Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sapiens - Book Review


Book Review

This is one of those rare books which challenge the reader’s perspectives again and again unabashedly.  Every chapter (there are 20 of them in all) wages a war with some of our pet beliefs and concepts.  Religious people who are particularly sensitive about their faith and religious sentiments will find this book highly disturbing.  The rational thinkers and those who are guided by the scientific temper will find their perspectives being reinforced.

The author is a historian by education and profession.  But the book is multidisciplinary drawing copiously on various subjects such as biology, psychology and anthropology.  Starting with the evolution of man from the ape, the history of mankind moves on through the myths and gods our ancestors created, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and so on, to “The End of Homo Sapiens.”

Man is a myth-making animal.  Myths have enormous powers.  Myths can bring millions of homo sapiens together and make them work towards common goals.  This is how religions succeed in getting a lot of things done (most of which may be silly by scientific standards). 

However, myths are not the prerogative of religions alone.  In fact, quite a lot of human actions are founded on myths.  Nationalism is a myth, for example.  It is founded on certain stories we make and convince ourselves with.  The nationalist believes that his country is superior to other countries and takes pride in that belief.  It is a belief, however, which will not stand up to objective analysis most of the times. 

Yuval Noah Harari
Harari goes on to show that quite a lot of things we hold sacred are mere myths.  But these myths are very powerful.  They are usually deeply entrenched in people’s psyche.  All large-scale human cooperation is based on myths, says Harari.  If you want to change the way people cooperate, then change their myths. 

The book goes on to question a lot of our myths.  The author knows very well that he can only present the scientifically objective facts before the reader.  Ultimately most homo sapiens stick to some myths.  Science is too boring to engage us outside the school or workplace.

The homo sapiens is a self-made god who has created supernatural gods for his own convenience.  “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”  That’s the question with which the book ends.  There is a lot of indictment of the human species before that question is thrust into the psyche of the reader.

I highly recommend this book to everyone who is mature enough to understand it.  We think we are a great species.  The book will show us what we really are.  Perhaps, it can make us feel humble.  More importantly, it can open our eyes to a lot of truths, vital truths.


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12 comments:

  1. 'If you want to change the way people cooperate, then change their myths.' Very well said Sir. The book appears to be an excellent one. Your review has given a good glimpse of it. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Right now our country is changing some core myths of the nation :)

      The book is an amazing work.

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  2. An excellent review that gives a clear idea of what to expect from the book.

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  3. Yet to read this. Have heard a lot about the book, though. Thanks for the reminder. Will go for it in 2017.

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  4. I have this book on my to be read list. There is also another book by the same author :'Homo Deus - a brief history of tomorrow ' In 2017 . Definitely !

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    1. I'm also looking forward to reading the other one.

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  5. Nietzsche said many things allegorically. I think he said many such similar things about God and religion. In our own country charvaks were the ones who opposed the ideas of God, Heaven etc. Some psychologists say Gods are inventions to replace the parental figures when one grow up. I am yet to read this book. But I think Thus Spake Zarathustra could be a precursor to the present book under discussion.

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    1. Nietzsche's approach was purely philosophical while Harari's is more scientific and historical. But yes, there is something Nietzschean in this.

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  6. It requires intellectual honesty, unbiased understanding, genuine intent or purpose in pursuit of life and living to appreciate this work. One's prejudices and preferences are our own speed breaks to pursue truth of one's existence and convinced beliefs and faith. The blog is an honest pursuit of this.

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    1. The book is ruthlessly honest about human history and achievement. Science has no sentiments and hence can afford to be honest 😊

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