Highlights from Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Cover of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

This book has changed something about my thought process. I learned many new and cruel things about humankind. Notably, the repeated mentions and descriptions about animal husbandry were disturbing. This book excels in telling various side stories that were conveniently ignored by the Human Historians till now. They say, winners, get to write the history. From an Indian perspective, this book talks very little about Asia and in particular India, Hinduism, and Indus Valley Civilization. As far as I remember, there are only one or two mentions of this civilization. If not most magnificent, Indus Valley Civilization should get an equal place to its contemporary cultures. But this book fails to give that place.

The description of Modern civilization and its side-effects on the other animal is worrying. The author was successful in provoking my thought process. The science fiction like predictions is worth noting. Although these predictions should be taken a pinch of salt, they might prove to be correct, if history takes the author's intended course of direction.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Highly recommended.

  • Gossip usually focuses on wrongdoings. Rumour-mongers are the original fourth estate, journalists who inform society about and thus protect it from cheats and freeloaders.

    LOCATION 427-428 Link to 427-428
  • Sociological research has shown that the maximum ‘natural’ size of a group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals. Most people can neither intimately know, nor gossip effectively about, more than 150 human beings.

    LOCATION 470-472 Link to 470-472
  • One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.

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  • …attachment to ‘my house’ and separation from the neighbours became the psychological hallmark of a much more self-centred creature.

    LOCATION 1559-1560 Link to 1559-1560
  • History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.

    LOCATION 1609-1609 Link to 1609-1609
  • Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can. We must open ourselves to a wide spectrum of emotions; we must sample various kinds of relationships; we must try different cuisines; we must learn to appreciate different styles of music. One of the best ways to do all that is to break free from our daily routine, leave behind our familiar setting, and go travelling in distant lands, where we can ‘experience’ the culture, the smells, the tastes and the norms of other people. We hear again and again the romantic myths about ‘how a new experience opened my eyes and changed my life’.

    LOCATION 1830-1835 Link to 1830-1835
  • Consumerism tells us that in order to be happy we must consume as many products and services as possible. If we feel that something is missing or not quite right, then we probably need to buy a product (a car, new clothes, organic food) or a service (housekeeping, relationship therapy, yoga classes). Every television commercial is another little legend about how consuming some product or service will make life better.

    LOCATION 1835-1838 Link to 1835-1838
  • The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world. Free association and holistic thought have given way to compartmentalisation and bureaucracy.

    LOCATION 2051-2053 Link to 2051-2053
  • Our computers have trouble understanding how Homo sapiens talks, feels and dreams. So we are teaching Homo sapiens to talk, feel and dream in the language of numbers, which can be understood by computers.

    LOCATION 2078-2080 Link to 2078-2080
  • Those once victimised by history are likely to be victimised yet again. And those whom history has privileged are more likely to be privileged again.

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  • Gender is a race in which some of the runners compete only for the bronze medal.

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  • Ever since the French Revolution, people throughout the world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality.

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  • Consistency is the playground of dull minds.

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  • This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline – the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another. Those who have only a superficial knowledge of a certain period tend to focus only on the possibility that was eventually realised. They offer a just-so story to explain with hindsight why that outcome was inevitable. Those more deeply informed about the period are much more cognisant of the roads not taken.

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  • To acknowledge that history is not deterministic is to acknowledge that it is just a coincidence that most people today believe in nationalism, capitalism and human rights.

    LOCATION 3653-3654 Link to 3653-3654
  • We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.

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  • …undisputed monarch of all sciences was theology.

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  • Credit enables us to build the present at the expense of the future.

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  • Egoism is altruism.

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  • The tragedy of industrial agriculture is that it takes great care of the objective needs of animals, while neglecting their subjective needs.

    LOCATION 5271-5272 Link to 5271-5272
  • In medieval Europe, aristocrats spent their money carelessly on extravagant luxuries, whereas peasants lived frugally, minding every penny. Today, the tables have turned. The rich take great care managing their assets and investments, while the less well heeled go into debt buying cars and televisions they don’t really need.

    LOCATION 5336-5339 Link to 5336-5339
  • The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to.

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  • …most people today successfully live up to the capitalist-consumerist ideal. The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions – and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do.

    LOCATION 5345-5347 Link to 5345-5347
  • Most people wrongly identify themselves with their feelings, thoughts, likes and dislikes. When they feel anger, they think, ‘I am angry. This is my anger.’ They consequently spend their life avoiding some kinds of feelings and pursuing others. They never realise that they are not their feelings, and that the relentless pursuit of particular feelings just traps them in misery.

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  • Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

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