Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

3.7 15
by Yuval Noah Harari

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New York Times Bestseller

"I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a fun, engaging look at early human history…you’ll have a hard time putting it down."--Bill Gates

"Thank God someone finally wrote [this] exact book."--Sebastian Junger

From a renowned historian comes a


New York Times Bestseller

"I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a fun, engaging look at early human history…you’ll have a hard time putting it down."--Bill Gates

"Thank God someone finally wrote [this] exact book."--Sebastian Junger

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?

Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.

Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because over the last few decades humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?

Featuring 27 photographs, 6 maps, and 25 illustrations/diagrams, this provocative and insightful work is sure to spark debate and is essential reading for aficionados of Jared Diamond, James Gleick, Matt Ridley, Robert Wright, and Sharon Moalem.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Writing with wit and verve, Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, attempts to explain how Homo sapiens came to be the dominant species on Earth as well as the sole representative of the human genus. He notes that from roughly two million years ago until about 10,000 years ago, we were not the only humans on the planet; many species preceded us, and some overlapped our tenure. Harari argues persuasively that three revolutions explain our current situation. The first, the cognitive revolution, occurred approximately 70,000 years ago and gave us “fictive” language, enabling humans to share social constructs as well as a powerful “imagined reality” that led to complex social systems. The second, the agricultural revolution, occurred around 12,000 years ago and allowed us to settle into permanent communities. The third, the scientific revolution, began around 500 years ago and allowed us to better understand and control our world. Throughout, Harari questions whether human progress has led to increased human happiness, concluding that it’s nearly impossible to show that it has. Harari is provocative and entertaining but his expansive scope only allows him to skim the surface. (Feb.)
Library Journal
★ 12/01/2014
This title is one of the exceptional works of nonfiction that is both highly intellectual and compulsively readable. Originally published in Israel in 2011, it has been translated into over 20 languages, including this polished English version. Harari (history, Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) takes the reader on a journey that begins with the dawn of Homo sapiens around 200,000 BCE and ends with the scientific revolution. The author covers the cognitive revolution, which allowed Homo sapiens, unlike our predecessors, to imagine what the author terms fictions—gods, laws, the idea of money, and so on. These concepts made it possible for large groups of the species to work together for their greater good. The author goes on to reveal the consequences of the agricultural revolution (beginning around 10,000 BCE) and the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th century, which include everything from bureaucracy and slavery to the endless search for happiness. VERDICT Although Harari's ideas may be controversial for some readers, those who are interested in history, anthropology, and evolution will find his work a fascinating, hearty read.—Jennifer Stout, Virginia Commonwealth Univ. Lib., Richmond
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-11-15
Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) provides an immersion into the important revolutions that shaped world history: cognitive, agricultural and scientific. The book was originally published in Israel in 2011 and became a best-seller.There is enormous gratification in reading books of this nature, an encyclopedic approach from a well-versed scholar who is concise but eloquent, both skeptical and opinionated, and open enough to entertain competing points of view. As Harari firmly believes, history hinges on stories: some stories for understanding, others prompting people to act cooperatively toward common goals. Of course, these stories—" ‘fictions,' ‘social constructs' or ‘imagined realities' "—can be humble or evil, inclusive or self-serving, but they hold the power of