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Publisher's Summary

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity's creation and evolution - a number one international best seller - that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be "human".

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one - Homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?

Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago, with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.

Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because, over the last few decades, humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?

This provocative and insightful work is sure to spark debate and is essential for aficionados of Jared Diamond, James Gleick, Matt Ridley, Robert Wright, and Sharon Moalem.

©2015 Yuval Noah Harari (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers

Featured Article: The Best-Selling Nonfiction Authors of All Time


Some writers have a gift for turning facts—whether rooted in history, science, or their life—into epic literature and compelling listens. The possibilities for listens that are rooted in fact are as varied as they are endless. These writers are 10 of the best-selling nonfiction authors of all time. They’ve taught us, entertained us, made us think, and made us laugh—and that is why they’ll stand the test of time.

What listeners say about Sapiens

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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating, despite claims of errors

I've listened to this book twice, now (it being the first in my library to get a second complete re-listen), and the stars I gave it a year and a half ago still stand. My thoughts, though, have matured a little. Harari covers mostly social aspects of the human species all the way from our cradle in Africa 200 000 years ago, up till 2014.

I am not learned in the field, and cannot immediately say anything about the accuracy of what Harari writes, and I note several more or less expert reviewers giving Harari flack for sensationalism and errors. As such, perhaps it is good not to take Sapiens as gospel as far as details go.

In a course I followed as part of my PhD in physics, we touched upon how the need for accurate time keeping came about, where my professor suggested the need arose not too long after the black death when scarcity of labour made it more important for skilled craftsmen to keep tabs on how long they actually worked on a given project. Harari suggests accurate time keeping came about in the newly railroaded Great Britain, where accurate scheduling suddenly became important. To be fair, Harari really discusses synchronisation, not accuracy, but the gist of the argument makes it seem like the need for train time tables gave rise to the industry of accurate time pieces. Whether the black death or the trains were more critical, I can't say, but the Swiss began making their famous watches in the 15th century, which is a bit more in line with the black death than with the industrial revolution.

Be that as it may, a potential lack of exact facts seem to me not to detract from a slew of very interesting thoughts on the broader topic.

Three points stick with me;

1) The fraud of agriculture.
I feel Harari paints an unduly romantic picture of the life of a hunter gatherer, saying they had 40 hour work weeks and spent lots of time with their children and telling stories under the stars. It sounds a bit stylised. But, my gut tells me he is on the right track in his condemnation of the agricultural revolution. As humans, we have an incredible inability to look ahead, and Sapiens posits this inability trapped us in a dreadful spiral of growing population and diminishing freedom. At first, it seems like a good idea to spend an extra month in this here spot to tend to some plants that grew really well last year. Take a month and weed a bit, maybe chase off a herd of grazers or whatever, and then continue on the nomad trek. Next year, you will return to loads of tasty fruits/grains/some plant or other. Well, a month turns to two, then the band of foragers suddenly have a couple babies on their hands, and might not easily move for another few months. Now you need a hut, rather than just a lean-to. Before your grumpy grandfather knows it, you're established, and you're farming more than you forage and hunt. And your great grandchildren are two fields over clubbing another farmer to death to take his land. And women are suddenly just baby machines rather than root and berry pickers. And one third of your children die of starvation and diseases from close-quarters living. Oh, and you are about as likely to die of violence as of starvation. Great.

The story Harai weaves simply makes sense to me. We see it time and again; we start doing something that seems great in the moment, but three generations hence, we've no more oil, the atmosphere is turning toxic, and we're hopped up on a cocktail of hormone mimicking chemicals. And the goddam bees are dying. So, for all of Harari's romanticising of hunter gatherer societies, I think he's onto something about how we accidentally fell into becoming farmers, paving the way for slums, kings, and feudal hierarchy.

2) How come European culture became so dominant?
This is an interesting topic that can easily turn into a trashy cultural masturbation contest, but on the whole, I feel Harari navigates it well. Now, I am of both Southern and Northern European descent, so I may just not be sufficiently tuned to pick up on major issues with his arguments. That said, he makes the case that in the 15th century, there were no major technological differences between the largest powers in the world; Europeans, the Ottomans, the Chinese, they were all pretty evenly matched as far as technology went, and it might seem like a surprise that only 200/300 years later, Europe would have such a choke hold around the globe. Harari's suggestion for the key difference is social and philosophical: Europeans were unusually willing to accept ignorance, and unusually interested in filling these gaps in knowledge. European cultures were the first ones in which great swathes of individuals had personal interest in discovering stuff. Of course, in light of our global culture where these kinds of ideals are, well, ideals, this sounds uncomfortably like European cultures are "better". But that isn't what Harari drives at. It simply "is" like this. Meaning also that incredible damage and suffering, past and future, is at the hands of European cultures. Speaking of how things might have been better if some other culture had gained the upper hand the way Europe did is not part of Harari's discussion, but that's fine by me; he is describing history at this point, letting the listener draw any moral conclusions on their own.

