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1.0 out of 5 starsDon't be fooled. This book is opinion masquerading as science.
Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2018
If you want to learn about the author's feelings and musings about modern society cloaked in the history of our species, this book is for you. If, however, you, as I did, want to learn something scientific about the progress of our species unspoiled by a political screed, search for something else. Rarely have I felt that I misspent money on a book. In this case, I did. Too bad because it might have been an interesting read. I could go on, but it's not worth more of my time.
I bought the book based on high rating but was disappointed. The beginning part was ok but later I felt more and more not reading actual (scientific) facts but only the author's own opinions REPEATEDLY which were presented in a bad way. I tried to continue to finish the book but it was not an easy task. Anyway, not a good book for me,
1.0 out of 5 starsPretentious and pompous opinions presented as facts
Reviewed in the United States on October 23, 2018
The book starts ok, with a useful compilation of recent scientific discoveries. Then Dr. Harari begins to introduce sensationalist claims, like: “A corporation is a myth,” then proposes evidence that fits his claim. A corporation is not a myth, it’s a legal entity created by humans to conduct business with other humans. If a corporation is a myth, then the constitution of USA, and any other set of laws must be a myth as well. Ho goes so far as to declare that America, or any other country is a myth! Come on… Tell this to a pack of wolves who call their territory Wolfland. For me, Harari is one of those authors who come up with sensationalist and outrageous claims in order to sell his book, and judging by the ratings, he largely succeeds. But so do fake news.
So, Harari goes on to attempt to tear down just about every human institution of the last few thousand years as being fictional or "imaginary". Well, sure, they were all invented by humans. But invention is not fiction. Neither it is a myth.
Starting with a conclusion and only proposing evidence that fits with said conclusion bored me and I stopped reading it about a quarter of the way through. I really gave it a try, but this book is one of the most pretentious and pompous books I've ever read. I love good clear authors. Harari is not one of them. Can hardly get through a paragraph of his without being irritated by his generalization without support, constant non-sequiters and presentation of opinion as fact. And when he feels he’s gone too far, he says “Most scientists agree.” Go check it out.
Bill Gates, Barrack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg all love this half baked postmodern, neo Heglian, neo Marxist, reductionist, animal rightist, hodge podge? The author is smart and knows how to turn a phrase, but announces Truth from Olympus while dismissing others' world views as myths. Evidently the only thing he does not know about is the self referential paradox. Everyone but the author lives in a myth. He will tell us the real Story, as though his story is not a myth. One thing I am sure of, 100 years from now no one will remember this book was ever written.
3.0 out of 5 starsimportant hypothesis about human cooperation, but without critical analysis or scientific development
Reviewed in the United States on February 10, 2018
Harari primarily presents an hypothesis as to how Homo sapiens who successfully migrated out of Africa circa 70 kya (thousand years ago) and thereafter, successfully dominating the planet, differed from earlier Homo sapiens who attempted out migration previously (e.g. around 130 kya) but were not successful. Keep in mind that Homo neanderthals in Europe and Homo erectus in Asia had climate and environment adaptations that sapiens did not have and were separate species. Harari claims (assumes) that the later sapiens differed from the earlier sapiens in only one way. They had evolved the ability to form an "inter-subjective reality," as opposed to objective reality (physical) or subjective reality (in only one person's mind). They were able to tell stories and believe them, independent of physical reality.
Everything from myth to religion to nations to moral codes to money are inter-subjective realities according to Harari. They have force in the physical world as long as people believe them, and cease to exist the moment people no longer believe them. This explains how people could cooperate in groups larger than 150, giving them a military and security advantage, and encouraging specialization which eventually gave them a technological advantage.
Moreover, Harari claims (assumes) all these later sapiens were genetically identical, and that the variations in societies are purely cultural, i.e. inter-subjective realities. He presents history as an erratic evolution toward global unity, which is essentially demanded by the nature of inter-subjective realities, requiring belief of all those in mutual frequent contact, but he doesn't say how.
In fact, Harari presents only anecdotal evidence for his claim. He presents no empirical studies regarding the flexibility of humans toward inter-subjective realities, and no mathematical models of its development, evolutionary advantage, or stability. He describes the scientific method as an important development, and requires it to include both mathematical models and verification of them. But he does not use either in his treatise. Thus he presents an important and interesting hypothesis, but not in a scientific manner. He makes not even suggestions as to how to further formulate or verify it as a scientific theory. Perhaps he is trapped in the inter-subjective reality of history as liberal arts, not science.