belief. Harari doesn't avoid the distant past, when humans "were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish," but he is a skeptic and rightfully relies on specific source material to support his arguments—though he is happy to offer conjectures. Harari launches fully into his story with the cognitive revolution, when our brains were rewired, now more intelligent and creative, with language, gossip and myths to fashion the stories that, from politicians to priests to sorcerers, serve to convince people of certain ideas and beliefs. The agricultural revolution ("lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers") comes next and firmly establishes the intersubjectivity of imagined orders: hierarchies, money, religion, gender issues, "communication network[s] linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals." Throughout, the author revels in the chaos of history. He discusses the good and bad of empires and science, suggests that modern economic history comes down to a single word ("growth"), rues the loss of familial and societal safety nets, and continues to find wonder in the concept that "the keys to happiness are in the hands of our biochemical system." The great debates of history aired out with satisfying vigor.
Jared Diamond
“Sapiens tackles the biggest questions of history and of the modern world, and it is written in unforgettably vivid language.”
“This was the most surprising and thought-provoking book I read this year.”
Booklist Best Books of the Year
“In this sweeping look at the history of humans, Harari offers readers the chance to reconsider, well, everything, from a look at why Homo sapiens endured to a compelling discussion of how society organizes itself through fictions.”
Bill Gates
“I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a fun, engaging look at early human history…you’ll have a hard time putting it down.”
Sebastian Junger
“Thank God someone finally wrote [this] exact book.”
Dan Ariely
“In Sapiens, Harari delves deep into our history as a species to help us understand who we are and what made us this way. An engrossing read.”
John Carey
“The sort of book that sweeps the cobwebs out of your brain…. Harari…is an intellectual acrobat whose logical leaps will have you gasping with admiration.”
Ben Shepard
“Harari’s account of how we conquered the Earth astonishes with its scope and imagination…. One of those rare books that lives up to the publisher’s blurb...brilliantly clear, witty and erudite.”
John Gray
“An absorbing, provocative history of civilization…packed with heretical thinking and surprising facts. This riveting, myth-busting book cannot be summarised…you will simply have to read it.”
Bryan Appleyard
“Full of…high-perspective, shocking and wondrous stories, as well as strange theories and startling insights.”
The Independent (London)
“Not only is Harari eloquent and humane, he is often wonderfully, mordantly funny”
Guardian (London)
“Engaging and informative…. Extremely interesting.”
The Times (Ireland)
“Harari can write…really, really write, with wit, clarity, elegance, and a wonderful eye for metaphor.”
Booklist (starred review)
“It’s not often that a book offers readers the possibility to reconsider, well, everything. But that’s what Harari does in this sweeping look at the history of humans.… Readers of every stripe should put this at the top of their reading lists. Thinking has never been so enjoyable.”
Wall Street Journal
“Sapiens is learned, thought-provoking and crisply written…. Fascinating.”
Washington Post
Sapiens takes readers on a sweeping tour of the history of our species…. Harari’s formidable intellect sheds light on the biggest breakthroughs in the human story…important reading for serious-minded, self-reflective sapiens.”
New York magazine
“Yuval Noah Harari’s full-throated review of our species may have been blurbed by Jared Diamond, but Harari’s conclusions are at once balder and less tendentious than that of his famous colleague.”
“Yuval Noah Harari’s celebrated Sapiens does for human evolution what Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time did for physics.… He does a superb job of outlining our slow emergence and eventual domination of the planet.”
Dick Meyer
“The most idea-packed work of non-fiction I’ve read in years.”
Michael Gerson
“It is one of the best accounts by a Homo sapiens of the unlikely story of our violent, accomplished species.…It is one hell of a story. And it has seldom been told better…. Compulsively readable and impossibly learned.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

