BookBrowse Reviews Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari X
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 464 pages
    May 2018, 464 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Sinéad Fitzgibbon
Buy This Book

About this Book



A comprehensive capture of the evolutionary journey, this account explores the many facets of humanity in humankind.

Author Yuval Noah Harahi defines the word "human" as "an animal belonging to the genus Homo." If we look to Oxford Dictionaries, on the other hand, we discover that human is defined as "relating to or characteristic of humankind." While both are equally correct, there is a wealth of difference between the two. The first rather sterile, scientific denotation entirely lacks the depth of the latter, which is a broader, more subliminally sentient interpretation that hints at some of our deeper, intangible attributes - our thoughts, emotions, hopes and dreams. The gulf between one and the other bears witness to an incredible, 150,000-year evolutionary journey from the emergence of our species in Africa, "the cradle of humanity," to our present-day, post-imperial, globalized world. It is precisely this journey, this leap from merely human to humankind, that Harahi chronicles in this remarkable book.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is an ambitious undertaking by anyone's standards. One hundred and fifty thousand years is an extremely long time - the very opposite of "brief," in fact. As centuries gave way to millennia, the development of our species was slowly and incrementally shaped by three major "revolutions": the Cognitive Revolution, which saw the emergence of language and our ability to believe in collective invented "realities" like the concept of gods and, later, money; the Agricultural Revolution, which ushered in large-scale domestication of animals leading to a switch from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to that of farmer; and, more recently, the Scientific Revolution, during which humanity set about deciphering the mysteries of the world.

The ability to cooperate and collaborate with each other on a large scale was, as we discover during the course of Sapiens, crucial to the success of our species. Fittingly, it is also key to the ultimate triumph of this book, which is nothing if not a collaborative engagement with the innumerable scientists, philosophers, radical thinkers and scholars who have gone before. By drawing on the vast wealth of knowledge unearthed by others down through the ages, in disciplines as diverse as paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and religion, Harahi presents a staggeringly comprehensive account of the vast human story. (Incidentally, he offers a popular free online course on the same subject).

That the author is undoubtedly standing on the shoulders of giants is not, however, to suggest that this book is in any way derivative. While Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind wouldn't be possible without the innovations and discoveries of our predecessors, it is also a book which proves that it is not beyond the abilities of one man to distill such a huge expanse of history into a single articulate and highly readable volume, even if such a process at times necessarily lends itself to sweeping generalization and a certain oversimplification of statement. When discussing the Atlantic slave trade, for instance, Harahi states that the practice "did not stem from racist hatred towards Africans," but rather from "cold indifference and greed." While this is in part true, it cannot be denied that Africans were in fact viewed by some as a lower class of human, so racism arguably was a factor to some extent.

Harahi's fierce, almost iconoclastic independence of mind is very much in evidence. He is not afraid to put forward his own interesting — if sometimes overly radical — theories about our past and our possible future. By debunking some deeply held evolutionary myths, he makes us question everything we thought we knew about the human story. One of the most notable of these myths is the misconception of linear human evolution. Contrary to popular belief, there was no "straight line of descent" from, for example, homo erectus to Neanderthals to homo sapiens. As Harahi points out, several species of humans once co-existed on the planet - sapiens alone have survived to the present day by virtue of being the most successful, the "fittest" if you will.

There are many books that can justifiably claim to have, in one way or another, changed the world. The laws of motion contained in Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica heralded a sea change in our understanding of physics and mechanics. Charles Darwin's theories of evolution outlined in On the Origin of Species were so groundbreaking, the book sparked debate in almost every sphere - scientific, religious, social and political - of the Anglophone world. Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Karl Marx's Das Kapital had similar impacts in the arena of political and economic theory. While not as obviously trailblazing as the work of some of these giants, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is, in its own quiet way, just as innovative and thought-provoking.

Reviewed by Sinéad Fitzgibbon

This review was originally published in March 2015, and has been updated for the May 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Feast Your Eyes
    Feast Your Eyes
    by Myla Goldberg
    Myla Goldberg's latest novel, Feast Your Eyes, is ostensibly about the works of fictional ...
  • Book Jacket: Greek to Me
    Greek to Me
    by Mary Norris
    Mary Norris' Greek to Me received an overwhelmingly favorable response from our First Impression ...
  • Book Jacket: Miracle Creek
    Miracle Creek
    by Angie Kim
    Miracle Creek, the debut novel from Angie Kim, hinges on the mysterious explosion of an oxygen tank....
  • Book Jacket: Courting Mr. Lincoln
    Courting Mr. Lincoln
    by Louis Bayard
    19 out of 21 of our First Impression Reviewers rated Louis Bayard's latest novel, Courting Mr. ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Women Rowing North
    by Mary Pipher

    The instant New York Times bestseller from the author of Reviving Ophelia.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Guest Book
    by Sarah Blake

    "An American epic in the truest sense…"
    Entertainment Weekly
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Her Kind of Case
by Jeanne Winer

A highly-recommended emotion-filled legal drama with three starred reviews!

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Miracle Creek

My husband asked me to lie. Not a big lie...

A thrilling debut novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I T S Form O F

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.