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  • Writer's pictureJagriti Luitel

Book Reflection: Sapiens

If someone were to ask me what book I would recommend to people the most, Sapiens is up there on the list for me. Just recently, my cousin told me that he was 1/3rds of the way done with reading this book. I couldn't believe it. I influenced him to read the entirety of the history of the human species?!

Hearing it made me feel like I might be a positive agent for change in the world after all. As such, I've decided to give fate the benefit of the doubt and act as if what I do does matter, because it probably does.

I do have one confession to make though. I started reading Sapiens well over 3 years ago but just got around to finishing it now. The reason wasn't that it was boring, it was fomo. Yes, FOMO.

Fear of Missing Out.

What was I missing out on? In retrospect, I think I know the answer. It was all the facts and interesting nuggets of knowledge I feared I wouldn't retain. But here I am all these years later writing in my regular blog to contain everything I have learned and felt while reading this book. Maybe I should learn to trust myself more.

Now, let's get into the actual content of the book itself. To start, I am reminded of the quote, "The reality of nature is far more wonderous than even our imagination." This book plays with this notion dancing between the realms of fiction and non-fiction. It especially tries to answer the question," What is real and what is just a mere figment of our imagination? The author Yuval Noah Harari is a master at making this distinction right off the bat.

I still vividly remember those 3 years ago, in reading the first section of the book I was changed forever. It was when the book talks about how most human creations that we think of as nature today are merely stories. These include the concepts of money, corporations, the global economy, and even countries. I am still to this day astonished by the level of abstraction humans make out of agreed-upon and resilient stories of different eras. Maybe this truth attracted me to science at a young age. Maybe as children, we are better able to see the social constructs for what they are. I could be wrong though.

Additionally, if I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be insanely ambitious. I am in awe of Yuval's courage and foresight to undertake such a monumental task of summarizing the entirety of the biological and social human evolution into an easy-to-digest book. His clarity of what the field of history in its deepest sense even means exudes in each sentence and each chapter. He says, "History is not the study of the past, it is the study of change". I would argue this sentence in itself has the potential to transform the way we view history and our attachments to its meaning.

Although countless more ideas stood out to me, I want to especially highlight sections on capitalism and human happiness next.

Firstly, the author states that capitalism separates capital from wealth. They are not synonyms but that capital is the measure of wealth. He then begins to clarify how even if we hate capitalism, we cannot live without it. All other types of economic systems have failed miserably in our experiments throughout history. He then gives a brief history of capitalism and explains how in the system, the rich invest and the poor buy. Finally, he gives us a holistic view of the side effects and the negative consequences this efficiency-driven system has brought about including the example of mass-scale animal farming. To quote he states, "Modern animal agriculture might be the greatest crime in history." And this makes it clear that many evils in capitalism are fuelled not by animosity but by indifference.

Toward the end of the book after novelizing the entirety of humankind, Yuval begins to reflect on the notion of happiness. He starts with the premise that no amount of getting the thing will change our biochemistry. He argues happiness comes only from oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin and that it is independent of both our inner and outer feelings. I found these analyses and the question," Does marriage bring happiness or does happiness bring marriage?" quite compelling.

He then begins concluding the whole book with some thought-provoking statements which are as follows:

”Despite the astonishing things that humans are capable of doing, we remain unsure of our goals and we seem to be as discontented as ever. We have advanced from canoes to galleys to steamships to space shuttles – but nobody knows where we’re going. We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.”

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

If you read this far and are still doubting if you should read this book, I would tell you to go for it. It is truly a masterpiece of anthropological, historical, and sociological summary of all of our stories. It attempts to answer the questions of who we are and how we got here.

And who knows, maybe one day just like my cousin I'll hear an update from you. That you have finished reading more than 1/3rd of this book... :)

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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

When I first read the epic of Gilgamesh and his quest for immortality, it sowed a seed of curiosity in me. Is it really possible to be immortal? Turns out, it is. 

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