I just got back from Alaska, I  traveled on a National Geographic Ship with 100 passengers and 8 naturalists. Most of our time was spent seeing wildlife and learning about them, but we also learned about the Tlingit people who are indigenous to Southeast Alaska.  We were visited by a Tlingit woman who sang for us and told a little bit about her culture.  The naturalists told us that The Tlinglit people were thriving in the 1700s while Europeans were just surviving. I was not surprised, I’ve read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (English version, 2014) by Israeli Author, Yuval Noah Harari. 

Brief, is certainly not a word I would use to describe this book. It’s written in a scholarly way yet I found it captivating.  Harari makes his case that the hunter-gather life was so much better for individual people then we assume. Harari barely mentions Israel or Judaism but he has a lot to say about organized religion in general.

We discussed this book in my co-ed, book group and found many topics to delve into including the pre-history of mankind and the ethics of raising animals for food. If you have some spare time to go way beyond beach reading, pick up Sapiens and have your world view shifted and shifted again. 

2 thoughts on “Sapiens, a book that will shift your view of the world.

  1. Thanks for the suggestion. I finished it today. I thought I’d copy my Goodreads review:
    This book was a little unexpected and it definitely made me think. I expected a kind of timeline starting with our written history through current but it starts with a nice 2 page timeline starting with 13.5 billion years ago and tying science through out the book. It’s divided into 4 parts:
    The Cognitive Revolution
    The Agricultural Revolution
    The Unification of Humankind
    The Scientific Revolution

    I found the first two sections really easy to follow. I liked that the big difference between homosapiens and animals happened about 70,000 when we developed the ability to have words for things that don’t physically exist.
    I liked thinking about all the areas we do this in our current society. I also liked thinking about how these “myths “ or “fictions” are passed down as facts. We take a great deal for granted that we are taught. If I were to be a founder of a culture, what “truths” would I teach. I liked how common beliefs can unite large groups of people but who started that belief and were they correct?

    As for agriculture, I liked his point of view because I had always been taught farming bettered our lives. In ways it does but let’s suppose we were happier as hunters and gatherers, at this point there is no way to go back. I often think about what we value in our society and I see how some struggle in our school system but I bet would excel during other times. I have a 21 year old brother who always struggled with his grades yet I’m really impressed with his skills as a fisherman and many relatives are excellent hunters which seem to be both valuable skills for survival yet our society doesn’t teach these skills at least not in public schools. Why? If today I wanted to be a hunter/ gather I couldn’t. Private property, gun laws, etc.

    As a whole, like anytime that I’ve studied our history, I’m ashamed of our past, the way we treat each other and animals and the planet itself but I try to understand the point of view of that group of people. Did the people that settled Australia plan to cause a mass extinction of the megafauna? Probably not, I’m assuming they were simply trying to feed themselves. Does that make it alright? Is our life more important than theirs? Not to mention how different groups of people treat each other. I’d love to learn about the Incas but we killed them all and this story repeats throughout history,

    Religion teaches us not to kill yet how many have killed in the name of their religion. The author never outright says God is not real but it often seems implied by referring to the myths and fictions we create. I think religion means well and I believe in a higher power, God, but do I believe because people I love taught me these beliefs as a child and my culture. I often like learning about the teachings of Budda. I first learned about Siddhartha Gautama when I was in 9th grade Social Studies and I loved how the 5 pillars were all positive rather than “Thou shall not….” like the 10 commandments I learned as a Catholic. This book didn’t go into any of that but it did explain how Gautama thought he would find a way to end suffering. He concluded that we have cravings and cravings always lead to dissatisfaction. Therefore through meditation we can learn to experience reality as it is and end the cravings to intensify our pleasure or extend the time of our pleasure and avoid pain. That shouldn’t be our goal, our goal is to end suffering by liberating ourselves by ending cravings.

    The second half of this book has so much packed into it, I might need to buy a copy so I can highlight some parts and refer back to some points. Whoever borrowed this library book wrote in pencil throughout which I can’t imagine doing. However it was fun seeing parts whoever thought were important.

    I’m going to jump around and write a few things I took away:

    Why were so many, most, societies patriarchal?(not sure if page 153 is accurate, I thought native Americans were matriarchal)

    Communism doesn’t work!

    Capitalism tends to be successful but isn’t always very ethical.

    Scientific advances were often made possible by empires wishing to increase their profits.

    Power—-resources——-research (circle)

    Hammurabi’s code- an attempt at justice 1776BC
    Superior class, commoners and slaves held different values

    Why does the Catholic Church teach that their priests/bishops/pope can’t have sex? Isn’t that contradictory? The “best” should spread their genes. (Alpha male)

    Human rights are a shared fiction, they only exist like LLC if we believe they exist.

    Money was created for ease of trade.

    Gilgamesh sought immortality and with today’s technology perhaps soon some will be a-mortal

    Growing Pie- modern economy (circle) trust in future—-much credit——-fast growth (Adam Smith)

    Modern farming is it ethical? What if we stopped current methods, wouldn’t millions die from lack of food? My heart goes out to the poor chickens and cows yet will I stop eating them? Heck no

    The author paints possible futures and good things to ponder. Cyborgs, computer viruses, superhumans, implants controlled by our thought. He ends with:

    What do we want to become? What do we want to want? (I often ponder that)

    After finishing the book I question what was his purpose in writing this book? Simply for intellectual purposes? What future does he hope to create and as a reader, was he leading us to any conclusions?


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