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If Sapiens were a blog post (neilkakkar.com)
263 points by alltakendamned 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments





When I read Sapiens, the real shift in perspective was not in the details but in the perspective the author was using to view humanity. The boldness and firmness in answering the big questions is what I enjoyed the most. Things like what made humanity dominant, the big trends on human cultures, the subject/object and intersubjective realties, the important role of fiction etc..

In the end what he's telling is half fact half myth, in that he's making a narrative to justify things which though convincing may not be entirely true or the entire truth. So as with all history to be taken with a grain of salt. But yes it was a very good narrative and I have read other books by him that are as captivating such as Homo Deus.

As I was reading it I was thinking "is it even legal to have this many misconceptions about human history?"

Gross generalizations aside, do you have any examples of things he gets really wrong?

After reading Debt by David Graeber, I felt like the treatment of early economics in Sapiens was a bit superficial. This isn't to say that I think one is "wrong", and I'm certainly no expert in the area. Debt made me think in ways that those parts of Sapiens didn't.

As just one example of very poor reasoning, I found his treatment of how/why patriarchy is so common to be rather poorly reasoned. He basically says:

"It can't be strength because the strongest person doesn't usually rule societies." Then moves on to, "men are more violent and therefore may make better soldiers, but fighting doesn't mean you'll be successful at leadership." Finally he says, "maybe there are evolutionary pressures that would make men more competitive and ambitious and make women more subservient, but women could gain power by cooperating amongst themselves and we see matriarchal societies among animals so that can't be it."

The first 2 are basically restatements of themselves, and he completely ignores how strength or violence can establish conditions where the stronger party would gain power without the strongest individual within that party necessarily leading the whole group. In essence, strength contributes to patriarchy, which then is self-reinforcing and within the group of strong people there are many qualities that can bring out a leader. He glosses over the volumes of examples from history of military leaders taking over societies. Those leaders had to be good fighters to rise through the ranks and earn their soldier's respect. Then they had the army to impose their will. Seems plausible, fairly obvious, but he doesn't address it.

The 3rd is really oddly toxic because it suggests maybe a genetic subservience. I personally find that hard to square with the people I know and what I understand about genetics, particularly that very complex traits such as social behavior are extremely unlikely to have strong genetic ties at a population level. So much gets influenced by culture. See for example the tribe of baboons that went from patriarchal to matriarchal [1]. It's good that he dismisses it, but he should have emphasized culture more.

Essentially he doesn't consider that reasons 1+2 could predispose to one type of dynamic (stronger people have more power) which will then tip over into patriarchy, and once a social system is established it takes a lot to change that system. Many arguments in the book could have been made in 1/3 the amount of text, and could have been made better.

Small other annoyance: at one point he says that until modern times nobody wanted to travel, that the desire to travel is a consumerist urge and a demonstration of wealth. Nevermind that for most of human history it would have been insane to even think of traveling more than a few dozen miles from home and BTW that would have taken months/years, and anyway you probably wouldn't have known that things like the pyramids (picking a random example) existed at all. So how exactly does he conclude people didn't want to travel for leisure because they weren't poisoned by consumer culture?

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/13/science/no-time-for-bulli...


I agree. Discounting the "men are better fighters but that doesn't make them leaders" is pretty silly. To me this is such an obvious driver for patriarchal society it's amazing anyone would argue with it.

I've spent some time in areas immediately after a natural disaster, when looting is a possibility and governments and law enforcement is no longer effective. Even those times are relatively safe, but strong people with guns immediately become very appealing people to have on your side in situations like that.

Thinking about tribal societies and evolution, those societies that are best able to protect their reproductive capacity (women and children) from the elements and other humans are obviously going to survive in much greater numbers over those that are not. This has to have an effect on gender roles. You can lose half the men and reproduce at the same rate. You can't lose the women.


It’s one of those things that’s obvious and intuitive, unless your baseline of normalcy for the human condition is an ivory tower in a WEIRD culture.

One form of travel important in the pre-modern world was the religious pilgrimage. Considering the risks it’s surprising people undertook them at all.

