Summary of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Harari’s international bestseller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, is a brilliant account of humankind’s extraordinary history, from insignificant apes to rulers of the world. Bill Gates, Barak Obama and others rave about it.

Watch Yuval Noah Harari’s talk about how humans managed to dominate life on Earth. A short answer: through the power of myths, stories and fiction that they’ve created as well as their ability to cooperate in large groups.

If you still want to read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – start with popular highlights and this will give you a good summary of the key concepts.

On happiness
“Happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.”

On money
“Money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.”

On the workplace
“How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are 35? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.”

On the diet economy
“Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world.”

On biology v culture
“Biology enables, culture forbids. Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children — some cultures oblige women to realise this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another — some cultures forbid them to realise this possibility.”

On the meaning of life
“As far as we can tell from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet Earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual … human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion.”

Or watch this BBC animation that summaries Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Read a summary of Home Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
and a summary of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

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