3) Empire + Capitalism + Science
As a budding scientist with what I consider pure motivations, I'm no great fan of how science and imperialism has gone hand in hand since the scientific revolution. Yet, here we are. Harari draws a parallel between science and empire building in which he posits a philosophical equivalence; science is about dominion over nature, insofar as large amounts of science is done to bolster our ability to make use of nature for our purposes. And the parts of science not about conquest as such, are still all about us, and our desire to pad the list of things we understand. Perhaps it could not really be otherwise, or, perhaps, it is a consequence of European hegemony, and another culture's approach might have led to science unmarred by ties to economic gains and imperial ambitions.

Some critics from the fields of anthropology and history say Harari lacks originality here, and says he goes a bit rogue in the parts where he provides his own thoughts. This is pretty scathing critique, but also a bit beside the point. I don't think Sapiens is entirely accurate, and I don't think it was meant to be used as the curriculum for a human history course. I think it lays out some sensible arguments about human history that I would not have seen were it not for Harari writing this book, and that is what I expect from a popular science work. I now have a little insight into a field that interests me, and have things to think about.

Well worth a listen!

154 people found this helpful

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A very disappointing read

A very disappointing read... I read/audio a lot of popular nonfiction and this is the one time I've been compelled to post a negative review. Normally I find some positive takeaways from these types of books, but Sapiens is an exception.

The reader will notice a default pessimistic tone in Sapiens, drawing unnecessarily fatalistic conclusions from historical events, theorized historical events, and dogmatic practices of the human existence.

I expected to find a more historical frame in this book as the name would suggest however what is to be found is a very general overview. With most of the "historical" references being obvious speculation. As in what a member of a primitive hunter/gatherer society "might do" on a day to day basis. I find that sheer speculation with absolutely no factual reference or even suggestion of evidence is out of place in a nonfiction book. There is no credibility to such speculation, even in comparison with modern hunter/gatherer societies. As has been pointed out by other critics; hunter/gatherer societies that evolved into agricultural societies were in places of (relatively) high population densities. Thus competition for resources with other hunter/gatherer societies is expected to result in a much less carefree lifestyle than is described by the author. Even in modern hunter/gatherer societies strife, murder and even genocide are common amongst competing tribes. Relatively non serious injuries result in death on a regular basis ex. None of these negative aspects of hunter/gatherers are contrasted to positives in Sapiens. I appreciate that an author will impart their perspective and draw their own conclusions from facts however in the case of Sapiens what we have is almost pure conjecture. Nearly the same historical overview of human evolution can be found in Jarod Diamond's works, specifically 'The third chimpanzee'. Though Jarod Diamond may also use some speculative analysis I find his historical perspective much more compelling. Diamond's accounts much more detailed and more scientifically motivated. Diamond has closely studied and actually lived with hunter/gatherers in New Guinea giving his first hand accounts credibility. Diamond's works are controversial and considered dated at some points. Though I wouldn't agree totally with Diamond's view of history I would highly recommend Diamond's works over Sapiens.

I would go so far as to say Sapiens is not really a historical work but rather a political volume. Yuval Noah Harari goes into depth to describe how abstract concepts such as religion or human rights are "myths". These "myths" or "fictions" are a main foundation of Sapiens. It is contradictory that the author takes a clear moralistic stance throughout Sapiens. I consider Sapiens an ethical/political assessment of the human existence thinly veiled as scientific.

In summation you will not find any interesting historical conclusions or philosophy that is unque to Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens. What you will find is a nihilistic regurgitation of several contemporary works, each paraphrased by the author then dredged into his condescending moral frame, and painted over with historical speculation.

90 people found this helpful

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Should be required reading

Part science, part pontification, purely thought provoking. This book may not make you change your life, but it will certainly impact the way you think about your life. I'm not an anthropology wonk, so learning about the evolution of Sapiens was educational for me, and I enjoyed that it was infused with humor to humanize it a bit. The book is also infused with a lot of Harari's own biases on religion, veganism, consumerism - and so forth. I loved this about the book - others might find it irritating.

There is a very long chapter on how our consumerism has been absolutely devastating to the animals we share the planet with. It was difficult to read, and not because it isn't true, but because it made me feel like shit. I don't know that I'll go full on vegan, but I recognize my impact and I am committed to cutting my meat consumption significantly.

The ending is pretty bleak, but we have also innovated our way into a pretty scary crossroads. Which road will we take? Moving on to Homo Deus. This is one of the those books that should be required reading for everyone. I'm going to recommend it to all of my friends. All two of them.

301 people found this helpful

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  • N.
  • 02-26-19

First half is fantastic; second half slows down

tl;dr - worth the Audible credit just for the first half, don't feel bad if you stop before finishing the second.

OVERALL - 3/5 ("Pretty Good")
Like others have said, I really enjoyed the first half of the book. It was incredibly interesting learning about the history of the "other sapiens" and what happened to them. I found myself taking a few extra turns on the car before going home just to hear the next bits.

The said, the second half does slow down quite a bit. I didn't take it to be an attack on technology or capitalism as others have suggested but the same points seem to be made over and over. The last few chapters ended up feeling a bit redundant and it took me a lot longer to get through them than normal. They weren't bad, just... not as compelling.