The reason fighters were leaders probably had as much to do with practicality as “domination”, because organizing society for war was a big undertaking and extended into peace time. Even in societies where women are now acknowledged to have held considerable power, like the historical Cherokee, the military hierarchy had considerable social power during peace time and was majority male.


The second point is also toxic because it suggests a genetic anti-social behavior. I find that to go against current research into genetics and behavioral genetics, with aggression and violence being complex social traits which is extremely unlikely to have strong genetic ties at a population level. So much gets influenced by culture.

Thanks! This comment was exactly what I was asking for, and it inspired some good follow-up comments!

"All humanists worship humanity..."

I mean, that's obviously a "gross generalization".

Ah, I might have misunderstood your question! I didn't realize we were giving Hariri a pass for gross generalizations.

Although it's a serious enough error that it might be more than just a "gross generalization." I certainly think it is.


The nature of the book necessitates gross generalizations. It literally could not be anything else.

It's like saying you don't like Expanse because you don't like sci-fi... Okay, but why did you read it if you know you hate sci-fi?


> The nature of the book necessitates gross generalizations. It literally could not be anything else.

If you say so.

I don't think that's a shield against criticism. His treatment of humanism is asinine. In addition to engaging in gross generalizations on the topic, he is - to use your words - "really wrong." Getting the history of modern ideas right seems like it ought to be the easy part with a book like this, particularly if you're content with generalizations.


This particular critique of Hariri - that his characterization of humanism is stupid - is apparently rather unpopular here. It'd be interesting to understand why.

It’s interesting that science-minded people seem to like it so much. I gave up pretty quickly as it seemed like he was just writing a narrative without much science to back it up.

Do you not think that science is filled with similar myth making based on scientific facts?... which are then quickly revised when new information which contradicts those facts is discovered.

I personally found Sapiens to be just like this blog post.

It seemed to gloss over major historical factors in a way that presented them as accepted wisdom. This often hides implicit assumptions about those historical factors that reinforce modern systems.

I just didn't find Sapiens to be that interesting once it got out of discussions about pre-history. The rest of it's views on human development seem to really be focused on explaining the "rightness" of how we currently already see the world. I'm probably not explaining myself well here.

The overwhelming praise for Harari also makes me suspect. The people praising Sapiens are people that I don't trust. So...yeah, that's me being a weirdo.


So this seems to be the thread for the malcontents. I was recommended this book enthusiastically and dropped it after only a few chapters.

My issue with it is basically this: Harari's original insights and opinions are only mildly interesting. There is no single thesis presented (at least as summarized) that justifies an entire book. By grafting those ideas on to what is otherwise a rather dull exposition of mainstream anthropology, he impresses the less educated audience with knowledge, while lulling the more educated into an agreeable attitude by restating the well-known, at length.

It's a common persuasion and marketing tactic: Fact, fact, conjecture. Fact, fact, conjecture. Fact, fact, fact, bold conjecture.

And of course, being unwilling to slog through the filler, I'll be written off by Harari's acolytes as ignorant. But that's OK. I'm starting to regard the rejection of pop phenomena like this one a necessary self defense of my own time and attention.


definitely overhyped. definitely presented speculations as fact. definitely too ambitious for its own good (what it tried to cover is insanely large) and does a mediocre job at best.

i know a lot of people that loved it and recommend it (and later books) left and right. my best guess is that it’s trendy and some sort of status symbol. i wish people could look past the hype


Harari keeps repeating "this is just an hypothesis" or "we can't be sure of what happened at that time" during the whole book. He highlights multiple hypothesis as well in all chapters, to compare them.

Actually the blog post literally shows that, by repeating "We’re not sure".

I can imagine many critics to the book, but presenting speculations as fact is definitely not one of them.


