Whether it's movies, fashions, gadgets or books, we tune our antenna to the latest "buzz." Lately, my "buzz" sources have been lavishing praise on a book entitled "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," by Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and professor.
Originally published in 2011 in Hebrew, with an English version in 2014, it become a bestseller that has been translated into 30 languages. The hardcover edition runs 400-plus pages and is heavy, both in subject matter and actual weight (they used the good paper).
"Sapiens" traces the entire history of the human species, from its origins in Africa over two million years ago to today, with a closing look to the future. It attempts to answer the who, what, when, where and why of human actions and interactions -- how we went from the Stone Age to the Space Age, mastering fire to walking on the Moon.
Readers should fasten their seat belts; Harari takes us on an amazing journey, mixing popular culture with meticulous historical reseach, written (thank goodness) in layman's language. The story is told in three distinct phases that got us to this point: The Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Be forewarned: He pulls no punches in assessing both the achievements and the damage we have done to ourselves, other species and the Earth in our march to world domination.
Of special note is Harari's scathing indictment of the food industry's treatment of cows, chickens, cattle and pigs. It may well push you into the vegan camp.
He also expounds on the idea that much of our modern-era society, truths many hold dear, is based on collective beliefs that exist only in our imaginations, ranging from organized religions to nation states to the money that enables global commerce. If enough people were to stop believing, our society might well collapse.
Unraveling and understanding our roots is as much about biology as history, and Harari effectively weaves evolution and DNA into the discussion throughout. With cold indifference, evolution has defined what we are and created its own limits of what we can be ... until now. Harari uses the last part of his book as a cautionary tale, where technology and genetic engineering are rapidly taking Sapiens to a potential new future where we shed our human skin altogether.
"Sapiens" is not light reading, but it is fascinating, insightful and breathtaking in its scope. Take the time to look into Harari's mirror -- you'll never see yourself the same way again.
His newest book is "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow." You can also find his history course on YouTube.