PERFORMANCE - 3/5 ("Pretty Good")
Derek Perkins does a good job with the material, and he's very easy to listen to.

STORY - 3/5 ("Pretty Good")
The first half of the book seems to focus on WHAT happened and the second half seems to focus on WHY it happened. So your mileage may vary depending on what you're more into. I like the historical parts more than the sociological parts so I favored the first half. However, the two are so tightly intertwined I completely understand why he structured the book the way he did. I think the second half could have probably been trimmed down a bit though.

78 people found this helpful

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Take the Negative Reviews w/ a Grain of Salt

Before I decided to get this, I’ve seen a lot of recent Audible reviews come at this book with the same criticism “I like the first half when it’s about Homo sapiens, but the second half is all opinion and no proof!” Having listened to it, it’s pretty clear where the criticism comes from. The entire book gives the exact same framework and from the exact same viewpoint, and both the first and second half of this book give the same amount of proofs and studies to back up observations and claims, I think most people seem to have a problem with the fact that the second half of the book is deeply critical of The Enlightenment and the “science” that came with it, Classical Liberalism, Individualism and Capitalism and talks about these ideologies the same way one would observe ancient religions. He talks how these have gone against human biological interest and observed how it’s only natural that these have led to a new, consumerist society and mass alienation. I think it just goes to show a lot of folks are deeply attached to capitalism and Neoliberalism. That aside, this is a great book. It really made me learn a lot, and even with the stuff it told me that I already knew, what’s most crucial is that this book gives a proper framework for understanding humans and human institutions and how they were formed.

557 people found this helpful

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Nothing new; Negativism lacking constructive input

The myths we believe in; that is political ideologies, culture and religion, are simply that, myths. These myths are only of human invention and have no intrinsic reality. They bring no value and have caused problems for all recorded time. The only true value in our lives is science because it improves our lives and may at some time make us immortal. Science has created all true advancements throughout history while other myths invoked by humans have corrupted those enhancements. So where do we go from here? Harari would say we need to figure that out. It was interesting to hear that this point of view exists, but I would have expected someone who prides himself with great thought to have offered more direction to his readers. If it is to come in the next book, I will continue my existence without it.

8 people found this helpful

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Expands upon the book Guns, Germs, and Steel

The first half dove into human history quiet nice and thorough. Once Sapiens are introduced into history, then the writing bounces around history a bunch. I found myself asking why certain parts of history were not mentioned or glossed over while others were intensely focused. Why so much focus on the American Revolution and barely any mention of empires and wars such as WWII? I also was curious why there wasn't any mention of the Israeli Palestinian conflict while other countries conflicts were brought up.
The economic subjects around money and statistics and commerce were fascinating. This gave a great background of today's commerce in historical terms easily understood.
The last few chapters were enlightening in where we are heading and a subject I find myself in conversations with others.

122 people found this helpful

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Life changing

I guess this is what it feels like to have a religious awakening, which is ironic given the contents of the book. The way this book describes humans from such a distant vantage point really forces you to acknowledge the objective reality that we are all just animals, doing strange things, believing even stranger things, for our brief lives.

One example of how this book has changed me: I've taken antidepressants for a long tube, but always felt guilty: like if I just understood myself and my world better, I wouldn't need that crutch. I don't feel that way anymore. Read the book and you'll understand why.

It's a tired analogy, but it's like The Matrix. I'm suddenly aware of these major aspects of my reality that I was just ignoring before... Or, more than ignoring, they just weren't something I could see.

Read this. The narrator is great. The content is great. The writing is great.

304 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Starts strong, ends weak

The first third of this book is phenomenal but quickly deteriorates thereafter. In addition, rather than providing an unbiased analysis, you can detect tons of personal gripes/vendettas the author has against other societies, religions, etc. while failing to address the shortcomings of those of his own. In addition, this book is filled with wrongful assumptions that make you question the credibility of its author's claims throughout.

That said, the narrator is absolutely brilliant!

7 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

I certainly rushed in to buying this book before reading enough reviews. If I did, well it is all there. My mistake.

To start on a positive, I should say that Derek Perkins as a narrator is brilliant. It is pure pleasure to listen.
The beginning of the book is promising. First 3-4 hours are about history of human kind. Something one would expect if one reads the title. It is quite informative. There were (at least for me) some novel approaches of looking at things.

But somewhere between 4th and 5th hour it turns in to ideological manifesto about what is good and bad about human kind. As if the author is qualified to be a judge. And far from being original in his judgement he just delivers cliche after cliche.

I just could not force myself to waste time on it. Might well be I missed some interesting / informative stuff in later chapters.

I know it is not "scholarly" to write a review of a book you have not finished. Therefore I do not pretend this to be one, just summary of my experience with it.

I certainly feel that the book is something else then the title suggests.

7 people found this helpful

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  • khanh
  • 01-05-18

simple explanation for complicated things

Where does Sapiens rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is my first audiobook experience. I'm glad that I chose this book. Otherwise, it would take me months to finish.

What did you like best about this story?

So many boring things are explained so interestingly. The examples are from many fields: biology, history, economy, etc.