Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari

Paperback, 2018

Publication

Harper Perennial (2018), Edition: Reprint, 464 pages

Description

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity's creation and evolution that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be "human."

Media reviews

Much of Sapiens is extremely interesting, and it is often well expressed. As one reads on, however, the attractive features of the book are overwhelmed by carelessness, exaggeration and sensationalism.
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Jared Diamond hoort met Simon Schama, Bill Bryson en Charles Mann tot die zeldzame auteurs die inderdaad het grote verhaal vertellen. [...] Zijn recente werk, De wereld tot gisteren, is een brede vergelijking tussen de laatste primitieve samenlevingen, en de eenheidsworst die we nu 'beschaving'
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noemen. Diamond laat zien hoe 'primitief' we eigenlijk nog zijn, en hoe veel we van die volken kunnen leren. Hij zet aan tot denken. Harari laat de lezer in verwarring achter. [...] Harari beheerst de techniek, maar een 'groot verhaal' komt niet van de grond.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member stellarexplorer
This is not an easy book to present or review. It dissects so many parts of human life and culture, that it would be complicated to discuss on that basis alone. And yet one comes to feel that Harari addresses history largely in the service of offering deeply-held critiques and challenges that
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unfold over the course of the book.

Let me just mention that the hardcover first U.S. edition is an admirable physical specimen. Most notable to me is the feel of the paper. I don't know the accurate words to describe it, but it may be a premium glossy high-lustre paper that feels extremely comfortable to handle.

This book fits clearly into the emerging area of historical study some call Big History. It concerns itself with the broad sweep of the human career. Not quite as broad as the view of David Christian who doesn't limit himself to the human part of the story, but broad in that Harari starts with our proto-human ancestry and concludes with a consideration of a potential trans-human future.

Let's be clear: I found no original scholarship here. Harari hews to familiar if wide and inclusive intellectual terrain. He owes a great debt to people like Jared Diamond, David Christian, and numerous authors who have come before. The Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, civilization, modernity. Science and its overthrow of the belief that was no more to discover about the universe. The interplay between science, capital and government. And on.

This is not a criticism. Harari is an articulate and forceful purveyor of ideas. Sometimes he fails to make clear the distiction between scholarship and his own opinions, but for the most part he can be forgiven; his playing fast and-loose can be frustrating (eg. the chapter on the Agricultural Revolution is titled "History's Biggest Fraud"; "having so recently been one of the underdogs of the Savannah we are full of anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous"; "the leading project of the Scientific Revolution is to give humankind eternal life"), but it often feels like quibbling in the face of the questions he raises. Or alternatively, one tends to agree but knows inside that there is less certainty in his assertions that he lets on.

Harari spends a lot of time on the notion of human success being due to what he calls inter-subjective phenomena, meaning fictions we agree upon, like money or countries but unlike electrons. He wants to remind us of how much of what we take for granted about ourselves and the world -- and which has resulted in our numerical proliferation and material aggrandizement -- is in a deep sense imaginary. He emphasizes the (familiar) dark side of the Neolithic (and post-Paleolithic in general): longer hours, disease, the false lure of acquisitiveness, etc. He suggests that happiness ought to be the barometer of how we live. Are people happier now than they were before giving up the migrant hunter-gatherer life and becoming sedentary participants in civilization? (Acknowledging however that there's no going back) He is forceful in his criticisms of religion and government. His account of money, capital and banking is especially cogent. He emphasizes repeatedly our insensitivity to the emotional harm our practices have on animals.

This book is meant to challenge, to be a cautionary tale. There is a dark -- but not necessarily unfair -- thread running through the text. About our potential future as powerful beings: "Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don't know what they want?"; and "But 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?'. Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven't given it enough thought."

In the end, this is a thought-provoking book. He may not be right about everything, he may blur the lines between scholarship and interpretation, but his critiques are well worth considering. For a thorough introduction to Big History, I prefer David Christian's Maps of Time. For a challenging critique of the human past and future, this book must be reckoned with.
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LibraryThing member Osdolai
A highly misleading title, as this book is neither brief nor a history. It starts off in a promising way, a summary of the latest discoveries in the field of evolutionary anthropology. For the sake of argument the author calls the transition to Homo sapiens a 'revolution', when in fact there are
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tons of evidence that the buildup to advanced abstract thought and complex linguistic skills was slow and probably took hundreds of thousands of years. Some revolution. But that´s forgivable given what comes next, the ´agricultural revolution´. Things really start getting messy from this point onward.

