Book Review

Book Review: Sapiens

The Vagabond Teen and I took Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari on the road this summer. We listened to the audio book on road trip days, read some chapters in our down time, and further dove into the subject of humankind, our biology, and our social history by watching videos about early humans and looking at what we’ve learned about our own deep ancestry through participation in National Geographic’s Genographic Project.

Sapiens offers up what the title indicates–a view of human society and the way our biology and beliefs have influenced our development as a species over the course of our existence thus far. Harari’s writing is clear, direct, and well-paced. Sapiens is an enjoyable book to read (and listen to), and it is full of facts, theories, and historical anecdotes that inspire great conversations.

Harari does veer into sensational territory a few times toward the end of the book, when he talks about more recent history and when he makes predictions for humankind’s future. These chapters may have been less interesting (and more eye-roll inducing) had I been reading the work on my own, instead of listening to the work and discussing it as it progressed.

Hominin Ancestry
Our Vagabond DNA is strong. Source: The Genographic Project.

Both the Vagabond Teen and I found the book informative, entertaining, and though-provoking. We enjoyed the way Harari presented complex concepts and theories through interesting facts and stories. We loved that Harari seemed to trust that we were smart enough to understand what he was presenting. He provided us just enough background information so that we didn’t get lost in his work, and he didn’t waste time with long-winded explanations full of insider jargon when plain language served his purpose. The Teen and I re-read and talked most about the theories surrounding early man’s relationship with other humans, and were interested in the conflicting theories that have sought to explain just “what happened” to these humans. Having our Genographic Project results to connect us to the Neanderthal and Denisovan populations enriched our experience of Sapiens–we seem to have higher percentages of each population in our DNA results than is currently theorized to be average, which lead us to quite a bit of speculation about what our long-long-ago ancestors must have really been like.

While Sapiens particularly appealed to us Vagabonds because we are fascinated with early humankind and the development of human society, I think any reader interested in the world around them will connect with this well-written and fascinating history.


Want to dig deeper?

Yuval Noah Harari: What explains the rise of humans? | TED Talk |

NPR Author Interviews: We went from hunter-gatherers to space explorers, but are we happier? | All Things Considered | February 7, 2015

Avi Tuchman: How humans became human | The Washington Post | March 13, 2015

Visit the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) website to find a treasure trove of documentaries and other shows. Searching NOVA episodes is a great place to start if you are interested in learning more.

Author’s note: I mention The Genographic Project  a few times in this post. I am not associated with National Geographic in any way beyond being a NatGeo Fangirl, and I am only associated with The Genographic Project as a participant who loves being the contributor of a very tiny piece of research that could help us better understand the early human journey.


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