Sapiens Book Summary, by Yuval Noah Harari

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1-Page Summary of Sapiens

Between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, Homo sapiens invented boats and sewing needles, expressed artistic talent, and saw the benefits of business relationships.

Landmarks are important to human history, and they include major changes that have occurred. One of these was the Cognitive Revolution, which happened 70,000 years ago. Another was the Agricultural Revolution, which happened 12,000 years ago. A third revolution in science began 500 years ago. The fourth revolution is now happening right now—it’s a change that may mark an end for Homo sapiens (humans) and begin a new era altogether.

Humans began with six similar species. Over time, we refined our abilities and stood out from the other species by chance. We had a large brain that required a big skull to protect it, as well as strong bones to support it on two legs. Our hands were also highly developed and needed intricate muscle systems in order to function properly. One of the most important things about humans is their ability to communicate via gossiping or socializing with others; they have an innate desire for these activities because they help raise offspring successfully.

Humans came from East Africa and spread across the world. They interbred with Neanderthals or killed them off, depending on which theory you believe. If they interbred, humans are genetically diverse. If not, no great racial distinctions remain because all modern humans have the same cognitive abilities to make weapons, sew clothes, build boats and so on.

Language allowed gossip, which enabled people to discuss each other’s trustworthiness.

The initial value of language was to warn people about dangers. It also allowed people to talk about each other, which encouraged commerce and cooperation within groups of up to 150 members.

Language is what allows people to share their ideas. These ideas, which are built on fiction, form the basis of trade, religion and ideology. For example, corporations were invented as a way for people to band together in order to sell things or go into battle.

Humankind has no “natural rights,” only myths about order, religion and justice.

Science has a general idea of what happened in the ancient past, but not all the details. For example, we don’t know exactly why cave paintings were made and what they meant; or whether humans have always been peaceful or warlike. Mass extinctions occurred in various places around the world – sometimes because of climate change, other times due to natural disasters. However, humans were usually responsible for them when it was possible.

The Agricultural Revolution began about 12,000 years ago. After that time, people stopped eating whatever they wanted and started thinking of food in terms of the future. They grew crops to survive during lean times instead of just picking fruit off trees or hunting animals for meat. This trend spread throughout the world at once because it was practical in many places around the globe.

Contrary to popular belief, the Agricultural Revolution did not make life that much better. It was in many ways a fraud because it led to more conflicts and less mobility. People had more food but spent more effort on attaining it. Foragers were nomadic and didn’t fight for any particular hill or dale; farmers tilling their hard-won fields were in no mood to move.

The Agricultural Revolution had a negative impact on humans. It made them more dependent on agriculture, and it increased their workload. The Agricultural Revolution also caused more anxiety about food shortages or too much rain, which led to war between people.

Wheat has been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years. It is now considered a necessity, but it was once only used as a luxury item. The ancient site known as Göbekli Tepe in Turkey shows how wheat changed from being seen as an expensive commodity to something that was needed by people, and thus became more important spiritually. This can be compared to Stonehenge in England, which dates back to 2500 BC and also served as temple-like structure when it was built. Furthering this connection between wheat and temples is the discovery of domesticated wheat seeds near Göbekli Tepe at another site called Karaçadag Hills where farmers grew those specific types of wheat plants even earlier than 9500 BC.

In 1000 BC, the “great unifiers” were empires, currency and missionary religions.

Wheat led to larger and larger villages, which eventually became cities. In about 2250 BC, Sargon the Great founded the Akkadian empire, which was followed by various other empires in the Middle East that used shared myths to maintain power. The Code of Hammurabi was more like a handbook for citizens than a code of laws; it noted their monetary value and roles in society. It also insured that everyone understood how society worked and supported its main goal: growing food to conquer new territory and provide security for all.

Compare the Code of Hammurabi to the American Declaration of Independence. Both documents claim that they are based on universal principles, which were inspired by God and have been given to humankind. Even though both documents are well-written, there is no way for them to prove their claims about natural orders because myths can never be proven true or false. Gender roles have changed throughout history, but it’s hard to pinpoint why this has happened because theories about gender differences in aggression or strength haven’t turned out to be very accurate.