The term "intersubjective" does exist in the literature of psychology and philosophy, primarily as a synonym for "agreement," but there is no agreement about its definition (Gillespie and Cornish 2009, Journal for Theory of Social Behavior) state:
"The concept of intersubjectivity is used widely, but with varying meanings. Broadly speaking, we take intersubjectivity to refer to the variety of possible relations between people’s perspectives. If we take social life to be founded on interactions then intersubjectivity should be a core concept for the social sciences in general and understanding social behaviour in particular. Perhaps because of this broad relevancy research has been fragmented and at least six definitions are in circulation. Most simplistically, intersubjectivity has been used to refer to agreement in the sense of having a shared definition of an object."
The biggest complaint I have about Harari is that he does not distinguish between his opinion and facts, nor explain the background of how he arrived at the theory of inter-subjectivity. The study of the evolution of cooperation is a hot topic, with political scientists, biologists, mathematicians and even physicists all having theories, and much data collected and many math models developed. It is apparent Harari is aware of this, but does not tell us how his theory fits in. I can only conclude he finds his powers of popular persuasion greater than his powers of scientific persuasion and critical analysis, so he writes a long book instead of a focused research paper.
By the way, you can find excellent video summaries and reviews of this book on the web, and even a "summary" for sale as an eBook. I originally got interested from the video summary.
Near the end Harari reports on happiness research. In this section of the book he takes exception to his usual approach, giving us descriptions of studies and names of researchers so we can trace where these conclusions come from. The book is worth reading for this section.
Occasionally Harari gets facts wrong. You won't realize this unless you have investigated the matter separately. I noticed it because his description of the origin of the caste system in India was wrong, according to current research.
Harari tries to present himself as outside modern factions (or inter-subjective realities), such as nature vs. nurture, liberalism vs. conservatism, etc. But without conscious explication, he suffuses his book with the assumption that any modern human if taken from birth is equally at home in any of the current or historical inter-subjective realities. He does not propose or even consider experiments to determine culture-vs-genetics. So he proposes this important genetic ability evolved in a small population on a single continent between 130kya and 70kya, but that no differentiating evolution has occurred since then.
The question of whether the degree or style of inter-subjectivity is as universal as he implies is important for several reasons. Harari proposes the world is "different" since 1945, with no war between major powers, no more empires expanding by territorial acquisition. He suggests some reasons for this (cost of nuclear war, for example) which are unverified. His book was completed in 2014 before Russia claimed parts of Ukraine and China claimed the entire South China Sea. If inter-subjective capacity is universal, then this situation is likely unstable. People could quit believing it at any moment, and the world could return to any state that it has been in historically. If inter-subjective capacity is not identical in everyone, then it might make a great deal of difference which cultures dominate, even if through historical accident. See for example Boyd and Richerson 2009 Culture and the Evolution of Human Cooperation.
So, it is a book full of powerful ideas, often with carefully balanced arguments on both sides, but beware of accepting the background assumptions without critical thinking, or you will just fall into the latest meme.
Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2018
Didn't finish - what starts as interesting history turns quickly into a biased, hateful rant against humanity. Obviously there is room for critique in that regard but that's not why I bought it or what it is promoted as.
The paper and print quality are very poor. Sending fake printed books in the name of special collector's edition and that too without colours. I found a better book through different vendor as compared to this Harsh Books.
2.0 out of 5 starsAssertions, assertions, assertions... Evidence, please.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 21, 2018
'Sapiens' is a short telling of the entire human history, from pre-anatomically modern humans through the agricultural and scientific revolutions and to the present. Or so it attempts to be.
Unfortunately, this enormous task is the book's own undoing. There is no room for any indepth discussions about the various complex issues, and no room to discuss the evidence. The book is filled with assertion after assertion, and virtually nothing to back them up. I looked in the reference section and I was shocked to see how few citations there were. Such a massive subject derserves ten times more citations. If you think you're getting a good scientific description of the facts, don't buy this book. This book is essentially his opinions, and not much else.
