Sapiens and I (A Brief History of Humankind)
My journey with Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari started a year ago. I’d seen the book from afar: on bestsellers lists, tables in the bookshop, and covering faces, where it seemed, almost everywhere I went. I gave in, spending my summer internship money on the $35 hardcover.
I’m not used to reading large tomes of non-fiction. My profession has always been reader before anything else, but only in my young adult life have I found myself yearning more and more for stories of the real world. Sapiens satisfied this yearning, for it is the story of the real world.
The book sat calmly on my desk for all of fall and winter. It was too big, too broad, too scary to be touched. I was studying and speeding through novels with fast-paced plots that were distressing to put down. I needed to take in Sapiens’s presence completely before I could flick to page one. Then, 2018, a new year full of reading possibilities began (that’s what everyone thinks when a new year starts, right?). In January, a mix of fate happened: I was assigned to read chapters of the book for a course on environment and communities across the globe. It was time.
Throughout the semester I read chapters here and there, always enjoying my time with Sapiens on public transport before class, but I had work and other classes with books that were also begging to be read. I put Sapiens down, promising to read it from start to finish and give it the attention it so deserved, and it gave me more time.
Here we are, in June, and I have raced through Sapiens like it’s a mystery novel that I have to get down in one gulp. I remember that I failed my AP World History test sophomore year of high school, and reading this book feels like my love of history has been validated, no matter how well I memorize facts to be tested over later. There is no fear behind reading this history book.
Can you imagine being enraptured by Mesopotamia, the structure of societies and the disillusions of them, or commentary on how each individual human is simply an animal of no importance? I didn’t know if I could be taken away on a journey like that. I didn’t realize I needed to be.
I felt pretentious, like Timothée Chalamet’s character in Lady Bird, when people asked me what I was reading, and I responded with “a history of the entire world.” I felt pretentious when I placed it on its savored spot on my shelf carefully, wondering what people will think of me when they see that I’ve read it, or at least own it, and that it’s earned a permanent spot with me.
I regret that I’ve said that this book is about history, because, in its essence, this book is about humans. The title blares it out proudly. It’s about the choices we’ve made, past and present, good and bad. Sapiens forces us to look at the long existence of us, the longer existence of the world, and be critical about how we’ve handled it and how we have become the most advanced animal in it. I found myself wondering why I hadn’t learned some of this critical theory of humans in my history classes. Maybe if I had, I would’ve passed the AP test.
Sapiens tells the longest story we’ve got. The one with everything we know about the history of our beings, how we are here, right now, in 2018, still dominating the animal kingdom. This story explores how storytelling has affected the human experience, and how it has shaped the history we are all taught. I read on, and saw that history is not always told by what is right, but by who is the loudest.
In Sapiens, you can learn about the stories of ourselves, wondering how it will all end in a big, climatic finale. You wonder about this end, until you realize, that you just may be living it.