I wasn't referring to his hypothesis. I was referring to how he covered some historical movements as just the received wisdom regarding them. It was like "Time-Life covers human history". There were somethings that can't be divorced from their historical context. It's the same way that people lump all of something into a generic pile...like all Islam is basically Whabism (not saying that he said that but many people do) or things like that. Like I said, I'm probably not expressing myself very well here.

ha. sure, one can see it this way. or you can read it, think that it makes sense and take it as a fact. i can tell you all day that's a hypotesis, when I'm focusing on the hypotesis you're going to go with it.

i also fundamentally disagree with speculating on what might have happened 10000 years ago. If you're going to speculate present at least 2-3 plausible scenarios.


On the other hand, there are several instances where he presents pretty big counterexamples to his theories, dismissing them as "the exception that confirms the rule".

This makes no sense (and reflects a complete misunderstanding the expression).


This is what impressed me the most about the book, and why I’m so confused as to how this can be the main criticism of it that I see.

I’d like to see a speculation stated as fact, but have yet to see a satisfactory example.


"I just didn't find Sapiens to be that interesting once it got out of discussions about pre-history."

Quick question: Why do you think its version of pre-history is better than its history? (Or are you familiar with pre-historical archaeology and find it to be good there?)


I guess that I felt like it was speculative enough to cover a time period like that...but you're right. That part could be bad too. I just felt like it was a good narrative at that point in the book? It was entertaining. I wouldn't say that I put a whole lot of stock in popular literature.

After having read Sapiens I realized that there's something deeply disturbing about it all, though.

The fact that Harari seems to think that everything is just a 'story' that we tell ourselves, is way too nihilistic.

Maybe, taking this external perspective, we can understand better the direction in which we're going, but it doesn't resolve a fundamental question: why do we live the way we do?

In the long(human timescale) run, this is unsustainable and depressing, it takes away from the ethics and the aesthetics that have made human life what it is, that have brought us to live the way we do.


> The fact that Harari seems to think that everything is just a 'story' that we tell ourselves, is way too nihilistic.

I find that the great challenge that confronts our species is precisely the search for meaning.

There are myriad options for sale in the marketplace of ideas, many coming with pre-packaged meaning. This is the typical case with Judeo-Christian religions, where some external authority dictates meaning to us. But let's suppose that there really is an Anthropomorphic God in the Sky that created everything and has rules for us. Ok, good for him I guess, but you have to lack a bit of imagination to not see the absurdity of that situation. It's just a parent-child relationship, with an imaginary parent, that spares the followers the pain of confronting existential questions, provided that development remains arrested.

The same is true of Atheists and Materialists. Ok, there's only atoms. Everything can be explained as a cold mechanism that progresses from the Big Bang, through evolution, to us and all of our preferences and inclinations. Of course, given that the scientific model of reality is so useful, it is easy to forget that it is just another story when it comes to meaning.

To actually reach adulthood, I believe that one has to confront the scary reality that one is one's own source of meaning. In one sense the universe is made of atoms, in another it is made of stories. Both of these models are useful, but no model can ever spare you from the task of becoming your own source of meaning.


To you and parent's points: I think Harari dwells on the this distinction so much because one "model" can be changed, and one cannot.

The whole book is a cry for people to understand that most facts of life stem from the stories model, not the physical model, and hence are to some extent under our control.


You are correct on all points. Finding your own purpose can be hard especially for those who have lived by the ideas of others well into adulthood. Living on the modern economic treadmill also makes it harder. You have to find purpose within the world you live.

Some of these themes are touched upon in this video, based on Douglas Hofstadter's book 'I am a strange loop'.

https://youtu.be/hQsnHkfs3sA


>The fact that Harari seems to think that everything is just a 'story' that we tell ourselves, is way too nihilistic.

I guess it's a matter of opinion, I didn't find it to be nihilistic at all, nor do I really see/understand why it could be.


I realize that everyone is different - but for me the idea that we create our own meaning is WAY more exciting than a pre-existing or assigned meaning.

It erases any limits on what's possible and makes thinking creatively (humanity's biggest strength) a lot more fun. It also makes the search for truth that much more urgent, since in a nihilistic universe that's all we have.

I also don't see any conflict between this kind of optimistic nihilism and fundamental ethics - mainly that you shouldn't hurt others.

I friekin' loved Sapiens by the way.


