The book was translated into 45 languages, and has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide.
This book was highly recommended by Bill Gates (he ranked it among his top 10 books), Mark Zuckerberg, and Obama (maybe because the book devoted a whole page for his picture). Some people considered it one of the best “brainy books of the decade”.
But is it really so?
A global phenomenon.
What’s the reason for its popularity? What is special about it?
Sincerely, I have no answer.
After reading it attentively and slowly, which is unusual for me while reading popular books, I still could not see what all the noise was about.
“Thanks to Jared Diamond, who taught me to see the big picture” (author’s Acknowledgments)
To understand the whole idea of the book, Harari was inspired by Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (which I consider immeasurably better) and tried to write a universal history of humankind. A summary of all the History of Humanity from the first Homo Sapiens to the sapiens of the present day . To Us.
It is kind of “thinking history Globally” as seen by Diego Olstein, Harari’s second source of inspiration. Putting it differently and more precisely, John Sexton calls it “a speculative reconstruction of human evolution” (The New Atlantis).
I actually find it exciting as an idea or a project. And to be fair, the book is quite enjoyable and accessible, especially the first part, which handles the cognitive evolution.
But as one reads on and on, the book becomes what Galen Strawson described it best as “overwhelmed by carelessness, exaggeration and sensationalism.”
It is really satisfying to read the History of Humanity compressed into two pages.
Throughout the entire book, my favorite part is the timeline. That is the first pages of the book where he talks about:
- The beginning of physics: matter and energy appear;
- The beginning of chemistry: atoms and molecules appear;
- The beginning of biology: the emergence of organisms
It felt like discovering the scientific version of the Genesis.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure.”
So, what is originally written as “created equal” ends up being explained “evolved differently”.
This is “the best brainy book”. Sure!
The survival of the fittest no longer works then?
The book is about biological determinism or how we, Sapiens, are constantly stuck in this big machine called “nature”. Take for example the wheat conspiracy theory:
According to Harari, “Wheat domesticated Homo Sapiens” and “Wheat did it by manipulating Homo Sapiens”.
Let us also mention another essential claim of the book which makes that all the entities we know turned to be fiction, including laws, human rights, social codes,… Even Peugeot, apparently.
The one-dimensional Sapiens
Don’t fool yourselves, Sapiens: When you’re happy, it’s not that you feel or experience something; it’s only “pleasant sensations in your bodies”, just hormones and electric signals.
While Harari is taking away the “right to experience and to feel” from Sapiens, he gives it generously to the wheat. Wheat “didn’t like rocks and pebbles”. “Wheat didn’t like sharing”. Wheat even got sick.
You want a best-seller book?
Then you read history and scientific research. But even if you don’t have any clue about logic and philosophy, then do not worry: you can always invent some original idea.
I almost forgot: you should to add some jokes too.
Et voila! You got your best-selling book.
Sometimes good (not brilliant), sometimes OK, and most of the time bad.
In the whole book, there is nothing new, not even the predictions about human destiny.
“Whenever his facts are broadly correct they are not new, and whenever he tries to strike out on his own he often gets things wrong, sometimes seriously”.
Writing a book that expands over a lot of topics: history, anthropology, biology, philosophy, chemistry, physics, linguistics… takes a lot of courage, indeed. But let’s not make any excuses.
I don’t think of the book as anything serious, quite frankly.
And if you’re trying to find serious answers, or attempts for answers, to the big problems of humanity: this book is definitely not for you.
In the final, my personal opinion is that the book is not all bad.
For example, the chapter about money is very interesting. And you definitely can find some other good ideas scattered throughout the book.
But still, the book doesn’t deserve the wide acclaim and attention it got.
I’ll give it 2/5.
And I certainly invite you to read it and judge it yourself.