Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari


Harari’s book broadly spans and scans the entirety of human history with an especial focus on the breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolutions. Classed as history in my bookshop this book could quite easily fall under the headings of science writing, political theory, social theory, cultural studies, anthropology,  or philosophy.

Tough to nail down my thoughts on this one: too simplistic or simply illuminating?

The writing style is engaging, entertaining and will captivate even those with only a passing interest in history. However, ultimately, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. At times, Harari’s writing felt like History 101 and I wish he trusted more in the intelligence of his reader. He isn’t afraid to challenge long held and even “sacred” beliefs but I still felt like I was being talked down to. In addition, Harari often descends into a fairly moralising and didactic tone which is at odds with his warning against idealising or demonising the past.

I know this review comes across as primarily negative but I do believe Sapiens would be a great read for most audiences. I’ve been fairly dismissive but I did learn quite a bit and Harari does offer up a few different perspectives. If this topic interests you and you feel you need a gentle introduction then you could do a lot worse than Sapiens. 

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