A Brief History of Humankind
(Originally published on Goodreads, 12 June 2016)
I’ve recently started reading Yuval Noah Harari’s “Homo Deus”, his follow up to his 2014 bestselling tome “Sapiens”. What follows here are my (admittedly brief) thoughts on what I consider Harari’s Magnum Opus at this stage.
A superlative work of non-fiction which installs itself instantly into my favourite non-fiction works in this space, alongside the likes of A Short History of Nearly Everything, Guns Germs & Steel and The Better Angels of Our Nature — all equally ambitious and enlightening tomes in their own right.
Harari’s security in his understanding of the multidisciplinary subject matter and the philosophical implications thereof, lends an air of ease and comfort to the prose and presentation of the material. It never feels too dense nor self-aggrandising but in fact moves along at quite a brisk clip while occasionally meandering down a tributary to unpack a particularly interesting/arresting point — continually sating the curiosity both of the reader and the author.
Over and above the purely didactic aspects of the deep-dives into various historical developments, the author continually draws fascinating insights and probes ethical or philosophical questions which often lent the book a genuine sense of profundity, which was one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much.
As an investigation into the biological and cultural histories of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, as well as an attempt to peer into the future of our species (or indeed it’s descendants) — it was an excellent book. As a meditation on these facts and their repercussions, it was a triumph.
Many hard questions are posed about various cultural constructs or major events in history. Yuval slightly betrays an iconoclast or contrarian air at times, yet never through rhetoric but by presenting facts and arguing them accordingly. The book will render some, perhaps many, uncomfortable at times — as the implications of the latest understanding in natural science, history, physics, human cultural development etc — hit home.
As ambitious, entertaining and educational as the book is, it (necessarily) makes assumptions about the level of comfort readers will have with much of the subject matter — like the current state of genetics, neuroscience or palaeontology. So it also serves as a bit of a gateway drug to investigate further for those with less exposure to certain disciplines — and per the previous point, will rankle some with what is now considered accepted as fact and subsequently built upon.
All said, the high praise this has been receiving since 2014 is understandable and I highly recommend this book which is an instant classic in my view. This is almost required reading and deserves all 5 stars I believe.