Review: Sapiens

4 stars
Would you be happier as a forager or as a soldier in the Roman Empire?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind tries to present the entire Homo Sapiens existence in a single book, through the analysis of three fundamental revolutions that witnessed humankind as the protagonist: the Cognitive revolution, the Agricultural revolution and the Scientific revolution.

Keeping this simple chronological structure, the author provides challenging ideas and presents historical fact in a way that I haven’t personally seen before.

I found the book well written and thought provoking. Most of the time the author doesn’t provide a single view on a topic but presents different angles and interpretations explaining their pros and cons. This often led me to argue by myself for one or the other view and comparing my observations to the ones provided by the author.

Throughout the book you can hear loud and clear what is probably one of the obsessions of the author. Most of the topics presented are filtered through the question “Did this improve the happiness of humankind? What about the happiness of the individual?”. This, as far as I know, is a reading that is seldom presented in schools or by other historians and gives a whole different perspective on history. You will find yourself challenged by claims that might have never occurred to you and might make you uncomfortable. You will be asked to rethink or solidify your positions on sex and gender, twentieth century ideologies, religion, racism, slavery, equality, animal rights, morals and ethics, individualism, nationalism and consumerism.

The author saves the last couple of chapters for what they probably consider the most important questions to ask ourselves. Are you happy? Are you entitled to decide of your own happiness? What is happiness? Is it equivalent to pleasure? Can we reverse engineer happiness? And again, can we hack evolution and take control of it, decide where to go next? Can we achieve supernatural abilities, enhance ourselves or are we doomed to go the way of Dr. Frankenstein? What are the ethical implications of all this? Can we even imagine a future in which Homo Sapiens is not a “God on earth”, in which it’s not the dominant species?

At times the author makes little effort to hide their personal beliefs. From reading the book I would assume the author is vegan (or at least supports the animal rights movement) and a Buddhist (especially interested in the peculiar Buddhist idea of happiness). This is not necessarily a negative but occasionally alters the impartiality of the author in analyzing a topic.

The last chapter also provides a series of “predictions” about the future of humans and technology. While this is done to lead the reader to more philosophical questions, these are still predictions of a 2014 (non necessarily tech-savvy) person. This felt like reading a novel from the Fifties talking about the technology of the future. A few of them have a sci-fi taste and in other cases are simply outdated (especially when it comes to AI and superintelligence). This is not necessarily the author’s fault and actually confirms the fact that scientific research is advancing faster than the average Homo Sapiens can manage to process.

I would suggest it to anyone who is looking for a non-fiction book than can help you rethink yourself as a person and ourselves as a species.