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.