Sapiens Book Cover


A Brief History of Humankind
Publishing Year: 2011
Reading time: Key takeways: Quotes:

What’s inside

Human beings have lived on this planet for a tiny fraction of time, compared to the age of the Earth. And yet, even within this short span of time, we’ve achieved so much. Yuval Noah Harari, in this stimulating book, explores the various forces that have contributed to our development, while also tracing the history of our species, in order to understand how we got here, and where we might be headed.

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Lesson 1. How Homo sapiens outlived all the early human species.

Earth today is dominated by one species – human beings. Where does our story begin?

Humans first appeared in East Africa around 2.5 million years ago. They developed out of a genus of apes called the Australopithecus. These early humans spread out from Africa, in search of more suitable environments. In this process, they evolved into further forms of the genus Homo, like Homo neanderthalensis.

Homo sapiens or the modern humans appeared not until 300,000 years ago. How did they come to dominate over, and eventually outlive, all the other species of humans? 

It is commonly believed that the other species of humans, like the Neanderthals, weren’t as intelligent as Homo sapiens. But this is not the case. Neanderthals had a higher brain-to-body mass ratio than Homo sapiens. Additionally, they were stronger and more adapted to their environment.

In fact, Homo sapiens were much less suited to survive in the northern Asian regions, where they first encountered the Neanderthals. So how did they manage to prosper and spread, while the Neanderthals died out?

There are two theories that explain this. 

The Interbreeding Theory states that Homo sapiens began to mate with other species of humans, especially the Neanderthals. The DNA of modern Europeans contains between 1 and 4 percent of Neanderthal DNA, as well as that of other earlier species of humans. 

According to the Replacement Theory, the evolutionary advantage of Homo sapiens was increased social intelligence. They could interact and discuss things between themselves. They developed hierarchies, and could even conspire, lie or cheat against the Neanderthals, and themselves. This ability to talk about the needs of the society, discuss important matters pertaining to the community, reach a consensus, made the Homo sapiens superior.    

In reality, probably both these factors contributed simultaneously to establishing the dominance of the Homo sapiens

Lesson 2. The Cognitive Revolution.

An important factor that gave Homo sapiens the edge over other species, was their unique brain structure. Around 70,000 years ago, the brain of early humans underwent drastic advancement. This phenomenon is called the Cognitive Revolution

This sudden improvement in brain power made humans outperform other species. They could form sophisticated societies, create better

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Famous quotes from Sapiens

  1. The real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction.
  2. -Yuval Noah Harari
  3. Biology enables, Culture forbids.
  4. -Yuval Noah Harari
  5. People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them.
  6. -Yuval Noah Harari
  7. Money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.
  8. -Yuval Noah Harari
  9. Luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.
  10. -Yuval Noah Harari
  11. The essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.
  12. -Yuval Noah Harari
  13. History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.
  14. -Yuval Noah Harari
  15. History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.
  16. -Yuval Noah Harari
  17. If planet earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual.
  18. -Yuval Noah Harari
  19. We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.
  20. -Yuval Noah Harari
  21. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.
  22. -Yuval Noah Harari
  23. Happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.
  24. -Yuval Noah Harari
  25. Homo sapiens has no natural rights, just as spiders, hyenas and chimpanzees have no natural rights.
  26. -Yuval Noah Harari
  27. There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.
  28. -Yuval Noah Harari
  29. Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world.
  30. -Yuval Noah Harari
  31. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.
  32. -Yuval Noah Harari
  33. In order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order.
  34. -Yuval Noah Harari
  35. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism.
  36. -Yuval Noah Harari
  37. Hierarchies serve an important function. They enable complete strangers to know how to treat one another without wasting the time and energy needed to become personally acquainted.
  38. -Yuval Noah Harari
  39. It is an iron rule of history that what looks inevitable in hindsight was far from obvious at the time.
  40. -Yuval Noah Harari
  41. Our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah.
  42. -Yuval Noah Harari
  43. If happiness is determined by expectations, then two pillars of our society – mass media and the advertising industry – may unwittingly be depleting the globe’s reservoirs of contentment.
  44. -Yuval Noah Harari
  45. Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.
  46. -Yuval Noah Harari
  47. Many call this process 'the destruction of nature.' But it's not really destruction, it's change. Nature cannot be destroyed.
  48. -Yuval Noah Harari
  49. Poverty, sickness, wars, famines old age and death itself were not the inevitable fate of humankind. They were simply the fruits of our ignorance.
  50. -Yuval Noah Harari
  51. If you experience sadness without craving that the sadness go away, you continue to feel sadness but you do not suffer from it. There can actually be richness in the sadness.
  52. -Yuval Noah Harari
  53. We are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous.
  54. -Yuval Noah Harari
  55. When we break down our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.
  56. -Yuval Noah Harari
  57. Suffering arises from craving; the only way to be fully liberated from suffering is to be fully liberated from craving; and the only way to be liberated from craving is to train the mind to experience reality as it is.
  58. -Yuval Noah Harari

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About the author

Yuval Noah Harari Image

Prof Yuval Noah Harari has a PhD in History from the University of Oxford and now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specialising in World History. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind has become an international phenomenon attracting a legion...

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Chapter List
  • Lesson 1. How Homo sapiens outlived all the early human species.
  • Lesson 2. The Cognitive Revolution.
  • Lesson 3. The contribution of language.
  • Lesson 4. The Agricultural Revolution.
  • Lesson 5. Emergence of currency systems and writing.
  • Lesson 6. How rulers and religion helped regulate societies.
  • Lesson 7. The Scientific Revolution.
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In the summary of Sapiens book, there are 7 key lessons. These lessons include:

  1. Lesson 1. How Homo sapiens outlived all the early human species.
  2. Lesson 2. The Cognitive Revolution.
  3. Lesson 3. The contribution of language.
  4. Lesson 4. The Agricultural Revolution.
  5. Lesson 5. Emergence of currency systems and writing.
  6. Lesson 6. How rulers and religion helped regulate societies.
  7. Lesson 7. The Scientific Revolution.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari was published in 2011.

Once you've completed Sapiens book, We suggest reading out Understanding the Space Economy as a great follow-up read.

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