Curated Summary 1: Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Micro Summary:

Sapiens presents a work on the evolution of humanity. Turning to striking facts such as the development of communication, the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution, the book addresses the central points of our evolution and explores the positive and negative points of these developments. Also, Sapiens also addresses the future of humanity, where these revolutions will lead man and what we will become. Let’s together understand our origins and where do we go in this microbook?

Human history has been shaped by three major revolutions:

  • The Cognitive Revolution (70,000 years ago),
  • The Agricultural Revolution (10,000 years ago), and
  • The Scientific Revolution (500 years ago).

An Animal of No Significance

The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.

The Different Species Of Humans

When people think of their ancestral species, they imagine a linear evolution. According to this idea, one species of one genus evolves into another species, which results in a third — until it reaches Homo sapiens. That is an easy way to think about evolution, but it is not 100% accurate. In fact, many species of the same genus lived in the same period, evolving and changing to adapt to their ages.

Pros And Cons Of Human Beings

What differentiates Homo sapiens from other members of the genus?
What made them what they are now and what made them reach the top of the animal kingdom?

Human Brains

Human Babies

An upright gait required narrower hips, constricting the birth canal — and this was just when babies’ heads were getting bigger and bigger. Death in childbirth became a major hazard for human females. Women who gave birth earlier, when the infant’s brain and head were still relatively small and supple, fared better and lived to have more children. Natural selection consequently favoured earlier births. And, indeed, compared to other animals, humans are born prematurely, when many of their vital systems are still under-developed. A colt can trot shortly after birth; a kitten leaves its mother to forage on its own when it is just a few weeks old. A human newborn is frail and helpless against predators looking for a meal. Other mammals, on the other hand, are born weak, but they can move and think. They also need care, but not as much as human newborns. These differences have weakened humans as a species, but have also differentiated them. The power of the brain was a debilitating aspect in the beginning, but over time it became one of the greatest advantages of the human being.

Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin color, dialect, or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species? It may well be that when Sapiens encountered Neanderthals, the result was the first and most significant ethnic-cleansing campaign in history.

“Scholars know of no large and complex society that did not have built in discrimination”

Cognitive Revolution And Power Of Human Communication

Human beings developed language about 70,000 years ago. Humans began to rise in the ranks of the animal kingdom as language was likely becoming more complex, Homo sapiens were an unremarkable animal, one of six species of humans. Revolutionary methods for sharing information began to emerge. Developing languages shared by human groups allowed species to gather, exchange, and receive information in ways that other animals were not able to do, leading to a major change in the way of life of humankind. The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, constitutes the Cognitive Revolution.

Social Belief

Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.

A Day in the Life of Adam and Eve

Our eating habits, our conflicts and our sexuality are all the result of the way our hunter-gatherer minds interact with our current post-industrial environment, with its mega-cities, aeroplanes, telephones and computers. This environment gives us more material resources and longer lives than those enjoyed by any previous generation, but it often makes us feel alienated, depressed and pressured. To understand why, evolutionary psychologists argue, we need to delve into the hunter-gatherer world that shaped us, the world that we subconsciously still inhabit.

The Flood

As they pushed on, they encountered a strange universe of unknown creatures that included a 450-pound, six-foot kangaroo, and a marsupial lion, as massive as a modern tiger, that was the continent’s largest predator. Koalas far too big to be cuddly and cute rustled in the trees and flightless birds twice the size of ostriches sprinted on the plains. Dragon-like lizards and snakes seven feet long slithered through the undergrowth. The giant diprotodon, a two-and-a-half-ton wombat, roamed the forests.

History’s Greatest Fraud: The Agriculture Revolution

The ancient world was rich in resources waiting for men. Fleshy animal herds, abundant edible vegetation, and even nutritious insects were only part of the quest. Humans used to gather food and natural resources as they were found, eating what they needed and putting together or leaving the rest.

The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.

The amount of food and resources increased, but this led to the development of social hierarchies in which hardworking farmers were at the base of the pyramid. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa. According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of the earth. Moreover, as the human body was evolved for hunting, climbing and other similar tasks, the alternative tasks of agriculture required large evolutionary changes in several species. The new agricultural tasks demanded so much time that people were forced to settle permanently next to their wheat fields. This completely changed their way of life.

