Monday 5 February 2018

Review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First thing first, I am actually not into history and that kind of stuff, until I read this magnificent book. I am also not really used to English-written books as it is not my first language and I have to check dictionary quite often, but overall, this work isn't that hard to understand for a non-English speaker (and someone who are not really used to reading English-written books) like myself. Harari has also a quite good sense of humor in this book, making it unboring to read. I can't stop reading once I started. In the book, Harari referred the mankind in several ways, i.e. Homo sapiens, Sapiens (as the title of the book says), human, human-being, mankind. I don't know if the different referration has to do with difference in the state of the Homo sapiens that he means, e.g. the human as the biological species, as a social being, or as just a natural coincidence, etc.

Part One : The Cognitive Revolution
I've just known that there were times when our ancestor lived parallelly with another species of human being. Harari stated that a hundred thousand years ago, there were at least 6 distinct species of human-being roaming on the surface of this planet, in the same genus of Homo. Honestly, before reading this book, I used to think that we Homo sapiens are the 'final' form of the human-being roaming this earth and that Neanderthal, Homo wajakensis (found in Wajak, East Java), etc were the 'previous' unfinished version of us.
This part mostly tells about the "hunting-gathering" age in which our ancestors were nomadic communities roaming from land to land to find foods and survived. He calls these people the foragers.
As fire was discovered, these foragers were more powerful than ever before. They have the power to warm their bodies at nights, frighten dangerous predators, and even burn up an entire forest to leech the remaining dead animals.
I like the way he mentions that our foraging ancestors were probably happier than us. They worked less hours than we do, and gathered with their families more than we do. He states, the foragers worked only like 5 hours in a day. They also have small amounts of belonging, as saving things is not suitable in nomadic lifestyles. He also says, the foragers probably had more skills as and individual than today's modern sapiens. They did not buy tools they need, they made it themselves instead. He says, probably an unnamed hunter-gatherer thousands of years ago was more skillful than Albert Einstein.
The foragers were also the environment destroying people. Harari says, not to believe to those who said that the ancestor lived in harmony with the ecosystem. In fact, they were responsible to the extinction of megafauna in every continent, e.g. Mammoth in the Arctic, Giant Land Sloth in the American continent, and Giant Kangaroo in Australia.
In the community keeping, Harari says, the ancestor used something called imagined reality. It's a system which is believed by all members of the community in order to bond. He makes example like the Peugeot company.

Part Two: The Agricultural Revolution
This is another huge step in the history of humankind. However, in his opinion, the agricultural revolution is a big historical fraud. In this part, the sapiens was mainly called 'peasant' as they were shifting from the free roaming hunter-gatherer to house-keeping farmers. The sapiens from the hunting-gathering age had actually realized that if a plant's seed is planted to the ground, a new plant will grow but they were busy hunting that they did not manage to plant seeds, yet they roamed from land to land, finding plants and animals to survive.
I like the way he says, we did not domesticate the wheat, instead the wheat did domesticate us. domesticate comes from the Latin word "domesticus" meaning belonging to the house. From time to time, the sapiens had freedom roaming the earth surface finding food, but when they managed to settle down farming and cattling, they were enslaved by their house and farming field. Hariri says, if the ancient foragers had only 'worked' 5 hours a day finding anything to eat, the peasants had to work in their farm from dawn to dusk. They had to make sure that their farm received enough water and fertilizer to live. These peasants had to bring water from river and their cattle's waste to fertilize the farm.
It is right that food supplies were abundant, but they were not as nourished as their foraging ancestors. The ancestors could digest different kind of food almost every single day they pass, for example today we eat berries, tomorrow maybe roasted deer, etc. In contrast, the peasants, having full granary to ensure full stomach until next harvest but they did not have as much meal variation as the foragers. Housing did also give contribution to incubation of diseases. Pathogenic bacteria incubated better in a well-settled community, than it did to nomadic foragers.
These peasants were trapped. They could not revert to become forager again, once they settled. They knew their lives did not get any better by settling and farming. They worked all day, not as free as the foragers. Harari makes it clearer by comparing to newly graduated bachelor. Having worked in a big company gives them a good housing, nice car, a happy family with cute kids, and security of pension. However, these bachelors were not as free as they had been before working in the corporation, they work all day, sometimes overtime; but will they suspend it? Of course not.
There is actually many other things happening in this part of history as told by Harari, but I cannot write it all here (not only for I have forgotten, but also that you have to find it yourself by reading the book).

Part Three : The Unification of Humankind
As I can conclude, there are three factors in the unification of humankind. They are : money, empire, and religion.
Long ago when the foragers roam band-by-band, they almost did not know and even care about the other side of the world if there is nothing emerging them to do so (famine, by example). Religion is the first great uniter. The foragers hold their community united by making myths and beliefs in animism. These animism practices were local instead of universal. Harari says, a small band in today's Cambridge would have a really discrete belief systems and myths with the one in today's Oxford. Probably the one sanctified a great rock while the other worshipped a big oak tree lead by a local prophet. After long long times of local animism religion, there emerged polytheistic religion. It was born from human's inability to explain the world around them. They would have said the turning from dawn to dusk was done by a day-shifter god, thunder made by an angry thunder-maker god, etc. However, these polytheistic beliefs were also still local.
Everything changed when the first monotheism emerged. Unlike the animism and polytheism, monotheism was more militant and full of missionaries spreading the doctrine making this belief system widespread and united mankind from different places. In this part, Harari also writes the emergence of christianity, buddhism, and islam in an objective historical lecture. Again, I am kind of forget, so you should read it by yourself :)
The second great uniter is empire, but once again I am kinda forget and have to reread it again so I will skip to the third great empire : money.
You must have ever heard the term : "Money is not real". I found it difficult to understand the term at first, but finally I understand it. Money is more or less just another belief system, but is more powerful than empire or even religion. Money can unite extreme two empires battling at the crusade. A merchant at an Islamic Ottoman market still accept gold or silver coin signed by the Catholic Roman emperor, and vise versa, Ottoman dinar and dirham coins did also spread freely in the Roman markets no matter they were considered 'infidels'.

Part Four : The Scientific Revolution
This is the longest part of this book, as it covers our history from the emergence of ignoramus -humankind's first attempt of saying "I don't know"- to this very day. However, the "actual timeline" of these events is the shortest compared to those of the three previous parts.
Many things has emerged as the consequences of the birth of ignorance, and successively, science, imperialism, and industrialization. Individuality strengthened, family and community roles weakened, and eventually a new religion was born : capitalism.
I was also astounded to finally know (for the first time) that the steam machine was coincidentally invented in a British coal mining site. Harari also warns us for the plausibility of super-human in the near future, as the result of the Gilgamesh Project which is still on progress this very day.
Soooo many much more to write, but if I do so you didn't get the full excitement from the book. Hahaha

Ah, what a book to read. It was really, really enjoyable from the very first page to the afterwords. I may also be interested in opening each of interesting paper articles he cited in this book. I know, this book is far more than enough to write the entire civilization of humankind from the very first of our presence in the western part of Africa to this time, but in my opinion it's a good starter. I was triggered and curious to read more about world history, but then I realized, so many books to read, so little money to have. Haha

View all my reviews

*PS : if you are interested in reading this book, please have an open-minded head, especially in the parts of religions and their histories.
*PSS : I got this book from this website. I coincidentally found under the 'best seller' section. The price is about 180K or so, really worth the read.

Karawang, 5 Feb 2018
Any recommendation on books about WW1 and WW2?

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