Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

Second paragraph of third chapter:
The flourishing field of evolutionary psychology argues that many of our present-day social and psychological characteristics were shaped during this long pre-agricultural era. Even today, scholars in this field claim, our brains and minds are adapted to a life of hunting and gathering. Our eating habits, our conflicts and our sexuality are all the result of the way our hunter-gatherer minds interact with our current post-industrial environment, with its mega-cities, aeroplanes, telephones and computers. This environment gives us more material resources and longer lives than those enjoyed by any previous generation, but it often makes us feel alienated, depressed and pressured. To understand why, evolutionary psychologists argue, we need to delve into the hunter-gatherer world that shaped us, the world that we subconsciously still inhabit.
Two different people were kind enough to give me a copy of this for my birthday, and I can see why they might have thought it would appeal to me - it's an attempt to write a history of human consciousness, read through politics, economics and social structures. The author is a history professor and takes great glee in putting things together and trying to make a greater whole out of a lot of data.

I was not entirely convinced. The book has a strong start - looking at the fact that there were in fact six species of the genus homo, and asking how homo sapiens came out on top. It's a good question, but it doesn't get a very clear answer. Hariri then heads very much onto his own track by pointing out the damage done to us all by the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic period, in a way somewhat reminiscent of Douglas Adams' remark about coming down from the trees having been a mistake, and proceeds through unrecorded and recorded history, coming to no particular conclusion other than that it is all a bit of a mess. I did not detect a central organising principle or methodology, and not for the first time I felt that anthropology often has better insights to offer than the usual historical or political narrative.

Irish readers will be surprised to learn that no saint is more venerated in Ireland than St Brigid, and there are various other slips indicating wide but not very deep reading.

Still, it's interesting to see someone try to put all of human history between two covers, even if it isn;t a huge success.

Tags: bookblog 2017
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