10 May 2018

Book Insights & Summary | Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Overall Rating




(Top 25% of all books read)

Book Summary

  • History textbook meets storytelling: an account of how humans evolved, explaining the significance of the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolution
  • A number of incredibly interesting insights & thought-provoking theories on human culture, tendencies, and ways of being


Read If You...

  • Found any of the above theories intriguing.
  • Are particularly interested in novel theories / explanations / frameworks.
  • Enjoy history or seek a richer understanding of it.

Avoid If You...

  • Are generally bored by history.
  • Dislike dense, thinky non-fiction.

Personal Opinion

This book had a number of interesting theories and frameworks, though it did little to back up its claims. That being said, the ideas were fascinating, though, should be taken with a grain of salt, given the lack of justifiable evidence.


1. Countries, finance, money, human rights, laws, theory, religion, justice exist only in human imagination.

None of these have a physical existence. A country (say, America) or a corporation (say, Apple) does not exist – they’re solely theoretical constructs which operate because they’re shared constructs believed by many, many humans.

An imagined order is something that’s only valid if enough people believe in its validity.

If all of humanity stopped believing in the existence and validity of gravity, naturally gravity would still continue to exist. That’s not the case for most of the fictions humans have created – the worth of a dollar bill, capitalism, religion, etc.,

Believing in these imagined orders allowed humans to organize into masses to achieve some common cause.

2. Humans rule the animal kingdom because of their ability to cooperate in massive groups.

Imagine a pack of lions. How big can a pack of lions get? 100? 1000? 10,000? Doubt it.

Humans, however, can cooperate in groups of millions by organizing themselves by beliefs in shared concepts that don’t exist – believing in the existence of countries, laws, money, governance, etc.,

Technically, these things don’t physically exist. They’re just concepts, ideas, which unify large masses of humans toward productive goals / states of order.

Our ability to do that is the main reason why we rule the animal kingdom.

3. Over time, people justify history and add explanations to the past, rather than trying to methodically understand different potential paths and outcomes.

The author’s explanation of historical racial prejudice

“You might think that people would gradually understand that these stigmas were myth rather than fact and that blacks would be able, over time, to prove themselves just as competent, law-abiding and clean as whites.

In fact, the opposite happened – these prejudices became more and more entrenched as time went by. Since all the best jobs were held by whites, it became easier to believe that blacks really are inferior. ‘Look,’ said the average white citizen, ‘blacks have been free for generations, yet there are almost no black professors, lawyers, doctors or even bank tellers. Isn’t that proof that blacks are simply less intelligent and hard-working?’

Trapped in this vicious circle, blacks were not hired for white-collar jobs because they were deemed unintelligent, and the proof of their inferiority was the paucity of blacks in white-collar jobs.”

People do this with gender equity all the time. Instead of considering how radically different things would be in a theoretical world with an equal playing field, they try and come up with back-explanations as to why things could only be that way, naturally.

But the deeper your knowledge of a particular area of expertise, the harder it becomes to explain why one particular outcome occurred at the exclusion of all others.

4. The Luxury Trap: Luxuries become necessities and create new obligations, yielding no net benefit.

“Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.

Previously it took a lot of work to write a letter, address and stamp an envelope, and take it to the mailbox. It took days or weeks, maybe even months, to get a reply. Nowadays I can dash off an email…and receive a reply a minute later.

I’ve saved all that trouble and time, but do I live a more relaxed life? Sadly not. Back in the snail-mail era, people usually only wrote letters when they had something important to relate. Most people wrote and received no more than a handful of letters a month and seldom felt compelled to reply immediately.

Today I receive dozens of emails each day, all from people who expect a prompt reply.

We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

5. Meaning + Hardship > No Meaning + Comfort

“A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”

5. Biology enables, culture forbids

Anything that’s biologically possible is natural.

The construct of “unnatural” behaviors is often a product of culture and theology, NOT biology.

5. History has consistently followed a trend of unification

Starting with the age of empires and culminating with globalization today, we’re consistently moving towards one world identity & culture.

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