Summary of Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Overview

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is a multifaceted review and analysis of the current understanding of human evolution and the forces behind major historical developments, beginning with the Neanderthals and other Homo species to Homo sapiens, leading up to the present day, and projecting what might happen in the future.

When the first genetically identifiable H. sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago, they, and other species of humans, lived much like other animals at the middle of the food chain, scavenging remains of prey killed by top predators. But then 70,000 years ago, H. sapiens developed a mental or social advantage, the Cognitive Revolution, over other human species, spreading to almost every continent of the world, and either eliminated or interbred with the remaining non-H. sapiens, such as Neanderthals.

H. sapiens prior to the Agricultural Revolution lived as hunter-gatherers with few possessions. The domestication of wheat reduced the quality of life for the average human because it was less nutritionally diverse as the hunter-gatherer diet, but it allowed for massive population growth. Elite classes developed of people who lived off agricultural surplus but did not work the land. Inter-subjective beliefs about law, justice, currency, and religion appeared 5,000 years ago as people sought ways to cooperate in large groups of strangers. The first written language enabled humans to keep records and data beyond one individual’s mental capacity and lifespan. Laws established hierarchies that preserved the status quo.

Scientific discoveries increased in frequency as scientists learned to acknowledge ignorance and rulers sought resources like land and military strength. Capitalism developed as societies learned to use credit to reinvest profits in industry. Other necessary resources became nearly infinite as innovation and diversification became industrial priorities. The current expansion of the state and markets into communities and families created the most consistent peace in human history. The future holds many opportunities for humans to augment their bodies. Maybe, someday, people will become a-mortal, or live much longer than the current lifespan because certain things that currently cause death will be eliminated, such as certain diseases.

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