Book Review: Sapiens - by Yuval Noah Harari

Summary

Pop history of mankind with a bit of philosophy thrown in and a humanist outlook on life. I think Guns, Germs and Steel is better as an explanation of “how did the human world end up looking like this”, but it’s a pretty good read nonetheless.

My notes

Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.

There are no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.

Under the right circumstances myths can change rapidly.

Today the world contains about a billion sheep, a billion pigs, more than a billion cattle, and more than 25 billion chickens. Domesticated cattle, pigs and sheep are the second, third and fourth most widespread large mammals in the world.

History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields

To change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order.

Hierarchies enable complete strangers to know how to treat one another without wasting the time and energy needed to become personally acquainted.

Since all social orders are imagined, they are all fragile. Religion has given superhuman legitimacy to these fragile structures.

The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism.

Modern science differs from all previous traditions of knowledge in three critical ways:

  • The willingness to admit ignorance.
  • The centrality of observation and mathematics.
  • The acquisition of new powers.

The European empires did so many different things on such a large scale, that you can find plenty of examples to support whatever you want to say about them.

Credit enables us to build the present at the expense of the future.

No history of modern science can leave capitalism out of the picture.

In 2002 there were 741,000 victims of human violence. In contrast, 873,000 people committed suicide.

The decline of violence is due largely to the rise of the state.

Since 1945, no independent country recognised by the UN has been conquered and wiped off the map.

Power corrupts. As humankind gained more and more power, it created a cold mechanistic world ill-suited to our real needs.

The keys to happiness are in the hands of our biochemical system, we can stop wasting our time on politics and social reforms, putsches and ideologies, and focus instead on the only thing that can make us truly happy: manipulating our biochemistry. Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.