“Happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.”
Harari gives us an evolutionary perspective of the timeline and history of homo sapiens, from early stages to more present day ones and looking at future trends/pathways... Sapiens covers areas such as geography, psychology, evolution, anthropology, religions/ideologies, and the next steps accompanied with possibilities for humans.
Author Harari cites Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) as one of the greatest inspirations for the book by showing that it was possible to "ask very big questions and answer them scientifically".
We are also given humble beginnings regarding other upright, humanoids such as Neanderthals, homo erectus, the dwarf and hobbit-like homo floresiensis from Island Flores in Indonesia, homo habilis... To mention a few of others besides the main sapiens we see today and throughout much of our recorded human history. Harari gives us a very diverse and ancient past with all these great changes, trails and tribulations of how our ancestors adapted, survived and ultimately biology correlated with innovation turned sapiens into the prominent lifeform of the planet.
So with Sapiens Harari surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century, focusing on our own species of human, Homo sapiens. He divides the history of Sapiens into four major parts:
The Cognitive Revolution (c. 70,000 BCE, when Sapiens evolved imagination).
The Agricultural Revolution (c. 12,000 BCE, the development of farming).
The unification of humankind (the gradual consolidation of human political organisations towards one global empire).
The Scientific Revolution (c. 1500 CE, the emergence of objective science).
Harari's larger claim when it comes to the Agricultural Revolution is that while it perpetuated population growth for Sapiens and co-evolving species such as wheat and cows, it made the lives of most individuals (and animals) worse than they had been when humans were mostly hunter-gatherers, since their diet and daily lives became significantly less varied. Humans' violent treatment of other animals is another recurring theme that runs throughout Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind.
In discussing a certain unification of humankind, Harari argues that over its history, the trend for Sapiens has increasingly been towards political and economic interdependence. For centuries, the majority of humans have lived in empires, and capitalist globalization is effectively producing one, global empire. Harari argues that money, empires and universal religions are the principal drivers of this process.
Overall, Harari manages to give a brief history of humans and excitingly arrives at areas a few of us are setting our sights and efforts upon: The direction and exponential pace that modern technology is taking (Harari seems to view it as a danger rather than embrace it fully...), where we have genetic engineering, longevity and aspirations for immortality, a look at non-organic life (Artificial Intelligence and our ongoing merging with technology...).
Humans have, in Harari's chosen metaphor, become Gods: They can create, build and often venture beyond physical limitations. It is still a fundamental responsibility to safeguard our creations and continue to explore and build upon such grandiose foundations. A worthy and inspiring read.
“A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”