Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

… we are on the threshold of both heaven and hell, moving nervously between the gateway of the one and the anteroom of the other. History has still not decided where we will end up, and a string of coincidences might yet send us rolling in either direction.

Better late than never, I just finished reading Sapiens. The book is an account of our history, the history of Homo Sapiens, from the beginning—when other species of humans shared the Earth—until now. I’ll start by saying the obvious: this book should be completely mandatory in school; if not the book itself, the content for sure. When I look back at my education, I wonder why we had to spend time studying the history of Catalonia and Spain while so much about our human history was left out. Admittedly, Harari would say that this is necessary for the fiction that we call “nation” to persist, but it is not clear to me why we should not push for a bigger tribe.

Anyway, this is a discussion for another time. The book is extremely interesting and enjoyable; I thought I would quickly summarise three ideas / facts that I found remarkable:

  • There are several species of humans that became extinct in the past. While I knew that to be the case for the Neanderthals, there are a few more that were scatter across the globe, such as Denisovans or Soloensis. While some of their DNA is now mixed with ours—meaning there was at least some inbreeding between species—it still seems to be the case that Homo Sapiens drove them to extinction—although maybe not on purpose.
  • The idea of hunter-gathering tribes being somehow “on-balance” with nature is, to put it mildly, laughable. The amount of animal species that we destroyed or permanently changed during that period is immense. True, these Sapiens did not have the knowledge to understand the consequences of their actions, so I am not judging them—I’m judging those who, nowadays, with all the current knowledge in their hands, idealise that period.
  • The agricultural revolution can be seen as plants—wheat, rice, etc—domesticating Homo sapiens. The fate of the family or the village depended on whether the crops were abundant. The rise in welfare did  not come until centuries later.

I highly recommend it for anyone interested in our history… so, basically, everyone. A final note: maybe it is because I read about the Coronavirus every hour of every day, but I keep relating the books I read to the current situation. The quotation at the beginning of this post marks the times that we are living in. The world in the recent decades has improved dramatically. Among other things, international conflicts have decreased to a minimum. The strong links among countries—in terms of trade, finance, even culture—make it more difficult to have conflicts like in the past. Yet this new pandemic is threatening to separate us from each other, at least temporarily; we are starting to see countries blaming other countries for the virus—even suggesting that it was developed on purpose. As the links among countries are momentarily reduced, let’s try not to revert back to a past where clashes against other countries were incessantly used to strengthen the concept of the nation.

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