Yuval Noah Harari has a PhD in history from the University of Oxford and now lectures at the Department of History, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in world history. Sapiens has been translated into 26 languages, and has already become an international bestseller in the UK, Spain, Slovenia, Taiwan, and Israel.

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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
sababob More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. It follows the lecture, by the same name and last taken by 38K student, given on Coursera. The author has a very unique and well balanced view of history, and instead of merely listing events, he explains how and why they happened. Everyone will get a very good history lesson from this book, and learn a number of facts that are uniquely presented in this text. A must for everyone interested in the history of us sapiens.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Sometimes I skim a history or science book that is a bestseller, but this book was so interesting that I read every word If you are a deeply religious person, only the first quarter of the book may interest you because as the book progresses it is clear that the historian is an atheist. That is no problem for me because I am more interested in his other ideas and his take on past periods in human history and possible human future. Some chapters are devoted to what makes humans happy and the author's twist on Existentialism.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It is vey insighrful and offers a fresh insight on the major developments in history. It is right up there with Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel. I did feel the Author copped out on trying to explain why most societies are patriarchal.
Anonymous 12 days ago
Brodk More than 1 year ago
Wish I could give it 4 stars, but then the book would have to earn it. Yes, some of the author’s assumptions and conclusions are breathtaking and make you hope that someone would try to confirm or refute his hypotheses. Definitely the first 100 pages are the highlight of the book, but even there I felt that his sweeping generalizations were unwarranted and maybe even contradicted by researchers (who knows exactly who did what in small bands 100,000 years ago, yet the author makes assumptions.). The second part of the book seems to me to be more polemical than the first and can be safely disregarded. Not recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
brightCS More than 1 year ago
I agree with all of the previous readers in that Harari delivers an insightful exciting first third of the book. The phrase  that something or other was to be accepted because it was a "proven fact" marked a point where facts went out the window and Harari's opinions and speculations took over. From the first part of the book I know that he is a better author than that phrase, "it's a proven fact" led too. Everything after that became suspect and moved my skeptic level up quite a bit. And not a moment too soon. The arrangement of thought and delivery becomes sloppy and drips with loopy philosophical meanderings that should have been edited from this book. Jared Diamond should not be used as a comparison, as Diamond is consistent and believable, staying with topics he masters and is respectful of his audience. Not so in this book. If you have the discipline to read 100 pages and discard it, by all means buy the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just one look at the table of contents alone made it worth buying for me.   Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by renowned historian Dr. Yuval Noah Harari is a thrilling account of humankind's extraordinary history – from insignificant apes to rulers of the world. 100,000 years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us? How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?  These are some of the questions Dr. Harari answers in this book. Though I must warn you that they will not be what you expected. You will find his answers provocative and controversial but incredibly stimulating and thought provoking no matter what your views are. It’s sure to start a debate.   It is without a doubt, simply the best book I have read so far this year. It’s not some boring history book. And it is not a book trying to preach any political views. In fact it’s very hard to classify this book – it is science, history, anthropology, sociology, and evolution, it is engaging, highly original and addictive.  Dr. Harari has a great sense of humor and his writing forces you to stay engaged. It will likely be the one of the best books of the year; it was already a bestseller overseas. If you like Jared Diamond’s books, you’ll have to put this book on your list. Though Dr. Hariri’s book is far bolder than Dr. Diamond’s. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first hundred pages are among the most insightful I have ever read.  The next hundred I read diligently, hoping the author would get his mojo back. Very dis appointing.  After that I started flipping pages looking for A nugget.  I have now put it down and doubt I'll pick it back up. Strongly recommend you read the first part - well worth it.  Then put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THe first half of the book was excellent. Then it turned into a mere history book, although a potent history exploration. I found the history too many names and dates. Lots of ancient cultures and events like the Romans, Sumerians, and it was not the scope I cared for. The objective observations at the other half were very interesting and helped to apply to today's Homo Sapiens and understand why we are as such.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good book begins and then descends into tribal ignorance. Professor Harari should stick to his tasks at Hebrew U and avoid announcing to the world he is just another political hack.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an incredible leftest polemic. I thought I might be reading a book about the history of humankind but instead found myself knee deep in the politics of the left. I am all for gays getting married, equal rights for women, etc. but does it have to be discussed in a book with this title? To be fair, Harari, writes extremely well and his first 100 pages were breathtaking. But then some where along the line he picked up the handbook of leftest intolerance and began to ravage the west (and sometimes the east). I note that he found the time to attack slavery in America, the caste system of India, the one baby policy in China, the apartheid in South Africa (you will need someone to wake you up through this the arguments are so tiresome) and yet not once does he turn his poison pen toward Israel where he works and lives. He apparently does not feel that there is any Palestinian problem  of inequality in his home country. That should tell you a lot about where this book goes. He spent a great deal at the beginning of the book talking about the problems with the American constitution (which seems appropriate).  He even pointed out that the constitution did not create us nor are we created equally. But it seems that he  forgets about this discussion and launches in to a diatribe on how nations do not treat everyone equally -- you might not be surprised that capitalism is a favorite target. I don't think he has an inkling of knowledge about biology or evolutionary biology and because of  this the book turns into a syrupy sweet "I am of higher moral character than anyone else because of my opinions" tome. There is a whole section on the equality of women -- apparently he has not noticed the physical differences between the sexes nor biological differences that may have led to their inequality. To Harari, all is due to culture. As a professor in the sciences I found all of the cultural  nonsense hard to swallow and other thinking minds will too.  Harari actually contends that if it  is done in nature than it is acceptable. He points out that homosexual behavior is found throughout the animal kingdom and therefore  natural. First I suspect I should genuflect a few times here and establish that I am happy that gay men are able to marry. But I cannot agree that it is a natural act. We also find incest and infantacide in nature but I am not sure the author would advocate either of those. Harari also attempts to make some silly claims about the prowess of women. It seems pretty clear why women have been second class citizens throughout history. He has not even contemplated the politically incorrect idea that women in hunter gatherer societies selected for men that were courageous and good hunters. The size difference  between men and women is about 25% so there must have been a selection for the strong. Why else the size difference? We are between gorilla and chimp behavior (which undermines my immense irritation that he constantly references the way chimps behave as if that is some sort of go by for human behavior). One male wins with gorillas and is the only one to mate usually with the females. Male gorillas are huge compared to the females. Size was clearly determined by which male got his genes passed on - in this case the biggest gorilla. With chimps males are about equal size and sex runs rampant among them. The competition is at the sperm level not the size level (chimps have huge testes compared to gorillas). 
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