History is not the sum of great leaders, determinism, guns, germs or steel, but rather of subtle chaotic moments.

Another myth is that equality and individual freedom are the cornerstones of Western civilization. However, contradictions emerge when we consider recent political battles over health care in the US. From one perspective, this battle is about whether young people should pay for older people’s health care at the expense of their own economic freedom.

Despite all the differences in societies, they still progress. The tension between them strengthens society because it forces people to think about each other’s ideas and encourages diversity. As a result, cooperation happens more easily and prosperity increases. In the last 10,000 years, different groups of humans have come together to form larger societies that are now facing globalization as well as its economic challenges. Cooperation is necessary for business growth and success; therefore it can be seen why businesses don’t want war—it reduces markets and profits.

Money is a valuable tool that allows people to exchange ideas and beliefs. Religion itself is a currency used by human beings to develop cooperation and empires. People gradually reduced the number of gods they worshiped from many to two, then one, then none at all. Then came Christianity, which relies on divine intervention for its followers’ well-being. Buddhism teaches that you are responsible for your own happiness and well-being; it focuses on compassion toward others rather than pleasing God or escaping suffering as you meditate in order to reach nirvana.

Humanism is a form of worship that involves the belief in human beings. There are three kinds of humanism: liberal, socialist and evolutionary. Liberal humanism focuses on individual rights; socialist humanism emphasizes the collective good and equality; and evolutionary humanism encourages people to develop into superhumans. Hitler’s version of socialism was called National Socialism because it focused on the nation rather than individuals or groups.

Throughout history, people have asked the question of why one religion or ideology is more successful than another. There are a lot of factors that affect this success, such as culture and time period. However, there’s no exact answer to explain it because history isn’t entirely deterministic; rather it resembles randomness in some ways. The author believes that history behaves like a “chaotic” system (like weather) where you can make predictions based on historical data but they won’t be 100% accurate. He also says we should study history not to predict the future but to gain perspective about how many possibilities humans can think up throughout time compared with what we could ever imagine today.

For the last 500 years, scientific progress has depended on religion or ideology. The discovery of America became the catalyst for the Scientific Revolution.

The Scientific Revolution incorporated the idea of admitting ignorance, which was crucial to humankind’s progress. It also resulted in technological advancements that helped people conquer diseases and other obstacles. For example, Napoléon Bonaparte brought scientists with him on his expedition to Egypt in 1798. The HMS Beagle‘s captain took a young Charles Darwin along for his voyage in 1831 because he had a passion for science as well as exploration.

Conquering and gathering knowledge devastated lands and cultures. Consider a story from 1960, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were training in the southwestern US for their moon mission. A Native American asked them to take a secret message to the moon spirits. The astronauts memorized the message, but later sought out a translation of it because they couldn’t understand what it said. It turned out that the translated message read: “Don’t believe a single word these people are telling you; they have come here to steal your lands.”

Europe and the traits of humanism are often inextricably linked. Biologists, who assert that humans aren’t inherently divided by racial categories, have to contend with social scientists who cite cultural divides between Westerners and other cultures. The latter view these differences as struggles over civilizations which have to be overcome or subdued.

Modern capitalism began in 1568 when Dutch Protestants broke with Spanish Catholics to found Europe’s wealthiest empire.

Modern capitalism developed in the sixteenth century when Dutch merchants broke away from Spanish Catholics and founded Europe’s wealthiest empire. They pioneered credit, which funded their armadas to conquer Indonesia, as well as a piece of North America – Manhattan. Dutch settlers built a wall to protect their settlement, which became known as Wall Street.

Capital formation creates political leadership. The free market favors certain sectors of an economy. It’s created a lot of wealth but has also spun a web of contradictions and addictions that require more consumers to sell products.

The world’s immediate economic well-being hinges on scientific invention.

Genetic engineers have found genes that encourage monogamy in voles, which are promiscuous by nature. Will entire societies build themselves around such genetic architectures? Will the conquest of illness come to include death itself?

“Intelligent design” may well describe the future era of the cyborg – the advent of a completely other kind of being.

