s not needed! I didn’t read this book in order to write my dissertation, I read it to get a general awareness and broaden my understanding! After all, it is titled A Brief History of Humankind.

Photo of the cover of the book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

At the end of the book Harari touches slightly on where we as a species are headed next, which links nicely into another book of his, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which I read almost immediately after finishing Sapiens.

The manner in which Harari writes is fascinating and thought-provoking. For anyone else who has an interest in humans, where we came from and where we could end up, I highly recommend these books.

You won’t come away feeling like the next Albert Einstein but you’ll definitely gain a new perspective on the world and you’ll find yourself asking a lot more questions.

Abbie Turner

Featured image by Aristocrat from Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image by Vormingplus Gent-Eeklo vzw from Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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