In 400 pages, Yuval Noah Harari covers about 70,000 years of human history — but Sapiens is not a history book. If you enjoy Jared Diamond or Joseph Campbell, you might also like this.
Harari starts by trying to identify what separated Homo sapiens from other animals, including the related species in the Homo genus. We often forget that Homo sapiens lived alongside other species of humans — species that no longer exist today. How did Homo sapiens succeed while others failed? Harari believes it has do to with our ability to organize ourselves not by instinct, but by common beliefs.
Our ability to imagine things that are not physically real is the basis of Harari's answer. While we may have started with animism, Harari reminds us that most things affecting our daily lives are also not physically real. These myths allow us to cooperate on a scale that no other species is capable of, whether it's as company, a city, or a nation.
Harari then describes how myths have emerged throughout history and shape the present-day. While discussing history, he keeps the content engaging by making comparisons to current events.
Harari also poses some challenging questions about human nature. When did we feel most fulfilled as a species? When were we the happiest? Could it have been as hunter-gatherers, or somewhere in between then and the present day? Given emerging biological evidence that happiness is related to a balance of chemicals in the brain, he suggests that, on average, we might have felt happier in another time period.
Sapiens is worth checking out. Harari's blend of narrative and historical analysis makes it an enjoyable read, while offering some great starting points for further discussion.