Humans are becoming more and more cyborgs. They’re able to replace body parts with artificial ones that can last forever if they want. Science is also making it possible for people to communicate directly with computers, as well as giving them the ability to share memories through a collective memory bank. As a result of these breakthroughs, humans will be able to adopt each other’s identities and become someone else entirely. This could lead to a new creature that’s neither human nor organic but has an entirely different spirit than Homo sapiens do or Neanderthals did in the past.

Humans have a great question: What do we want to be? Meanwhile, humans are destroying their homes and themselves.

Full Summary of Sapiens

Overall Summary

Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind examines how humans have exploited capitalism, religion and politics to dominate the world. The book became a best-seller in America and won several awards. It is particularly popular among academics because it was written by an academic.

Harari began by describing the development of humans over time. He also examined how humans have changed since the beginning and where we’re headed in the future. Humans developed cognitive abilities that surpassed other people during the Cognitive Revolution, which was 70,000 years ago. The Agricultural Revolution occurred 10,000 years ago and led to domestication of plants and animals. The Scientific Revolution brought about exploration, science, and capitalism 500 years ago. Finally, 200 years ago marked a revolution with industrialization that completely transformed Homo sapiens into what they are today.

Our ancestors were better off than we are. They had more advantages that we don’t have now, such as a clear understanding of the world and what mattered most to them. However, they also didn’t have technology or medical advances that help us live longer lives with less effort. Therefore, it’s unclear how our species came to dominate the planet despite its many flaws and problems in today’s society.

The concept of shared myths has helped humans cooperate with each other and unite. This is especially true when people are living in a community, but it’s also true for the billions of people on Earth who can interact peacefully because they have common ideas such as religion, empires, government, mathematics and writing. These ideas allow families to exist and flourish together. Now we’re on the threshold of another revolution in human history because we’ve become like gods by transcending natural selection using genetic engineering and hastening the age of intelligent design.

Part 1, Chapter 1: “An Animal of No Significance”

Humans have evolved since the beginning of time. We were no more significant than any other animal or insect. However, we began to hunt animals for food about 400,000 years ago and eventually became the top predators on Earth 100,000 years ago because we learned how to cook our food and digest it quickly through a shorter digestive tract. This allowed us to develop larger brains that use 25 percent of our energy supplies; this combination led to a rapid rise in power that disrupted the rest of the food chain as well as human development.

Humans have evolved over the last 70,000 years. During that time there were three major revolutions: cognitive, agricultural and scientific. In this short period of time humans went from being insignificant to having a chance to eliminate natural selection altogether. There are two theories about how we became dominant: interbreeding theory in which human species interbred until only one Homo sapiens remained and replacement theory in which human species fought each other for dominance. The most likely scenario is a combination of both theories.

Part 1, Chapter 2: “The Tree of Knowledge”

Human beings developed language about 70,000 years ago. This ability allowed them to communicate in new ways and tell stories that were not based on facts. They could discuss things they’d never seen before, such as the supernatural or religion. The development of language made it easier for humans to share ideas with each other and collaborate on projects without being physically present at the same location.

Humans and other animals like chimpanzees can’t form groups larger than about 50. If the group is too large, personal communication isn’t enough to keep everyone working together toward a common goal. Humans need something more—a shared belief system that helps them work with each other even though they don’t have constant one-on-one contact.

Ideas are the currency of today’s world. Ideas can change people and inspire them to do great things, such as starting a new business or creating an app. People who present their ideas well are more successful than those who don’t present their ideas effectively. Therefore, wouldn’t it be helpful to analyze TED (Technology, Education, Design) presentations and interview some of the greatest idea communicators? We can also use our own experiences from working with leaders in various industries.

Part 1, Chapter 3: “A Day in the Life of Adam and Eve”

There is little information about the prehistoric times and beliefs. Differences in climate, location, and habitat meant that there was not a one way of life for humans during or before the Agricultural Revolution. Ancient human groups lived close to each other with no privacy. Dogs were domesticated by ancient humans 15,000 years ago.

Our behaviors and psychology can be traced back to the Agricultural Revolution, which was about 10,000 years ago. Humans from that time period had more knowledge than we do today of their surroundings and how to survive. They needed to know a lot of skills for survival, including making tools, preparing clothing materials, and building shelters. People are much more specialized in their individual knowledge now than they were then because most people don’t have to know as many skills as they did before the revolution.

