Within the first 10 pages it is clear that Yuval Noah Harari possesses both an incredible level of intellect and a great ability to explain new concepts about the history of humanity from cave man time till now. The shocking thing however is that these concepts should not be new, especially to me as an individual that has always been interested in science, spent years studying human anatomy and being taught by biologists at the top of their field. Once explained, these concepts seem so obvious, yet they are so profound that up until now they have been overlooked by huge sections of the education system.
It's actually even more shocking to me personally that I don't know a lot of this because of my own family connection to the topic. In the field of archeology the name Louis Leakey is very well known. He was an archeologist working in East Africa in the 1950s and 60s. He found some very important remains which at the time hugely advanced our understanding of mans' history including the first remains of homo habalis and some important remains which helped to add weight to the idea that humans evolved in Africa. Louis Leakey was my great grandmothers brother. So it's amazing to me to read "Sapiens" and get a better understanding of this world.
In Sapiens, Harari lays out the very scary argument about how destructive humans have been on this planet. We all know that the world has changed a lot in the last few hundred years because of human actions. But it would appear that our ancestors have been doing this on a huge scale for tens of thousands of years. Time and again the fossil records show humans reaching a new land for the first time and dozens of unique species being wiped out within a very short time.
He addresses the important difference between evolutionary success (increasing numbers of an individual species) and the living conditions that those individuals have available to them. It is easy to assume that if a population is thriving that we (or any species) are actually healthy and happy. Actually apart from in the case of crops it would appear that the reverse seems to almost always be the case.
The book also takes things so ingrained in our society such as "a company" and explains it in such a revolutionary way that it completely changes the way you then view that entity. Companies are a figment of our collective imagination!
Later he goes on to discuss money, empires, religion and science. The way he summarises the different arguments about happiness in this book was truly enlightening to me.
The only frustration I had while reading this book revolve around the fact that it felt to me like the author rarely clarified what his personal opinion was on many topics. He gave wonderful accounts of the various arguments behind a particular debate and the current theories but never said "I believe this...". However having absorbed much of the material within the book maybe that frustration is more telling about me and societies' craving to know what others stand for so that we can fit in than the style of writing!
If you have an inquisitive scientific mind (which you almost certainly do because it goes hand in hand with dentistry), then I think you would love this book as I did. I am very much looking forward to finding time to read the follow up book Deus which is already sat on my bookshelf. Below is a link should you wish to purchase Sapiens for yourself either as a physical or audiobook
Dr Chris Harper