For the second act of the story, the author recycles the very old and tired argument of a 'Golden Age' when bands of hunter-gatherers roamed the land. At this point all semblance of thoughtful consideration of contradictory evidence is angrily thrown away and the author begins pontificating in the most heavy-handed and condescending of tones you could imagine. There are barely any notes or references to back up some truly outlandish claims, and the logical structure of the arguments presented becomes shaky at best. The contradictions pile up so fast, it is difficult to make it past the halfway mark. Given that the likes of Desmond Morris, Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Michael Pollan, Henry Hobhouse, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Jack Harlan and Bill Bryson, among others, have presented (or debunked) all of these arguments before in a truly scholarly and convicing manner, it is quite puzzling that this book should sell like hot cakes. Or sell at all.

In summary. If you want a scholarly work, look elsewhere. If you want entertaining pop science, look elsewhere. All of the authors I have mentioned above are light years ahead of this painfully shrill and shallow piece of propaganda. However, if you want heavy-handed patronizing, opinion masquerading as fact, and half-baked postmodern relativism, this may be your cup of tea.
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
This history of the human species by turns fascinated, depressed, and infuriated me. The early chapters about how homo sapiens developed things like agriculture were the most interesting to me (perhaps because they presented the most information I didn't already know), and the second half was a
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slog of depression and irritation. I disagreed with little of Harari's facts and larger conclusions, but the way he presented the material (often in a manner that seemed designed to shock) I feel elided a lot of nuance and sometimes privileged the rhetorical choice of shocking the reader over following the logic of his own arguments. Which makes me cross. So, a mixed read for me, and kind of a disappointing one, as I was looking forward to it. It *did* make for a lively and interesting conversation at book club, so that was nice.
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LibraryThing member browner56
Imagine that you are hosting a dinner party with several of your close friends, all of whom are accomplished professionals in their various disciplines. In addition to good food and good wine, these occasions are also the source of much good conversation. Tonight’s topic is particularly
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intriguing: How did mankind get from where it began to where it is today? One of your guests is particularly well-versed in this area, with training in anthropology, biology, and economics in addition to his primary role as an historian. How do you think he would convey to the gathering everything that he knows about the subject? Very likely it would be with charm, wit, warmth, and considerable erudition, but with none of the dry academic discourse or condescending diatribe that we all fear being trapped by in such circumstances.

Although admittedly loose, the preceding metaphor gives a sense of my reaction to reading Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari’s masterful and engaging summary of man’s first few million years on the planet. Audaciously subtitled A Brief History of Humankind, the author manages to deliver just that and more in the relatively compact space of some 400 pages. His focus is on the ascent of the genus Homo and why the Sapiens species—as opposed to, say, Neanderthals or Erectus—emerged supreme, as well as both the positive and negative consequences of that development. The story is not always pretty, or even especially flattering to us Sapiens, but it is always well-told and nicely paced. One of Harari’s most impressive talents is to weave together so many diverse schools of thought into something that seemed more like an expertly produced tapestry than a straightforward, linear narrative.

A framing device that I found particularly useful was to divide the history of human development into three distinct regimes: the Cognitive Revolution, when mankind first became aware of its talents and surroundings; the Agricultural Revolution, when mankind domesticated plants and animals for its own benefit (or was it the other way around?); and the Scientific Revolution, the last 500 years during which most of mankind’s breathtaking technological advances have occurred. As Harari explains, an important feature of this history was the creation of imagined orders, which explain many diverse cultural and economic constructs including organized religions, multinational empires, and modern corporations. As much as anything, the human ability to imagine social, political, and economic organizations is what underscores the remarkable tale the author tells.

If you accept the notion that one hallmark of a great piece of writing is to provoke in the reader a profound degree of thoughtfulness, then Sapiens is nothing short of a rousing success. For the most part, the facts, connections, and speculations presented in this book were new to me and I found myself trying to fit everything I read into my existing view of the world. Even when Harari touched on familiar areas—I am a financial economist by training—I found his insights to be fresh and sometimes challenging. I was especially taken by the last few chapters in which he addresses such philosophical issues as whether mankind’s progress over the millennia has made us any happier or the ethical dilemmas associated with the myriad skills and opportunities we have created for ourselves. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is book that I highly recommend without any hesitation. If nothing else, it will give you a lot to talk about at your next dinner party.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Some books explain why things happened ...or didn't. This book tells us how: how human beings rose the middle to the top of the food chain; the author traces our evolution from "an animal of no significance" to "the animal that became a god". What I enjoyed most about this book is:

One, its twist on
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perspective. We have a tendency to personify animals; this author treats humans as animals. Two, the role of "imagined communities" in human development. Three, the engaging, clear writing style.

