The first book i am going to be reviewing is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. There is simply no better place to start this book club off. This is such an incredible book and has taken many professions, from college professors, to silicon valley entrepreneurs, by storm. It’s a book that absolutely everyone should read and can learn from and the best part is, it’s a very easy read. I have actually already read this book, but every time I flick past it in my kindle, I’m tempted to tap right on it and re-read the whole thing. I have many notes which i go over very regularly and this, along with my other thoughts, is what i’m going to be sharing with you guys over then next few days.
So what is this book about?
This book gives a ‘brief’ overview of our history as humans on this tiny blue dot. But the word brief doesn’t do it justice, because Yuval goes into mind-blowing detail about how we evolved to become what we are. How we defeated all other forms of humans, such as the homo ergaster and the homo denisova. Then he traces how we created the modern-day we live in, and finally he finishes on our future.
So if you want to follow along (I cant emphasize enough that you should, pick it up at the links at the bottom of the page. I recommend you buy the kindle version if you have an e-reader. – JP
So who is Yuval Noah Harari? Yuval is a professor specialising in world history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. He studied in Oxford university, where he got his PhD in HIstory. It is here that ignited his fascination with the human species and how we came to be who we are today…
100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. Somehow we overcame these species:
Homo neanderthalensis Homo soloensis Homo floresiensis
Homo denisova Homo ergaster Homo rudolfensis
Dwarfs exist today because of what happened when our human ancestors reached a small Indonesian island called Flores. Humans first reached Flores when the sea level was very low – they were able to easily access it from other lands. However, once on the island, sea levels rose, trapping humans on the island (there were no boats back a day). As the years went by, food began to decline rapidly. Bigger humans needed more food, smaller humans could last longer without food. Therefore, the bigger folks died out, as the smaller ones thrived. The process lasted for generations. And it gave birth to a new species of human: homo floresiensis. – It just goes to show how a small thing can lead to a very big one.
Why do we have such big brains, compared to the rest of the animal kingdom? The answer is because we needed to think. Simple. But also, we were smart enough to access food that other animals couldn’t. Big brains use a lot of energy, and other animals simply never went on to start cultivating the powers of fire, farming, and crop growing. Other animals couldnt feed a large brain.
An ape could tear a human apart in seconds, but a human can think of ways to defeat the ape, instead of using just brute force. This is the exact reason we outnumbered the neanderthals and eventually forced of the face of the earth. Neanderthals could not think like humans. Sure, they could win a fight 1 v 1 no problem. But, they weren’t able to see into the future (be it 10 minutes) or communicate effectively with their fellow beings. Homo sapiens could. We could strategize, we could plan, we had the edge. Strategy beats muscle power.
Humans discovered fire – and this little discovery changed the course of history for good, it turned out to be a rather big discovery. Once we knew how to create fire, we discovered that we could now make inedible foods, edible. We could make them tasty, we could make them hot. Making inedible foods edible however, did not mean they were correctly digested. Wheat, potatoes, rice, corn. All of these foods are not meant to be consumed by humans, and it would take millions and millions of years for us to have the digestive power to do so. Even today, these foods are responsible for many illnesses, because they form a large part of the diet, but are so lacking in nutrients. These food were not only easy to cultivate, they were also very fast. Fast to cook, and very quickly eaten. This created A LOT of spare time for humans, because they no longer had to chase animals, they no longer had to spend hours cooking, they no longer had to search for edible fruits and seeds, they no longer had to sit down and relax after large meals. They had what we today call ‘instant food’. Poorly nutritious, rapidly digested (some), and very quick. – Again, a small thing leads to a very large thing. Throughout the book, you will begin to see that this is a very familiar pattern. Little things forged the modern-day.
Some scholars believe there is a direct link between the size of our intestines, and the size of our brains. We originally had very large intestines because we were used to eating while foods, plants and meat, but we also had large brains. And it’s very energy-consuming to have both. With the discovery of fire, we were able to travel to lands afar. To lands that were previously considered dangerous. We were able to defeat predators with ease. We had a lethal weapon. A women with a single flint of fire, could burn down an entire forest. As we made our way across te earth, the large intestine became more and more irrelevant, so it got smaller.
When sapiens first discovered Neanderthal man in the lands of Arabia, they came across a species with a bigger brain, way more muscle, and an impressive array of weapons. They had the ability to kill very large animals, which means access to meat. Hence, they were very muscular. Now, this point in history is still largely debatable. It is not known exactly whether we merged with neanderthals (although its very unlikely), or if we lived beside them. If we were enemies. Or if we were scared off in the initial stages. But one theory stands above the rest. This theory is that we actually did see them as enemies, and we used our ability to think (which the neanderthals did not have) to drive them out. We strategized, got teams together and figured out ways to force them to move of – Homo Sapiens has arrived. There is debate as to why Neanderthal DNA is till found in 3-4% of humans living today. Well, the answer is fairly simple: Although breeding with a rival species was seen as destructive, and possibly also not baby-producing, it would inevitably happen. Look at the world today. You see adultery going on in 50 year marriages. You see interbreeding. You see mixed race people. It obviously happened, but it wasnt the common. So yes, the neanderthal gene got a ticket on the homo sapien express into the next few hundred thousand years, be it in the smallest seat at the back of the rustiest carriage…
So how did we cultivate this ability to think and communicate in a way that all other humans could not? In the next part of the review, i will share my notes from the book and my thoughts on what i learned.
Pick up the book here: