The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney
Harari's history of homo sapiens spans the period from seventy thousand years ago to the present day. He divides our history into a number of eras, each one prefaced by a significant evolutionary metamorphosis: the cognitive revolution which saw a huge increase in brain-size and the development of language; the agrarian revolution when homo sapiens took up farming; the scientific revolution of the eighteenth century; the industrial revolution a hundred years later; the information revolution which began just fifty years ago; and finally, the biotechnological revolution which is just beginning and which may yet end our species.
In Harari's thesis, the quality that singles homo sapiens out from all other creatures is our ability to construct imagined worlds furnished with entirely fictional properties. These include mythologies and religions, social and political ideologies, even economic and financial constructs such as money. These are the tools that have allowed us to mobilise huge numbers of people in cooperative efforts. As he tellingly points out, money permits two people who do not trust each other to cooperate together in a purposeful transaction. By utilising the power of these tools and the narratives that we construct around them we have been able to transform our world out of all recognition.
The overarching structure of the book is conceptual rather than chronological, allowing the author room to explore a wide-ranging set of ideas and this is one of the book's great strengths. It's like reading a series of engagingly polemical articles that gradually builds into a recognisable picture of ourselves - a species both dazzled by its own inventiveness and oblivious to the damage that it causes. Intelligent, witty, and stimulating, Sapiens is an enormously entertaining read.