My third son arrived for a flying visit from Australia this weekend, my second son who is currently living in the UK came to stay as well, and we had an absolutely wonderful time hanging out together! What’s that got to do with a book? Well, Tom arrived bearing with him this non fiction book which he had read on the plane and recommending it highly…I began reading his copy, and then, (he was perusing the bookshelves full of Mum’s books,) it turned out Mum had a copy too, a hardback. I’m not at all surprised, its a great, thought provoking, eye opening kind of a book, and enthralling enough that I did another ‘marathon’ read, not moving until I’d finished it! It was especially enjoyable having Tom to discuss it with as well, since he had only just finished it. Always enhances the pleasure of a good read, having a fellow reader to talk about it with, it’s something I shall always miss about sharing books with Mum.
The subtitle is ‘A Brief History of Humankind’, and Dr. Harari does indeed condense hundreds of thousands of years into about 400 pages, dividing our history into four main sections – the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the Unification of Humankind, and finally, the Scientific Revolution. He opens with a big question – why did we, Homo Sapiens, become the dominant ‘human’ species of the many versions of us that existed in pre-history? To quote the inside cover,
‘How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust books, money and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, consumerism and the pursuit of happiness?’
It is fascinating material, and Dr. Harari has used it to produce a well researched and thought out volume addressing the pro’s and con’s of each step we took as a race along the way. As an example, we tend to think that the agricultural revolution was a massive step forward for the human race – Dr. Harari argues convincingly that the average persons diet actually significantly decreased in nutritional value as a result – when we were hunter gatherers, we ate a wide range of foods, rather than becoming dependent on a single cultivated staple, rice for example. I immediately thought of the potato famines in Ireland – those poor souls would certainly have been better off foraging and hunting in the way our ancestors did.
I remember reading a book called The Human Animal by Desmond Morris years ago, (another volume I highly recommend), which addressed from an anthropological perspective the way we consider ourselves to be somehow superior to all other forms of life on Earth – this is a similarly ‘disinterested’ analysis of who we are, where we have come from, and where we might be heading, equally significant and worthy of reading. It closes with an afterword aptly headed ‘The Animal that became a God’; making the point very strongly that for all our so called advances, we have not necessarily improved the well being of our fellow ‘humans’, and have managed in the process to cause immense misery and suffering to other animals, and potentially destroyed the eco system of our beautiful planet. Minor stuff that we often ignore in our relentless pursuit of happiness. Personally I have often thought that we should strive for contentment, not happiness, but that’s another topic entirely.
I have a strong suspicion that Mum didn’t actually read this book, but listened to it on Radio 4 and as a result considered it worthy of addition to her library, since she has not initialled the inside cover with the date of reading. I certainly believe it is one of those books that genuinely gives one cause to stop, think, and learn from, something that never hurts.
Dr Harari offers a free course related to this book, it’s available on Youtube, link below. And, as always, I’m gifting this book forward to anyone who would like to read it – please simply get in touch below or through the Facebook page –
– and I will send it to you with much love. And if it has already been claimed but you would like a copy, there is also a link to Amazon below!
Much love, Becky X
Link to the Youtube videos…
Link to purchase on Amazon…