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1-Page 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.

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

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.

#1 Book Summary: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari