“We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.
Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”
How many times do you encounter a book that challenges, or perhaps, alters your beliefs, your foundations? Anybody who has read Harari’s Sapiens would agree that this book does that – it asks of you to go back and check if all your beliefs originated from the right place or the right thought.
Whether you agree or disagree with what the author had to say is something that doesn’t really matter here. For Harari, very articulately, conveyed his science behind humankind. And, as for me, this book has brought a sense of paradigm shift. So, yes, it’s going to be highly subjective if this book and its subject go well with you or not, because it literally attacks your core sense of beliefs and faith.
“Our late modern world prides itself on recognising, for the first time in history, the basic equality of all humans, yet it might be poised to create the most unequal of all societies.”
Sapiens talks about almost everything related to humankind that is under the sun. You name it and you can find a section dedicated to it – Neanderthals, animals, morals, empires, manhood over womanhood, culture, religion, God, soul, happiness, money, politics, human rights, business, market, consumerism, wars, genes, bioengineering etc. There will be topics that you already are aware of, and then there will be those that you probably didn’t even know existed. For me, this was a book of discoveries – some amazed me, while some shocked me.
If I go down the lane of telling you how this book panned out, it’ll take me several pages and numerous hours to do so, and yet hardly any eyes who would want to read it. Hence, I’d refrain from doing it.
The book is categorically sectioned in separate and interrelated themes and subjects, which rendered a smooth transition from one section to another, without hindering the flow. The content surely lacks details, but this, I found, is majorly due to the vastness it had to talk about versus the tight space it was to be done in. It is not possible to deep-dive into so much in merely around 400 pages.
Yet, the impact that this book has is as strong and as important as ever because, for me, it makes sense at most of the places. Even when it questions your belief, it does so with supporting facts.
“Today religion is often considered a source of discrimination, disagreement and disunion. Yet, in fact, religion has been the third great unifier of humankind, alongside money and empires.”
Whenever it comes to development by humans, it always has been at the cost of nature or other living beings – it’s a fact, not a belief. The manhood is considered superior to that of the womanhood in almost all the cultures and societies – it’s, again, a fact, not a belief. AI and bioengineering are changing the way of life the way we know it – again, a fact. So, we talk and discuss a lot about such facts in the book. At places it gives you answers to the questions that it raises, but Sapiens, I feel, is more about asking the right questions than providing the right answers. This is the kind of read you keep on coming back to. And that is why I insist on its importance.
We all need to pose the right questions, the important questions. And how can you do that if you don’t even know what to question? Sapiens, if not convinces, at least acts as a conversation enabler. A conversation that we need to hold among ourselves, but we do not, because we do not even know that such conversations can be held.
Harari’s work, including all his three books, challenges not only the common man’s belief system, but it questions those sitting in the thrones and living in the castles. It tries to impeach those who, today, run this world. The religious extremists simply belittle his rationales not considering them even worthy of any thought, and, perhaps, that is why some countries (Iran, for example) have even banned his books.
“The tightening web of international connections erodes the independence of most countries, lessening the chance that any of them might single-handedly let slip the dogs of war. Most countries no longer engage in full-time war for the simple reason that they are no longer independent.”
It is believed by some that Harari’s arguments are baseless and senseless and anything that a non-sensical statement is. But I found his book far from being nonsense. It was hard for me to shoot down the findings that Harari has put in the book. Not having any prior knowledge on the subject, I probably didn’t even know what to dismiss and what not. But till the time I become more familiar with the subject through other sources, I cannot say that I didn’t like the book at any given level.
Also, many consider Harari against technological advancement and evolution and his arguments to be pessimistic in nature, but I nowhere could see how and why. All Harari did was put forward the facts and possibilities, and, if in doing so, he is being against the technological revolution then so be it.
It is given from the human history what it is capable of when given the power – as much as one wants to do good, there are always some who exploit that power. And some of the experimentation, without being explicit, take place only for the not-so-good deeds. Thus, talking about the fear of getting on to the darker side of a revolution is not being sceptical, but rather being realistic and practical.
“Ask scientists why they study a genome, or try to connect a brain to a computer, or try to create a brain inside a computer. Nine out of ten times you’ll get the same standard answer: we are doing it to cure diseases and save human lives. Even though the implications of creating a mind inside a computer are far from dramatic than curing psychiatric illness, this is the standard justification given, because nobody can argue with it.”
Plus, it is also Harari who claims that the world today is enjoying the fruitful results of past revolutions – decreased rate of child mortality, lesser famine rates, history’s approach towards unity, etc. But the world needs somebody who tells it on its face that there also are the downsides to even the most-promising projects, and Harari just turns out to be one of them.
As for giving Sapiens a read, you have to first be interested in the subject. It took me two years to pick it up from my shelf because I was just not into the themes this book talks about. But, trust me, once you pick it up, it will be difficult to let go of it. Reading it has only pushed me deeper into the subject and has encouraged me to explore this subject from wider perspectives.
The only craving throughout my read was to add commas. I lost count of places where they should have been but weren’t. Other than that, I can only complain that the book ended just too soon – I wanted more of it!
Smitten by this historian’s and futuristic’s first book, I cannot wait to read his next two. Having said all of it, I’m not of the opinion that one should believe the first thing he/she reads about a new topic. So, I am also not going to just follow what I learnt just like that – I’m as open to the opposing views as I’m to the supporting ones.
“Since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, the real question facing us is not “What do we want to become?”, but “What do we want to want?”
So, tell me how did you find Sapiens? If never read, I hope you give it a try now after going through the review. These interesting little excerpts must have fascinated you at least a little, didn’t they? There are far too many such statements/questions in the book that I’ve even lost count of it.
Ending with one of my favourites:
“It is an iron rule of history that what looks inevitable in hindsight was far from obvious at the times.”
IF YOU ARE A FIRST- TIME VISITOR OF MY BLOG, DO REFER ‘First-Timers‘. IT WOULD HELP YOU IN EXPLORING THE PLACE.
Copyright © 2019 by Idle Muser. All rights reserved.
9 Comments Add yours
A good detailed is one of the few merits of good reading done and it is quite evident here.
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Hey – thank you, Asha!
This book needed this detail – I just hope I didn’t overdo it. Have you read it or plan to?
I haven’t read this work, but your excellent review is pushing me in that direction! I did read Harari’s work, Homo Deus, which was an amazing book. Whether one agrees or disagrees, he most certainly makes one think.
Thank you for sharing!
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Exactly, Paul. How many books do we see around that make us think? – not many in my experience. I hope you get around reading Sapiens and then his 21 lessons as well – they shouldn’t disappoint you considering you liked Homo Deus.
On the side note, how have you been? My blog isn’t active anymore, so I’ve lost touch with a lot of my blogger friends.
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Thank you for the reply and it’s good to hear from you, dear Idle. I did get both Sapiens and 21 Lessons. I have them in my TBR pile which is getting shorter! What else to do but read and mull over this insane world of ours.
I’m doing well. I get up at four, get my writing done–along with a few cups of coffee. :-). My wife, Sadako, still a wage-earner, goes in to work one day a week, so it’s not too intense. I stay busy here at the house, mowing grass in between rain storms. Writing and reading are my major pasttimes. Yesterday I pulled down my electronic chess board and started playing
chess. The damn thing beats me everytime, but that’s okay. In a year or so, I’ll definitely improve my game! 🙂
We don’t have tv so I keep up with the news, watching YouTube MSNBC and CNN news bites. When it gets too depressing I stop for awhile–causes nightmares–literally. But all in all we are doing well.
I don’t think things are going to get any better regarding the pandemic, in fact I believe things are going to get worse. The only “possible” good news is that summer may bring a bit of relief, hence it will be a time to “get ready” for the nexty onslaught.
I’ll stop here. If I mention our lack of leadership (I find it hard to even say his name.) I’ll go into hysterics. But at least I’m not so deranged to squirt a bit of bleach down my throat. Sigh.
Take care dear friend. And thanks again for the wonderful reply.
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Ah wow! I’m glad you and wife are doing good, Paul. It’s mostly in our hands to keep ourselves stay sane (and little optimistic) and helping those around us in these times. Good to hear that books, chess and lawn are keeping you busy.
A schedule always helps – I’m still trying to set one for myself.
Let’s stay in touch – do let me know your feedback whenever you get around Harari’s books, or any other interesting book or article or video you read or watch.
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Sure thing. I wrote “Idle Muser” at the top of my book mark for SAPIENS, so I won’t forget to send my thoughts your way! 🙂
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Thia sounds great. I’ve seen it around but haven’t gotten around to picking it up. I love books that combine many subjects and challenge belief and preconception. Learning is always a joyous thing to be had, excited for more of your journey through books.
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There couldn’t be a better time than this lockdown to read about the subjects he talks about, Steve – it won’t disappoint you, I’m pretty sure.
Update: Since this post, I’ve read his other two books as well, and needless to say, I loved them too.