Ditto. To my personality nothing is more empowering than knowing that as a species and as individuals the stories we tell ourselves can shape not only our individual lives but the rest of the race as a whole, good and bad (I assume this is where some fears towards this notion stem). I have a feeling people from more collectivist cultures (arguably non-western) dislike this view because it means they aren't writing their "own" story and just being part of someone else's story. I'm just riffing on this latter point.

You can interpret it the other way. The stories we tell ourselves are mostly fiction. We make progress using these stories. It can lead us to unhappy places. We want to find meaning and purpose. But we end up with nihilistic reality. The author has explored aspects of Taoism, the fluctuation between meaning and nihilism. We need to find a balance.

I'm all up for constructing my own meanings, but I reject the premise that it's all "just a story".

The enjoyment I get from riding my mountain bike comes at least in part from adrenaline, endorphins and exposure to sunlight - these are biological realities we likely share with species which can't tell stories.


The problem of meaning is actually a central theme.

It’s just taking a materialist view of the world. E.g., a Marxist would argue our culture is shaped by the prevailing mode of production. Anarchists would also say that any hierarchical structures are imaginary. It’s not really nihilistic, it’s just a different way of seeing how we got to where we are in humans’ cultural evolution.

Instead of thinking that culture just popped out of our heads, it’s thinking that culture is mostly if not entirely tied to events happening in the real world.


How does why we live the way we do correlate to shared mythology like nations and corporations?

Moloch.

As a side note, the author of the blog post clearly states this at the beginning:

> You can get the book here 1

And the "1" footnote says it's an affiliate link. I exactly hoped and expected that to be the case, and I plaud him for being so explicit about it. He has gained my trust immediately.

I wish more people were this gentle and transparent about things on the Internet.


Thank you, Simone :)

You deserve it :)

By the way, I think several people (including me) have been tempted to do what you did, but never did it because it takes a long time to do it properly! Kudos for the perseverance and stamina!

I hope I'll be able to return the favor one day by doing a similar thing of some of my favorite books ("1491", "1493", "Debt: the first 5,000 years", "Atlantide" (book by Renzo Piano and his son Carlo, only in Italian) etc).


Thanks, looking forward to it!

Another monster book I just finished reading and want to do a summary of is Guns, Germs and Steel, which is similar, but focused on one time-section.

I found writing down a mind map of what the author wants to convey really helps distill down the ideas.

More than once, I'd read through one section of the book (again) - and be unable to make the connection to the overall theme. This post (and any summary I want to read) aims to solve that - do the hard work once of figuring out the progression, how things connected together, so I can draw upon them for future use.


I've read it; I vastly preferred "the third chimpanzee". Guns, Germs and Steel was a bit on the weak side in terms of data to support his claims.

It's insane to me that Sapiens seems to make up the entirety of many engineers' humanitarian education. And not only that, that you're basically shamed if you haven't read it, but on the other hand seen as overambitious and/or not interested enough in tech if you've opted to read a more traditionally accepted scholarly tome instead.

You shouldn't be getting downvoted. Sapiens is pretty mainstream anthropology repackaged in a well written narrative. It's everything that pop intellectualism aspires to be. Sapiens also frames a ton of issues in a way that doesn't assault the STEM ego, so that certainly helped its reception. Most engineers have an atrocious understanding of the humanities, but it's hard to blame them. Most people in the humanities are woefully undereducated in regards to science.

Being steeped in one field it's easy to believe you've got it all figured out. Engineers, of which I am one, are notoriously bad about speaking with confidence from a position of ignorance, but all of us do it.


> Sapiens also frames a ton of issues in a way that doesn't assault the STEM ego, so that certainly helped its reception.

Can you describe that framing and how it "doesn't assault the STEM ego?" I haven't read the book, but I'm genuinely curious about sociological observations like this.


Do you have an example of somebody being shamed for not reading Sapiens?

Personal experience.

Not disagreeing with you, but what are some books on more accepted scholarly tomes?

Great idea as a way to benefit readers and the author of the post.

