Harari 2011

Title Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Author Harari, Yuval Noah
Published 2011
ISBN 0062316095
ISBN13 9780062316097
Bookshelves [ evolution-society , politics-history , religion , reviewed ]
Goodreads ID 20839196
Rating 3
Review A good read. But of course one cannot cram all of humanity's history into 500 or so pages without problems. Oversimplification is bound to happen. His approach to condense the story into first a pre-history part and then a number of parts of thematic accounts works fairly well. I do not mind the author being opinionated, he is pretty straightforward about it.

His points about the scientific revolution being predicated on the realization that we are ignorant, and that empires are more than just evil ideas of the corrupt West (as many would have it), are provocative and interesting, in my mind.

My main complaints concern:

1) His view of culture being layered on top of biology, which seems to ignore the essential interrelatedness of culture and biology in the evolution of Homo.

2) His description of the development and relationships of cognitive, cooperative, moral and other features during Homo evolution are, I think, not quite coherent. The author makes clear that the raw data here is woefully inadequate, for obvious reasons, but I think there are some points here that do could be given a different interpretation.

3) his insistence on using the term "imagination" about social constructs such as status, knowledge and stories, which I think misses the point that such social constructs have a logic of their own, which makes them more "real" than just "imaginative". I think the term "invented" would have been better; once invented, the social constructs take on a life of their own.

4) His insistence that modern political ideologies are just religions in another form is unhelpful. It obscures the real differences for provocative ends. It does have a few points, but in general this is not a sharp analysis.

5) His characterization of Nazism as being a variant of evolutionary political thinking is so one-sided that it is practically false. It ignores completely the long prehistory of antisemitism in Christianity, the German nationalistic strands of thought that came out of the Romantic reaction the Enlightenment, and other aspects as well.