I am addicted to bookstore-browsing. Whoever I’m with, if we’re out shopping and I see a Waterstones (British high street bookshop chain), I will happily go in and spend – a little too much – time looking at all sorts of books; fiction, biographies, political histories, etc..
Last week during a visit to Birmingham, I picked up Harari’s anthropological history, ‘Sapiens‘, a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller. I’d seen it in the Kindle store but I do love having the book in my bookshelf. I still have a ton of others to read left over from my masters but this just seemed perfect for my attempt to understand the world more broadly. It went straight in my metaphorical basket and I began reading it the same night.
It is a witty, digestible account of the three revolutions in the evolution of humankind. The Cognitive, The Agricultural, and The Scientific. You might expect such a book to be tiresome, dull, and hard to read but Harari has cultivated a style which flouts the usual anthropological rules and tells a vivid story which provides an excellent starting point for the academic researcher and the generally interested alike.
What I love about the book so far is the detail Harari has put into the cognitive revolution; our descent from one Maternal ape 6million years ago, through six species of the Homo genus (including a Pygmy race, Homo Floresiensis, on the Island of Flores), up to the point where Sapiens dominated over their cousins.
About 100 pages in, I’m gripped and I have been able to understand how, despite our inflated opinion of ourselves as the only intelligent species, were nothing more than a member of the food chain. A chain we have sat at the pinnacle of since the manipulation of fire for our own purposes.
The rapid transformation of human dominance meant that we couldn’t adapt quickly enough to our new position in the Ecosystem. We became as powerful as the lion or the shark. However, their rise to the top was marked with majesty and they came to appreciate they had no natural predators.
Our rise was so rapid (about 30000 years) that we did not have time to develop the same majesty and maintained our existing fear of predators as mid-chain foragers. All this means that, like a totalitarian leader, we reacted to dissenters and threats (other animals and wildlife) with double the harshness.
I guess this goes some way to explain why the human race seems so parasitic.
In short, read Harari’s book. It’s a page-turner and a fantastic insight to our development as the top predator of the system.