The Delayed Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

I don’t mind reading non-fiction ever. In fact, I quite like it. But I find “reviewing” non-fiction to be quite difficult sometimes.

By which I mean to explain why I read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind weeks ago and am only just now getting something up on the blog about it. That, and I’m the WORST.

You might be saying to yourself “but I’ve definitely read non-fiction reviews on this site before” and you would be right. But they were pretty well all about people. Queens and Princesses mostly. It’s fun to talk about those kinds of books because individuals are so interesting. But Yuval Noah Harari wrote a book about the entire history of mankind. That’s a lot of material to cover and I don’t have a PhD.

Let’s see what I can do.


This book was wonderful. Instead of making my eyes glaze over with talk about eras and epochs and science (god that makes me sound dumb), Harari talks about the evolution of human culture. Occasionally there is science to explain how years of evolution made our brains a certain size, or how humans ended up in Australia in the first place, but generally he looks at the way our social history has impacted where we have ended up as a whole. Harari discusses religion, politics, gossip, justice, imperialism, ignorance, science and capitalism, among other things, which ends up forming a pretty complete picture of our human history without overwhelming you with detail.

I especially enjoyed his section on patriarchal genes. According to Harari, the entire patriarchal system has been founded on myths rather than biological fact. Unfortunately, myths have always had incredible power over humankind.

There were some darker sections of this book as well. Harare writes about the species that humans have already eradicated twice and that, since we haven’t learned from those previous times, we’re in very great danger of doing it a third time. In Australia there were these incredible megafauna (marsupial lions, diprotodons and giant kangaroos) that humans totally eradicated because of the advent of humans. He writes,

“perhaps if people were more aware of the First Wave and Second Wave extinctions, they’d be less nonchalant about the Third Wave they are a part of. If we knew how many species we’ve already eradicated, we might be more motivated to protect those that still survive. This is especially relevant to the large animals of the ocean…many of them are in the brink of extinction no as a result of industrial pollution and human overuse of oceanic resources.”

Considering the scope of the material, I think Harari has done an incredible job making this book accessible and readable. It’s also broken down into sections so that you could read it in little bits at a time, if that makes it more palatable for you. But I do think that this is an important book that everyone should read. Reading about how we got here and what happened before us can only make us better humans in the long run.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for providing me with an ARC copy of this book. This will affect my review in terms of the content that I quoted here.


10 thoughts on “The Delayed Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

  1. I have this book, because it sounds perfect for me – I find all that evolution stuff so interesting. So, why haven’t I read it? I don’t know, but at least now I have it on good authority that it’s a good read.

    I know what you mean about the nonfiction being harder to review. For one thing, I feel like there is so much information and I don’t know what to mention and what to leave put. It took me a long time to write about The Inconvenient Indian. Also, that review I did on Billy Joel. They were still fun to do, but a lot more work. This is a good review – it gives me an idea of what to expect, and most importantly that you liked it (and learned from it)!

    • You always write the best comments, Naomi! Non-fiction reviews are definitely more work. I’m glad you think that this one worked! Yours on Billy Joel and The Inconvenient Indian certainly did!

      I hope you get a chance to read this one – I’d like to read your take on it!

  2. This book looks really good.
    I wonder if non-fiction can be more difficult to review because of the darker parts? Just a thought that struck me with this review.

    • You mean because this one isn’t all sunshine and rainbows? People probably are turned off by more difficult subject matter (I have a book about concentration camps that I haven’t been able to make myself read about yet). I don’t know if that was the case for me this time. More that there is so much information, it’s hard to even know where to start!

  3. I’m about halfway through this book right now, and I’m so in love with it! I think I’ve used about half a package of sticky flags to mark fascinating passages!

  4. I was so excited to see your review of this book! I can’t wait to read this one. I heard the author on NPR and was captivated. Immediately made note to get the book and read it!

  5. I know what you mean about writing nonfiction reviews. I’ve found that making a bullet point list of “fun facts” works well – just to give people a taste of what it’s about. Pretty much what you did here.

    • I do like the fun facts version of non-fiction posts. Felt like cheating when I’ve just done that for Charles Dickens. I have a review of The Tipping Point going up this week sometime and I should have probably done it for that one!

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