Part 1, Chapter 4: “The Flood”

Humans were all on the Afro-Asian landmass until about 45,000 years ago. Humans invaded Australia and America from Siberia about 16,000 years ago. This was one of the most important events in history because it led to the extinction of many species that had never been exposed to humans before, such as megafauna on Australia and America. Islands like Galápagos that weren’t inhabited by humans for a while longer still have their unique animal species today.

The First and Second Wave Extinctions occurred when humans spread rapidly across the world. The Third Wave Extinction is happening today because of our industrial society. Humans have never lived in harmony with nature, so we are responsible for driving most plant and animal species to extinction. We will be the only ones left on earth.

Part 2, Chapter 5: “History’s Biggest Fraud”

The Agricultural Revolution was a worldwide phenomenon. During this time, humans learned how to collect more food per unit area and thus there was an increase in the human population. Despite this abundance, the quality of life did not improve as there was less leisure time for people due to increased workloads.

The author uses the example of wheat to demonstrate how the Agricultural Revolution changed our lives. Wheat required a lot of work, so we had to clear fields and remove weeds in hot suns. We also had to protect it from pests, build fences, keep watch over it and transport water to the fields. This was hard work for us humans, so we ended up living near our fields instead of traveling far away from them as hunters did before that time. As a result, we became domesticated by wheat rather than vice versa.

At that time, people didn’t realize how their lives were changing. They became less healthy and more reliant on food as they took it for granted. As people moved into communities instead of moving around to find food, diets became less varied and nutritious. This was because there was an increase in disease-spreading germs from living together with many other people.

The agricultural revolution was successful, but it wasn’t a great thing for humans. It increased the population and improved people’s quality of life in that they had more food to eat, but there were other consequences. Animals suffered because they were domesticated and used as slaves by humans.

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Part 2, Chapter 6: “Building Pyramids”

As the Agricultural Revolution progressed, farmers started worrying about weather changes and how to plan for them. They also worried about floods, crop yield, and food storage. Peasants worked hard to support themselves as well as their rulers. Myths dictate much of what we believe in today’s society just like they did back then. We all have a legacy that we’re working toward building just like the ancient Egyptians did thousands of years ago.

Each society or empire has an order that the people follow. This order is supposed to make everyone cooperate in a successful way, and it takes the form of laws, social caste, currency, and religion. If one person disagrees with something about this order or myth, there’s no effect on them because they’re still part of the group. However, if enough people disagree with aspects of their society or empire’s mythology (order), then a new mythology evolves from what was previously held as true by that group.

Part 2, Chapter 7: “Memory Overload”

The human brain is good at remembering and relating biological and social information. Our brains can store locations, relationships, numbers, etc. However, our brains are not as efficient at recording large amounts of information that we need to remember for trade or property purposes. People began writing things down because they were better able to remember recorded information than unrecorded information. This was done using a system of knots and colored strings by the Incas before the ninth century AD. The Arabs adopted a partial script from the Hindus in order to record words and numbers that could be remembered more easily with this method than through their own language (which did not have many written symbols).

Part 2, Chapter 8: “There is No Justice in History”

Social hierarchies and discrimination are human inventions. They were created by ancient conquerors who claimed that gods had ordained them to be on top of the social pyramid. Discrimination often worsens over time, not improves. Most poor people remain poor because they come from poor families, not because they’re unintelligent or immoral. The rich stay rich because they inherit their wealth from their parents; it’s a matter of luck rather than talent or intelligence.

The most common form of hierarchy is based on gender. Societies around the world have been more likely to value men over women, though no one really knows why. Three theories exist: muscle power, which suggests that men are stronger and therefore better suited for leadership roles; masculine aggression, which says that men are more aggressive than women; and patriarchal genes, which argues that the genes belonging to the most competitive males survived because they were able to reproduce with multiple females while other males died off. Harari doesn’t find any of these explanations convincing.

Homosexuality is also a human construction. If something is biologically possible, it’s natural; our conception of what’s natural or unnatural comes from Christian theology and not biology.

