Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind: serialised in quotes I

I’m very taken with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and, as I always do when I read a book, I highlight or underline passages that particularly appeal—and then copy them out. In this way I extract more from the book, I believe, than simply reading it. The number of quotes I take is also some sort of (necessarily incomplete) measure of the book.

With Sapiens it occurred to me that I could condense the story of the book by extracting quotes that tell the story in its essence. Then I thought that I could share them in a blog as I work my way through the book.

I urge you to read the book, but there are so many books in the world that are worth reading. We can’t read them all, but we can share the essence of them. Perhaps you’d like to do the same.

Here we go:

The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies, or jellyfish.

Just six million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.

From about two million years ago until around 10 000 years ago, the world was home, at one and the same time, to several human species.

The first evidence of tool production dates from about 2.5 million years ago, and the manufacture and use of tools are the criteria by which archaeologists recognise the ancient humans.

It takes a tribe to raise a human. Evolution thus favoured those capable of forming strong social ties.

This is the key to understanding our history and psychology. Genus Homo’s position in the food chain was, until quite recently, solidly in the middle….only in the last 100 000 years—with the rise Homo Sapiens—has man jumped to the top of the food chain…Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.


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