This was our son’s favorite book back when it came out in 2014, and he gave us the hardcover for Christmas, with its lusciously thick paper and color pictures. It is a bit dense, though, and I didn’t read it at the time. Then my book group scheduled it for last night, and I was glad for the extra motivation to actually read it.
Writing this was a huge undertaking– putting the whole history of mankind into one book– but this author does it with panache. I can see why our son loved it, since it synthesizes our whole homeschooling history curriculum, which we did in detail in chronological order. This book gulps all that down here in one seamless arc. It was helpful to know this history well already in context, so we could just focus on the author’s unique juxtapositions of the material. If genius is combining disparate things, this author expresses seemingly effortless ingenuity throughout.
Occasionally there is a condescending tone, a bit authoritative or glib, like a know-it-all as he imparts an opinion or perspective. I found I didn’t always agree with his takeaways, but they were always interesting and thought provoking. There is no question that this author is intelligent and well informed, but he’s young, and I can’t help wondering whether these unequivocal opinions will change or soften over time.
He’s rather hard on religion, for example, and often judgmental of believers. He says the reason we sapiens stand apart from other species is not the opposable thumb, as we were so often told, but our ability to tell stories. Religion, in his view, is our primary storytelling vehicle, but he says we don’t even believe it, because look at all the actions that occur contrary to religious tenants. What we actually believe in, he asserts, is money– that is the God we can all agree on and remain loyal to.
His view of where we are now, and where we are headed, is particularly interesting. Are we really aiming at eternal life physically? And what do you think, are we happier than hunter-gatherers?
I didn’t need to feel like I agreed with all of this author’s provocative opinions to enjoy this book. There’s plenty of information woven though all of this as well, all creatively organized, and concisely discussed. This book is a major achievement; it is very readable, while simultaneously being the work of rare brilliance.
I recommend Sapiens and give it 5 stars. After reading it, you’ll want to keep your copy, and maybe it read again sometime.