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Part 3, Chapter 9: “The Arrow of History”

Culture is filled with inconsistencies, and we try to understand how these inconsistencies developed. Currently, there’s a clash between freedom and equality in our culture; however, we’re not achieving the ideal.

As the population grows and societies merge, people become more connected. They can understand each other better because they have similar beliefs and experiences. People are born into a society that has rules and regulations to help them get along with others. These standards help strangers in their society to understand each other’s behavior, predict it, and work together cooperatively. The world is moving toward one culture where all people will be able to communicate easily because they share common traditions, values, experiences, etcetera.

Part 3, Chapter 10: “The Scent of Money”

The value of gold has increased over time as it became the main currency used by various societies. Initially, people bartered goods and services for other goods and services, but that was inefficient when there were too many transactions to keep track of. Gold was valued by the Spaniards in Mexico because they found a large amount of it among the Aztecs who didn’t have much use for gold except as decoration. The Spaniards spread this idea across Africa and Asia as they took control of those regions.

Money is a critical part of our lives. Money is just an idea, but it has value because we believe in it. Historically money existed as shells or beads, and then gold and silver coins, but today most money takes the form of computer data that only exists on computers. We want money because everyone else wants it too.

Part 3, Chapter 11: “Imperial Visions”

For a very long time, the most common type of government has been an empire. Empires have come and gone because of internal struggles within the ruling class or outside invaders.

Empires spread culture. Most of the things we consider part of our cultural heritage were forced on us by an empire. A blending of conquered cultures with the conqueror’s creates a new culture. As countries become part of a global empire, concerns such as environmental issues and human rights are taken care of collectively, not individually by each country.

Part 3, Chapter 12: “The Law of Religion”

Religion is a unifying force in society. It has been around for thousands of years and will likely continue to be important. The first religions were polytheistic, which means they accepted multiple gods, but modern times have brought us monotheism where there is one God who rules over everything. However, we still see remnants of the old polytheistic religion with people praying to saints as an alternate form of worshiping God. One contradiction in monotheism is that if God is all powerful and good then why does he allow evil things to happen?

Religions differ on how to solve suffering. Buddhism, for example, focuses on relieving suffering by calming the mind and dismissing craving. Natural law religions are systems of human norms like capitalism, communism, Nazism and liberalism that have existed since 200 years ago. They do not agree with the scientific concept of free will because we’re subject to our behavior as revealed by hormones and genes.

Part 3, Chapter 13: “The Secret of Success”

When we look back at an event, it appears obvious and clear. However, if you were living during a certain period of time, the outcome would be impossible to predict. It’s easier to describe how things happened than why they happened because finding causal connections between events is difficult. This becomes even more challenging when one is alive during the period in question.

Chaos is inevitable in history. There are two types of chaotic systems: Level one and level two systems. Level one systems don’t react to predictions, but level two systems do respond to predictions. For example, weather forecasts are a level one system because they’re not affected by our calculations about them; on the other hand, rising oil prices are a level two system since they react to our predictions and actions about them.

Although most of us believe that history is moving in a positive direction, there’s no proof that this will continue to be the case. There’s also no guarantee that things will get better for everyone; they could just as easily get worse.

Part 4, Chapter 14: “The Discovery of Ignorance”

Since the Scientific Revolution began in Europe 500 years ago, there have been a lot of changes. The unprecedented advances in scientific research happened because science finally attempted to answer what people wanted to know: life’s biggest questions. Religious traditions of knowledge assumed that what was important was already known and didn’t need to be questioned.

Because modern people can admit their ignorance, they have been able to accumulate more knowledge than any previous culture. This is because modern society uses the language of mathematics and statistics to communicate its theories rather than stories or religious texts. Therefore, each generation benefits from the wisdom that has already been accumulated by previous generations.

Knowledge is the most valuable resource in today’s society. It can be used to find not just truth, but also utility. The more useful a piece of knowledge is, the better it is for science and technology. This has been proven by how military funding helped advance scientific discovery during World War I and II. Economic interests influence which projects receive money from governments so that they can become profitable products for businesses to make money off of them later on down the line.

