Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

I believe I am relatively familiar with history in general, and I’m usually not very excited about reading more about it. But this book was something else.
Beautifully written and easy to read, this book just made me want to know more and more about how the author thinks the world evolved to what it is today. Revolution by revolution, religion by religion, conception by conception, things were simplified and yet still maintained valid points – and it was never boring.

The history of mankind is taken from its first tribes who either interbred to form Homo Sapiens or actually replaced each other through genocide and isolation.

I loved how it studied the evolution of different cultures across the globe, seen the man go from gatherer to hunter and then to form agricultural societies. The bulk of the book is focused on different aspects of today’s life like money, religion, patriarchy and rulers.

The last 500 years have witnessed a phenomenal and unprecedented growth in human power. In the year 1500, there were about 500 million Homo sapiens in the entire world. Today, there are 7 billion. 1 The total value of goods and services produced by humankind in the year 1500 is estimated at $250 billion, in today’s dollars. 2 Nowadays the value of a year of human production is close to $60 trillion. 3 In 1500, humanity consumed about 13 trillion calories of energy per day. Today, we consume 1,500 trillion calories 115-fold.)

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A famous example is lightning. Many cultures believed that lightning was the hammer of an angry god, used to punish sinners. In the middle of the eighteenth century, in one of the most celebrated experiments in scientific history, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite during a lightning storm to test the hypothesis that lightning is simply an electric current.

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During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Europeans began to draw world maps with lots of empty spaces – one indication of the development of the scientific mindset, as well as of the European imperial drive. The empty maps were a psychological and ideological breakthrough, a clear admission that Europeans were ignorant of large parts of the world.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European expeditions circumnavigated Africa, explored America, crossed the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and created a network of bases and colonies all over the world. They established the first truly global empires and knitted together the first global trade network.

I liked how the author added snippets of information in each chapter about something that people did back then and compares it to today’s world. He talks about women in Ancient Greece, about how people treated their farm animals and how the British, when they colonized India, took time to have a look at the local fauna and measure everything from borders to mountains.

In the final chapters, the author talks about the evolution of mankind, genetic advances in science and how it will impact our future.

A few mammals have also been subject to genetic engineering. Every year the dairy industry suffers billions of dollars in damages due to mastitis, a disease that strikes dairy-cow udders. Scientists are currently experimenting with genetically engineered cows whose milk contains lysostaphin, a biochemical that attacks the bacteria responsible for the disease.

The pork industry, which has suffered from falling sales because consumers are wary of the unhealthy fats in ham and bacon, has hopes for a still-experimental line of pigs implanted with genetic material from a worm. The new genes cause the pigs to turn bad omega 6 fatty acid into its healthy cousin, omega 3. The next generation of genetic engineering will make pigs with good fat look like child’s play. Geneticists have managed not merely to extend sixfold the average life expectancy of worms, but also to engineer genius mice that display much-improved memory and learning skills.

Voles are small, stout rodents resembling mice, and most varieties of voles are promiscuous. But there is one species in which boy and girl voles form lasting and monogamous relationships. Geneticists claim to have isolated the genes responsible for vole monogamy. If the addition of a gene can turn a vole Don Juan into a loyal and loving husband, are we far off from being able to genetically engineer not only the individual abilities of rodents (and humans), but also their social structures?

Good read 4/5 🙂

Go find it and expand your horison.

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