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.

Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.

The Development Of Human Societies

The construction of today’s world has demanded much learning from a human being. Humanity did not need much knowledge when it survived only by collecting food.

Building Pyramids

People today spend a great deal of money on holidays abroad because they are true believers in the myths of romantic consumerism.

Memory Overload

Between the years 3500 BC and 3000 BC, some unknown Sumerian geniuses invented a system for storing and processing information outside their brains, one that was custom-built to handle large amounts of mathematical data. The Sumerians thereby released their social order from the limitations of the human brain, opening the way for the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires. The data-processing system invented by the Sumerians is called ‘writing’.

The Scientific Revolution And The Transformation Of The World

The most radical change in the way of living and working of human beings is not so old.

There is No Justice in History

According to a famous Hindu creation myth, the gods fashioned the world out of the body of a primeval being, the Purusa. The sun was created from the Purusa’s eye, the moon from the Purusa’s brain, the Brahmins (priests) from its mouth, the Kshatriyas (warriors) from its arms, the Vaishyas (peasants and merchants) from its thighs, and the Shudras (servants) from its legs.

The Arrow of History

Democrats want a more equitable society, even if it means raising taxes to fund programmes to help the poor, elderly and infirm. But that infringes on the freedom of individuals to spend their money as they wish. Why should the government force me to buy health insurance if I prefer using the money to put my kids through college?

The Scent of Money

**In a barter economy, every day the shoemaker and the apple grower will have to learn anew the relative prices of dozens of commodities. If one hundred different commodities are traded in the market, then buyers and sellers will have to know 4,950 different exchange rates. And if 1,000 different commodities are traded, buyers and sellers must juggle 499,500 different exchange rates! How do you figure it out? (**Current problem in the crypto space.)

Imperial Visions

First, to qualify for that designation you have to rule over a significant number of distinct peoples, each possessing a different cultural identity and a separate territory.

The Law of Religion

Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order. This involves two distinct criteria:

The Secret of Success

This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline — the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another.

The Discovery of Ignorance

But the single most remarkable and defining moment of the past 500 years came at 05:29:45 on 16 July 1945. At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it.

The Marriage of Science and Empire

Astronomers predicted that the next Venus transits would occur in 1761 and 1769. So expeditions were sent from Europe to the four corners of the world in order to observe the transits from as many distant points as possible. In 1761 scientists observed the transit from Siberia, North America, Madagascar and South Africa.

The Capitalist Creed

Banks are allowed to loan $10 for every dollar they actually possess, which means that 90 percent of all the money in our bank accounts is not covered by actual coins and notes.

The Wheels of Industry

At first, the idea of using gunpowder to propel projectiles was so counter-intuitive that for centuries gunpowder was used primarily to produce fire bombs. But eventually — perhaps after some bomb expert ground gunpowder in a mortar only to have the pestle shoot out with force — guns made their appearance. About 600 years passed between the invention of gunpowder and the development of effective artillery.

A Permanent Revolution

The Industrial Revolution turned the timetable and the assembly line into a template for almost all human activities. Shortly after factories imposed their time frames on human behaviour, schools too adopted precise timetables, followed by hospitals, government offices and grocery stores . Even in places devoid of assembly lines and machines, the timetable became king. If the shift at the factory ends at 5 P.M., the local pub had better be open for business by 5:02.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Though the last few decades have been an unprecedented golden age for humanity, it is too early to know whether this represents a fundamental shift in the currents of history or an ephemeral eddy of good fortune.

The End of Homo Sapiens

What would happen, for example, if we developed a cure for Alzheimer’s disease that, as a side benefit, could dramatically improve the memories of healthy people? Would anyone be able to halt the relevant research? And when the cure is developed, could any law enforcement agency limit it to Alzheimer’s patients and prevent healthy people from using it to acquire super-memories?

The Future Of Humanity

From the beginning, humanity has used its advantages to overcome other creatures. But perhaps the greatest achievements of humanity lie in their ability to overcome their natural barriers.

The Animal that Became a God

Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?



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Aakash S

Aakash S

I don’t know… Still exploring…