Any person who has strong knowledge within any of the subjects in the book will quickly realise that Harari is not an expert on much of what he writes about. He does not just make many claims. He makes many wrong claims. And many, many more misleading ones. It's one of those books that are popular with the layman, but not so much with the expert.
When he leaves the topic of evolutionary biology, premodern history, and starts talking about modern history the book gets slighter better. Or is that just because I'm not as well-versed in those topics? Do I just not see his errors there, just like a layperson would not see his errors in his account of evolutionary biology, intelligence research, and more? I won't know. The problem is I can't put much trust in him, because there are so many things wrong or misleading stuff elsewhere. And he doesn't provide sufficient evidence.
Even in the better parts of the book, it is ultimately somewhat dull. Not much new to learn for me, unfortunately. There are so many books about humans, many of them much better than this.
I wouldn't claim that this is the worst book ever, obviously. But to say that it is overhyped is to put it mildly. If you want to read a story, then perhaps you might find it interesting. If you want a factual account that is supported by an honest look at the available evidence, then go somewhere else.
This is the first of its kind book which I read and let me tell you, it captivated my attention in the tantalizing details from the very beginning, when it all started. The 5 stars I present to this book (I did have a little tinkling to settle for 4, at times, for somewhere in the middle, it got a boring. But then... It was not all about that).
What I loved about the book: -I've really been looking for answers to many questions (about life, about evolution, about - why it happened this way and not that), things, and events (such a Britain, how it was able to rule over such big empires, etc.) I never understood. Having all it combined and presented in such a wonderful way was a treat to read. - Not only this book gives a history of how it all happened, it does open up many avenues and offers some logical reasoning about things and why they happened that way and not in any other way. The good part is, it does that in an exploring way and not just throwing some facts on your face to deal with. It explores various options and slowly, gently, how we came about to be what we are, who we are, and why we are. - The book, although I may not totally be satisfied with some of the reasoning or thought processes of the author on certain issues (And I still give 5 stars!! haha), offers some wonderful windows into perspectives I never thought of. - I loved the way how the author deals with the future. Again, I may not agree with everything there, but it did give me some points to think about, some aspects I never considered worth the thought. - The book not only deals with laws of nature, actually, it doesn't at all - it offers some eye-opening reasoning of why everything is the way it is.
What I did not enjoy that much: -Well, this could be an individual choice, but somewhere in the middle, I found the book somewhat stretched on Capitalism and Industrial Revolution. I did get to understand and learn some things there too, but that was where I would have rated the book 4/5. But by the time I ended the book, well, I was able to ignore having being bored for some time, for what all perspective I gained from the book.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 20, 2018
Well worth reading but not as good or essential as most reviews indicate. Its a while since I read it but I do definitely remember, I found many of the arguments and examples unconvincing and often misinterpreted. I bought this mainly to gain insight into mankind's earliest experiences of civilisation roughly summaried as Fire, Agriculture, Towns, Writing, the Wheel but was disappointed. Obviously almost everything before writing has to be mainly conjecture , but I found the limited amount of conjecture in this book unconvincing. Regarding the more recent past and speculation about the future again I found ,for me, the content was for much of the time unconvincing.
3.0 out of 5 starsA brief speculation about the history of humankind
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 18, 2019
Harari has a knack of weaving complex and interesting concepts into stories, which allows the reader to feel smarter for having understood him. The book is very interesting and despite its length, can be zipped through due to its easy reading style.
Unfortunately, I also have to agree with many of the one star reviewers, that the books downfall is the almost constant speculation he engages in, without providing further evidence.
As an example, he states 'the creators of the cave paintings at Chauvet, Lascaux and Altmira almost certainly intended them to last for generations.'
This kind of statement is endemic of the sloppy thinking he engages in, where he will assume something for the sake of the narrative.
This wouldn't be a problem if it were in isolation, but it is a pattern repeated throughout the book, where he will base a conclusion off an assumption, then proceed to build a whole story off it. This relegates the book to a speculation rather than a historical account.
I would also advice Christians that he is rather condescending about religion in general and Christianity in particular. He describes Christianity as a 'myth' to be put in the same category as belief in Odin or in Wood Spirits. AS a Non-Christian I was annoyed over his presumptive anti-theism so I have no doubt that many believers will find him infuriating.
To sum up, this is an interesting and infuriating speculation of the humankind. Take it all with a shaker of salt.