There is perhaps no story more dramatic than the rise of humankind. It almost seems impossible to track 300,000 years of development in an engaging, comprehensive and profound way, but that’s precisely the appeal of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by noted Israeli public intellectual, historian and professor Dr Yuval Noah Harari.
Asserted by the likes of Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as an essential read, and unsurprisingly skyrocketing to New York Times Best Seller status, the compendium of our history is a thorough exploration of the tension between the brevity of human existence and how much has been achieved across centuries of evolution.
As philosopher George Santayana once said, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And what Yuval Noah Harari has done is present a compelling collection of exactly what we as a people should be learning from, closely examining everything from questions of why farming actually made people worse off, to why writing was invented to chase up lapsed debts.
How have we been able to do so much? The answers are within these 512 pages, full of equal parts brutality and hope as it touches upon the scientific, technology, agricultural and cognitive revolutions, observes the growth of communication, and explores how empires and religion pushed us in the direction of global unification.
As much as Harari spends time revisiting the past, he also dedicates a significant portion of the book to questions about the future, looking beyond the interconnected global village we have today by dipping into weighty topics like bionic technology and anti-ageing.
If you’ve been looking for inspiration, perspective, or just an incredibly impressive and attractive well of knowledge, here it is.