Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #31: Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind
I actually listened to this as an audiobook a few years ago when I was still running. I have vivid memories of listening to Harari's fascinating prose while logging miles in Washington State in the spring and summer of 2015. In particular, I recall one warm May afternoon when I got lost in the outskirts of Spokane and found myself among a clustered homeless community under the Sandifur bridge and jogging aimlessly through an endless cemetery.
"Sapiens" takes us on a tour of our earliest days as a species - as several species, to be accurate - and charts the characteristics that set us apart from so many of our animal kingdom brethren. Harari's essential argument is that humanity alone possesses the capacity to codify and enforce abstract concepts as if they were real - among these capitalism and its precept of private property, currency, faith, and other peculiarly human inventions. These concepts and their enforced adoption by most societies has enabled humanity to grow, prosper, and also to sow the seeds of our own potential doom. He concludes that we are less happy than our ancestors, something that strikes me as a fully subjective contention. His claim that the rise of humanity has been brutally disastrous for virtually every other species on Earth is harder to refute.
The writing is clear, accessible, and often times darkly funny. It's alternatively fatalistic and optimistic, and wonders aloud if our shared capacity for ingenuity and vision will be our salvation or our downfall. Most days I wonder the same.