There were problems with the text. I think he romanticizes foragers, he says little about productivity growth and largely ignores the role of geography in human development. And he tends to blur the line between scholarship and speculation, but his ideas are certainly interesting and worth considering.
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LibraryThing member woj2000
Suffers from all the same deficiencies as Guns, Germs and Steel. Lack of evidence, poor use of citations, minimal discussion of academic debate, oversimplification and misrepresentation of dozens of fields of study. This book would be great if it was 5000 pages instead of 500 and written by 10
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experts instead of 1
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LibraryThing member spbooks
An absolutely brilliant book! Superbly written, engaging, simple explanations of complex concepts - often reads like a good novel. I learned so much reading this book - more than I ever learned in geography and history at school! The ability of the author to summarise the entire history of
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humankind is amazing. I liked the fact, too, that he had opinions that he argued for. This is a stunning book and a must-read for anyone interested in humanity, how we got where we are, and where we are headed. Can't recommend it highly enough.
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LibraryThing member expatscot
Superb.

If only every homo sapiens would read this book the species would advance significantly.
LibraryThing member japaul22
Harari has attempted to do what his title implies - give a history of the human race known as homo sapiens, in other words "us". The book starts off strong. I was really interested in the various human species that existed with us in the beginning and in reading what is known of the way of life,
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migration, etc. from then. The agricultural revolution was interesting too, as sapiens become farmers of crops instead of hunter/gatherers. But when Harari got to the more modern time, he really lost me. I'm not sure if it was because a lot of his points didn't seem fresh to me or if I just don't care about this sort of analysis of humans when it feels so close. Talking about exploration, science, religions, money, happiness etc. just made me a little annoyed and sort of bored.

There were a lot of interesting ideas in this book, but it just didn't sit quite right with me. Maybe because the subject lends itself to being subjective and I wanted a little more objective, scientific analysis.

Anyway, this was interesting and much easier to read than I expected, but it fell short of my expectations.
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LibraryThing member electrascaife
Does just what it says on the tin: gives a crash course in human history. I enjoyed the beginning bits immensely, but the farther along it went, the less engaged I became. That may say more about me than about the text; I think I'm just exponentially more interested in Neanderthals than I am in
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cyborgs. At any rate, I was educated and entertained, and what more can you ask for from nonfiction?
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LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
Very interesting read tracing humankind from the origin of the universe to the present. The author goes into some detail in describing the evolutionary process and the ancestry of modern Homo sapiens. He focuses heavily on turning points for the species and the societies and civilizations it has
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constructed.
The Cognitive Revolution (roughly 70,000 years ago) saw the emergence of language and of the concept of history.
The Agricultural Revolution (12,000 years ago) allowed the creation of permanent settlements with the start of the domestication of plants and animals.
The Scientific Revolution (500 years ago) allowed mankind to question previously accepted authority and to acquire an increasing grasp of the principles underlying the physical world.
With the Industrial Revolution (barely 200 years ago), we developed powerful tools and technologies which accelerated the growth of society.
And during my own lifetime, the Cyber Revolution has revolutionized the very nature of information storage and communication.
The author discusses the implications of each of these monumental changes. Only 150 years ago, educated persons began replacing the theory of Intelligent Design explaining life with the concept of Natural Selection. Ironically, however, we're now at the point where Intelligent Design is becoming a reality . . . but with the Intelligence being Homo sapiens rather than a undemonstrable deity. At the same time, though, scientists are forming an increasing consensus that we ourselves have triggered our planet's sixth great extinction.
Lots of good stuff to think about.
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LibraryThing member Bonnie_Bailey
Flimsily supported opinions and broad generalizations place this ambitious endeavor in a category better labeled as subjective nonfiction.
LibraryThing member TomMcGreevy
A short history of mankind, in particular Homo sapiens, highlighting how young a species we are, and how much change we have accomplished in that short period. The future, well that is potentially quite a different story. And our report card tends toward needs improvement in many aspects.
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
This got a lot of buzz when it came out but even so, I was not particularly interested in reading it. And then my book club chose to read it and I do try to step outside of what I'd choose (I wouldn't say comfort zone since this was easily inside that for me) and read whatever we've chosen.
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Sometimes this approach to reading introduces me to books that make me think and sometimes it really bites me in the butt. Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens as a read was definitely more of a make me think than a bite me in the butt read although there were still aspects of the latter.

The subtitle of the book is A Brief History of Humankind, alerting the reader to the fact that Harari intends to zoom through almost a hundred thousand years of Homo sapiens in just over 400 pages. This is an expansive, impressive, and perhaps foolhardy undertaking, as it must leave out vast swaths of history and development and give short shrift to others. Harari opens the book with "The Cognitive Revolution," a look at how Homo Sapiens came to be and how our species "won out" over the other human species. This section of the book was by far the most engaging bit, surprisingly entertaining and even occasionally humorous. It is also in this beginning chapter that some of Harari's conclusions, presented as fact, could use a close and skeptical reading. This need for questioning gets ever larger as the book goes along through "The Agricultural Revolution" (the worst thing to ever happen to human beings according to Harari), "The Unification of Humankind", and "The Scientific Revolution." Generally Harari sounds convincing but his arguments clearly skew to his own belief system and aren't always well balanced to show other perspectives.

Harari's ideas about human evolution are interesting though and reading this made me reflect back on the History of Life interdepartmental biology/geology class I took in college so many years ago. Interestingly, many of the ideas or seeds of ideas that Harari introduces were not new to me as a result of that class. As the book wore on, I became less and less interested in it and I'm not entirely certain why. Am I too familiar with the later history of us? Had I gotten too irritated by Harari's unprovable assertions? In any case, the book was slow going, especially the closer to the end I got but it was complex and wide ranging in what it covered and it does do a good job introducing people to a lot of ideas about our history (and pre-history) that they might not have considered before. I know others rave about it (Bill Gates and Barak Obama both blurbed it using high praise) and I appreciate that it made me think about things I hadn't thought of in years but despite its certainty, I was left feeling slightly unsettled by some of his arguments and frankly a touch bored in the end.
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LibraryThing member InfornographicMoto
One of the most important books I've ever read.

Quibbles: no serial comma (except in a few places...and that inconsistency makes it even more frustrating to my OCD), British spelling of words throws me off (e.g. 'faeces', 'oestrogen'), and use of BC & AD instead of BCE & CE
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
What a fabulous book this is! Humankind through the ages, Sapiens and otherwise. Creationists are really not going to like this book, but then, few of them will read the whole thing The book is both entertaining and highly informative. Especially interesting to me is the section on the cognitive
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revolution. The creations of myths that allowed us to be large societies. The effects of the various peoples on the environment. There is the comparison of evolutionary success to individual suffering.

Not all is gloom and doom, but then, not all is sunshine and butterflies. While the author tells us that now is a period of relative peace, it is also a period unequaled in history for the mass torture of animals. This information is not new to me, but it does break my heart. There is also information on current bioengineering. Just because we can do something does not mean we should. Hubris, greed, gluttony run amok.

This book, a potentially dry subject, kept me enthralled throughout, and is worth a second read/listen to me, something I rarely do. I listened to an unabridged audio version, and the narrator, Derek Perkins, was perfect.
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LibraryThing member fionaanne
I think its hysterical that the negative reviews for this book have been upvoted so hard. Some people clearly take the idea that humans and our civilization aren't actually perfect very personally.
LibraryThing member dwhatson
I have to admit that I have a liking for what I call history primers, and this is one such book. While this is a book that discusses history, Harari does not seem concerned with walking over old historical sites to recover facts that others had missed. Rather, the author shows how various events
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have affected the development of human culture: in some cases for the worst. Throughout the book, Harari's observations and commentary raise some issues that are worth further contemplation. If you enjoyed books like "Guns, Germs and Steel" or "A Short History of Nearly Everything" then you would most likely enjoy Harari's ideas on why humans have collectively agreed to make the world the way it is.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
This book is so packed with thought-provoking observations based on real data that the publishers seem to have even made it feel extra weighty in order to signal what you're about to get yourself into. (I kept thinking this every time I picked it up. A quick comparison on a food scale confirms this
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book is dense. At ~400 pages, it would fit inside the dimensions of, for example, Tribe of Mentors, which is 500+ pages. Sapiens is still nearly 20% heavier.) Harari delivers a fly-over of our species' history, deep diving into the inflection points that determined who we are today. With that foundation well established, he finishes by guiding the reader to ponder why we need to figure out what's important and what to do about that. Our world is changing within every decade far more dramatically than it used to change in a millennium. Homo Sapiens happened to become the dominant species, when we could have ended up sharing the earth with people almost like us. Harari leverages that thought exercise repeatedly to frame our relationship with Earth's remaining fauna and our thinking about our future relative to genetics and technology. He also shows how much our individual and collective behaviors are determined by our history. Our brains still want to succeed in a tribe of foragers. Our societal structure is optimized for agriculture and capitalism. Consciously or not, we're navigating through what our legacy means when the foraging now occurs in shopping centers built where there used to be fields. The writing is also masterful, resulting in a profound read that can't fail to spark an expanded view about who we are and where we are.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
I really like this book. Yuval really takes you on a journey that is not easy to get off! I decided to be somewhat disciplined when I read this book, in that I read just the chapter a day. This allowed me to read each chapter slowly, and to think about what he has written.

This indeed is the best
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way to read the book. He asks some extremely interesting questions, and does indeed pose some interesting thoughts.

I don't agree with all he has written about Indian history. I think he has made some mistakes there, but that is my point of view.

The end is superb, and the fact is that we really do need to think about how we want to treat this planet in the future. It is indeed the only one we have.
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LibraryThing member AliceaP
For the last couple of years, I haven't eaten beef or pork. Part of this was dietary but the larger portion was due to my distaste with the way these animals are dealt with in the food industry. After reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind I have decided to stop eating all meats for good.
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I'd be quite surprised if others reading this book didn't feel the same way. (This will make sense later.) This book covers exactly what the title says. Yuval Noah Harari touches on almost every aspect of what it means to be human. I can see why this book could be contentious in some circles as he is of the belief that consumerism, imperialism, and communism are religions instead of merely ideologies. He has a no holds barred attitude about the way in which humans have ravaged the planet and taken advantage of others of our species as well as flora and fauna. (Remember the no eating chicken thing?) What was most intriguing about Sapiens were the questions that he raised about the nature of happiness. There have been many books about how to be happy but no research into how happiness is measured and its trends throughout the years. (Maybe he has an upcoming novel in the works.) If you're interested in culture, human evolution, and a unique perspective of the world then you're likely to enjoy this book. I will say that a lot of this was common knowledge and/or already known to me as an Anthropology major. The second half of the book is where it got really interesting. I love a good thought experiment and trying to figure out answers to seemingly unsolvable problems is my idea of a good time. :-) I'd give this book a solid 8/10.
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LibraryThing member MarthaJeanne
This was interesting, but he didn't do a good job of separating fact and opinion.
LibraryThing member santhony
I had previously read the author’s Homo Deus, in which he posits the further evolution of the human race, having largely solved the problems of war, poverty and famine. While I was not terribly impressed with the effort, I couldn’t discount the rave reviews for this, his earlier effort, in
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which he traces the journey of Homo Sapiens from their appearance on the Earth stage to the present date.

I have to say, the first 350 pages of this book are a very cursory examination of the evolution of Homo Sapiens and a history of the civilized world. As you might imagine, such an effort in not simply ambitious, it is silly. While the author mixes in a little anthropology and philosophy, I cannot imagine many people who will benefit from such exposure. If you don’t understand the importance, or the historical impacts of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, this is probably not the place to start. I would suggest Junior High School.

It is only in the last 50-75 pages that the author engages in any meaningful analysis and discussion, much of which tends toward “new age” philosophical musings. While not a complete waste of time, it really doesn’t justify the rave reviews that many of today’s “influencers” have accorded it. I suspect that in the celebrity circle, it is cool to think this book is cutting edge literature. That says more about the audience than about the book.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the super sweet, heavy, glossy paper stock used by the publisher. It packs a lot of weight into a relatively small package.
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LibraryThing member elahrairah
A stupid book. Apparently a science book, its not really. Its a little bit of established history, a load of wild claims with no evidence, a series of straw man arguments, a love letter to money, and some hypocritical nonsense. Do you have a friend who thinks they're really clever and knows
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everything, but doesn't really know anything, and is wrong about stuff all the time because its never occurred to them to do any research on the stuff they opine? That's this book. A little bit of history, some edgelord shouting, and a load of guff (whilst claiming that other peoples guff is guff) I gave up after 250 pages because there was so much bobbins. The stuff that is real is already known, but the fantasies remain fantasies. There are odd moments of materialist history, but also lots of wild claims. Throughout the book I made lots of notes and scrawled angrily !!! or [c...n]. This review is too short to include all my thoughts, but here are a few...

"... common chimpanzees have a genetic tendency to live in hierarchical groups..." - [citation needed] that's a big claim that may well be true but I'd like to see the stats, as it were.

"The production of a nuclear warhead requires the cooperation of millions of workers..." - cooperation is a big word for employment. Are the child slaves in Congo cooperating in the process of building a bomb, or are they oppressed by it? Is a person who has a choice between working or starving making a choice or it it forced onto them? To call all work cooperation is an unthinking ideological position coming from a position of unexamined privilege.

There may have been a mutation that turned us from animals into humans, this Cognitive Revolution, but there is no evidence for it. His evidence is that we're here, so it must have happened, is also the same evidence that can be used for every single other theory of how we came to be, including "god made us" and "aliens did it". That isn't science or history, its wild speculation and sub-GCSE level thinking. People don't know about critical thinking and it it is the work of scientists to undermine it with this sort of thing.

"Of all human collective activities the most difficult of all to organise is violence." This man has never tried to organise collectively. It's all really difficult to organise, but violence is no harder than any other. He provides no evidence for this statement, which is directly in contradiction to my own experiences, and so appears to be nonsense.

"There is no way out of the imagined order." This is a massive leap of logic. From accepting that entities such as states and companies are imagined to THERE IS NO WAY OUT... Philosophers have proposed dozens of ways out but none are even mentioned here. This isn't science, or philosophy of science. Its bad science.

"As everyone from ancient times times till today knows, clerks and accountants think in a non-human fashion..." Is this irony or humour? It doesn't look like it. I mean, come on, what the hell? Its just practise ffs. They think in normal human ways just like rest of us. THIS ISN'T SCIENCE, its magical thinking. He provides no evidence for this nonsense, just an assertion, an appeal to common sense basically. Bobbins.

"how did humans organise themselves ... when they lacked the biological instincts" you need to prove that they don't. perhaps we do have the biological instincts - maybe the evidence is that we did :D (irony)

"complex human societies seem to require imagined hierarchies and unjust discrimination" is a very big claim and incredibly deterministic. there is no reason to believe it is necessary.

"... into imagined categories such as superiors, commoners and slaves; whites and blacks; patricians and plebeians; brahmins and shudras; or rich and poor" but some of these aren't imagined categories, they're material conditions or imagined categories based on material conditions. This is really important, and whilst I broadly agree with the point he's making in this section of the book, its infuriating to see.

"...accidental historical circumstances..." refering to circumstances that weren't accidental, but created by people. This is postmodern history at its worst, pretending that people's actions don't have any effects, that slavery, that genocides, that class structures, whatever, just sort of happened and weren't carefullt constructed by human actions, that we slipped and got a monarchy rather than people with swords hit other people with this swords until they were in charge, and then hit anyone who complained with those swords. This isn't accidental, its deliberate human action.

"It is far more likely that ... the precise definition of man and woman varies between cultures, there is some universal biological reason why almost all cultures valued manhood over womanhood. We do not know what this reason is." This is a big big statement, tantamount to scientific racism, but at least he recognises that none of the explanations are satisfactory.

on patriarchy: "what accounts for the universality and stability of this system?" delivered as the final line of a chapter, an invitation to the reader to consider with the unwritten indicator that either no-one knows, its just the randomness of life, or that actually maybe patriarchy works. but actually there are many theories, many reasons, and these change in different times and different places. It would be the work of many books to explain, but the explanations are there, and can be at least be touched on. its just easier for him to pretend otherwise. or maybe he doesn't know, hasn;t bothered to do his research. either way, its bad science, bad history, and bad anthropology.

I'll leave it there, I'm a busy person. This is less than half of my critique, I have dozens more marked pages and underlined statements. In short though, this book is a half-arsed piece of bad science pretending to be cutting-edge edgelord for liberals who think they're really clever and that everything they have is because they're really nice and clever and who want a version of history that reinforces their own prejudices and privilege. It is so bad that where I agree with him about either history or anthropology it makes me question the veracity of that knowledge!
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LibraryThing member snash
It may sometimes over simplify things, but the book's greatest attribute is that it makes you think, and consider mankind from a distant objective viewpoint. I also appreciate that even at the end, talking of today and the future, the author presents various possibilities without pushing one over
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another.
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Original publication date

2011-01-01

Pages

464

ISBN

9780062316110
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