Part 4, Chapter 15: “The Marriage of Science and Empire”

The output of science is largely dependent on economic realities and capitalistic interests. Small European countries that had an ideology of exploration and search for knowledge were the ones that discovered, conquered, and formed world empires that still have worldwide influence.

Part 4, Chapter 16: “The Capitalist Creed”

Since the dawn of capitalism, per capita production has risen sharply. The increase is due to credit creation and the belief that people will be able to pay back their debts in the future. It also promotes reinvestment, which leads to more wealth for everyone in society as a whole.

The main tenet of capitalism is that economic growth is needed to secure freedom, happiness and justice. Economic growth comes with justice, which leads to happiness. Justice and happiness are what we need for the economy to grow. Therefore, in order for capitalism to function properly, it needs science. Science ensures that there will be ongoing economic growth as well as technological discoveries.

Part 4, Chapter 17: “The Wheels of Industry”

Industries grow when they create wealth not just for investors but also for the community. Historically, this growth was slow to start because it was limited by solar energy and animal power, both of which were subject to food supplies. When other energy sources and raw materials were harnessed, industrialization occurred quickly.

Humans and animals have suffered greatly due to this rapid growth. As evolutionary psychology argues, needs and desires shaped into our DNA have not disappeared, even though they may no longer be necessary for survival or reproduction. Harari uses the example of a caged calf who feels compelled to bond with its mother and other calves because those urges are still present in today’s world where the calf will be inoculated against disease and artificially inseminated.

Part 4, Chapter 18: “A Permanent Revolution”

The number of people who die from accidents and suicide is greater than the number of those who die in war. Most people live in relative peace, free from the threat of war. While there are still skirmishes and civil wars, they are not as frequent or devastating as they used to be. With countries becoming wealthier, large-scale wars have become less desirable because it would mean collective suicide for all parties involved. Countries now focus on creating wealth so that their population can meet its needs.

Part 4, Chapter 19: “And They Lived Happily Ever After”

While history doesn’t seek to determine whether changes and progress have made people happier, religion and philosophy do. If happiness is based on feelings of pleasure, then increasing the release of biochemicals that cause those feelings will increase happiness. If happiness is based on finding meaning in life, then it’s just a delusion to think we can make ourselves happy by releasing chemicals.

Religion gives meaning to life because it promises a better afterlife. Science tells us that happiness comes from the release of hormone molecules and neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. Buddhism explains why this is true, but with some differences: Buddhists believe you should not pursue your desires as they are fleeting, and when you understand your needs, you understand yourself and find peace within yourself.

Part 4, Chapter 20: “The End of Homo Sapiens”

For four billion years, life on Earth has changed under the influence of evolution. However, human interference is now causing a shift in that process. Humans are not only allowing themselves to evolve but are also changing their own DNA based on intelligent design—not the design of a creator but rather by humans’ own making. Many people who exist today would not have survived without this change in the process because they were not naturally selected to be here; however, many people are alive today because of this change in natural selection and will pass down their DNA for future generations based on what we’ve done instead of how nature intended it to happen.”

Advances in genetic engineering and personalized medicine are changing the way we view natural selection. These advances will soon allow us to program our bodies with needs and desires, which could mean that humans become gods who don’t know what they want. We’re at a point where we need to decide what kind of legacy we want to leave behind, as up until now, humanity hasn’t contributed much.

Sapiens Book Summary, by Yuval Noah Harari
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#1 Book Summary: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

Download "#1 Book Summary: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari" as PDF


In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari uses concepts from biology, history, and economics to tell the story of us, Homo sapiens. Harari takes us on a journey that starts 2.5 million years ago, when Sapiens make their historical entrance, and ends in the future, when the creation of an artificially created superhuman race may mark the end of the Sapiens species. Along the way, we learn how our ability to create imagined realities led to our dominance over other species. We watch as the Agricultural Revolution, the Scientific Revolution, imperialism, capitalism, and the Industrial Revolution change our species in lasting, and not always positive, ways. 

Ultimately, we’re left with one question: As we design our future, who do we want to become? Harari doesn’t give an opinion. Rather, he shows us that asking the right questions may be more important than finding the right answers.

Read this summary to explore our history as a species—in doing so, you’ll see today’s world in an entirely new way.

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#1 Book Summary: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
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