Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
My friend gave me this a kindle version of this book for Christmas. I had heard about it before and wanted to read it. I got even more interested after listening to an a16z podcast that interviewed the author. It’s one of the few podcasts that have expanded my thinking box.
1) Some trivia facts:
13.8 billion years ago – Big Bang
4.5 billion – Earth was formed
2.5 million – Evolution of the genus Homo
200,000 – Homo Sapiens evolves in East Africa
70,000 – Cognitive Revolution (beginning of “history”)
12,000 – Agriculture Revolution
500 – Scientific Revolution
More than anything else, these numbers show that life does go on.
2) Until 10,000 years ago, the earth was home to multiple species of humans at the same time.
In retrospect, this is obvious, but if you’d asked me true/false, I would have said false.
3) The thing that set Homo Sapiens apart was the ability to think of things that do not exist.
Culture, imagined order, religion, companies, nations, human rights – everything followed.
4) The average farmer led a harder life than the average forager.
The author claims the Agricultural Revolution is the biggest fraud in history. He has an interesting argument. Essentially, farming allowed us to multiply but our quality of life decreased. From an evolution standpoint, it was a success. Later on, he draws a parallel with pigs and chickens, which – by this metric – have become some of the most successful species.
5) Quipus were recording devices used in the Andes that stored information using knots on cords with different colors.
The Spanish phased them out because they did not want to rely on the locals.
6) One of the reasons why American slavery chose Africa was the African immunity to malaria and yellow fever.
There are surely a lot of other reasons, but this one stood out because a supposedly superior trait backfired.
7) Equality and individual freedom are contradicting concepts.
Equality can only be achieved by limiting the freedom of the rich. This book gets fairly political in the last third, and I agree with almost all of it.
8) Religion asks us to believe in something, while money asks us to believe that other people believe in something.
All of modern life is based on faith. Religion, nations, money.
9) Magellan died before he made it back to Spain.
10) The Industrial Revolution was all about finding new ways to convert energy.
Up until then, humans and animals served as the only ways to convert the energy from plants.
This is one of my favorite nonfictions. I’m typically wary of social science books, but this one was a really great overview of how humans got to where we are now. It puts everything in perspective. Nothing should be surprising. We’re just a dot in history. No election result/war/religion is out of the question. The current framework is so young, especially this concept of globalization and international collaboration. Should we really expect countries to cooperate on solving problems? A lot of the countries we have today didn’t even exist 200 years ago. The concept of countries didn’t exist a few thousand years ago. All of the concepts in the book are best summarized in my head with one question – isn’t the concept of retirement savings ridiculous? We’re trusting some imaginary corporate entity to pay us an amount, which isn’t even backed by actual paper money, in 50 years. Who knows what humans will be in 50 years?