The first ~half of the book (prehistory) was much better than the second. Even then, I recall the author missing some rather significant points.

For example, the hypothesis that megafauna die-offs were related to the appearance of humans minimized one of the biggest, non-human contributors - the recession of glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age (Pleistocene). The accompanying environmental dislocation is enough on its own to explain the extinction, but you'll find almost nothing about it in the book.

It's almost certainly no coincidence that the early phases of what we think of as civilization begin to appear very soon after the end of the last ice age. Yet the author seems to blithely skip over that looming detail as well.


Ice ages occur every 50-100KA, both the mammoth and the sabre toothed tiger evolved around 2.5MA ago and survived the end of dozens of ice ages before going extinct during the end of the last one, just as humans showed up. This pattern holds for numerous other megafauna species. If humans had nothing to do with it, why didn't previous ice ages make them go extinct?

There is a lot of evidence indicating that the megafauna extinction was principally due to the human hunters. Here is a very good (but long) Twitter thread by a biologist explaining it in detail: https://twitter.com/DRMegafauna/status/1084896526151942145

I was not impressed with Sapiens, especially Hariri's belief that the agricultural revolution was history's biggest fraud, and his belief that hunter-gatherer societies were better ( I don't know, how when 90% of your time was spent foraging for food and fighting for survival). Everyone agrees the agricultural revolution was the most dramatic event, allowed us to farm and afforded us the leisure time to pursue art, science and make the big discoveries on which modern civilization is based on.

How good of a deal hunting and gathering were depends on the abundance of resources. Hunter-gatherers in abundant areas lived happy lives and resisted civilization (eg the Comanche) if not outright conquering it so they would leave their hunting grounds alone (eg the Mongols). Hunter-gatherers who faced scarcity adopted agriculture as a means of survival and lived in fear of hunter-gatherers for centuries.

The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was simply not scalable.

> allowed us to farm and afforded us the leisure time

The error in this is the thinking that the gains from agriculture accrue evenly to everyone. In reality, the "us" who are farmers and the "us" with leisure time are not the same people. You can see this by looking at the economic stratification for every single agricultural society... ever?

I would highly recommend reading James C Scott's 'Against the Grain' [0].

His thesis is that agriculture came in quite slowly, as part of a semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer society. It was only once the natural environment was depleted and agriculture became the only option to feed yourself that fixed, sedentary agriculture took over.

This is all tied to the rise of states, which could only obtain stability once their taxation base was locked in place. It's the best explanation I've seen for why "we" would choose agriculture.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34324534-against-the-gra...

(Incidentally I think it's much better written than his first book 'Seeing like a State', if you've read that.)


Once you have hunted the last wild buffalo, what are you going to do?

Theres actually research around this, the average daily time spent hunting and foraging (working) in order to survive and the daily time we spend now working in order to survive, also the daily time people spent 1000 years ago. The conclusion was something like people today actually spend more hours working than in hunting and foraging times

Yes as long as there are enough animals to hunt and plants to forage for? Not sustainable long term.

His arguments are agriculture's health and societal effects. We wanted X from agriculture but we got X+1 (what human achievement doesn't result in this?) where +1 is some unwanted consequence (having to have more children to maintain a farmstead, rotting teeth, increase in belly size, the loss of the tribe (maybe alluding to dunber's number) His points make sense, in my opinion. He understands the pros are great but his argument is we did not foresee (or adjust very well to) the cons that come with the agricultural revolution.

I came to the same conclusion after reading his book. His book is pretty terrible.

His viewpoint (while interesting) was not very grounded at all. Simply because agriculture requires more work doesn't mean it's inferior to hunting. Try hunting an antelope if you've got a sprained ankle.

Another perspective that irked me was his blind faith that modern society is built purely conceptual ideas. Citing empires, car brands, and money. In reality all these things work because they provide practical benefits. Few people or groups go out of their way to work purely on ideological bases, and those who do, do so on a rational philosophy. Let alone as soon as it becomes impracticable (See Maslow's hierarchy of needs).


I think you've simplified his view a bit too much. Agriculture not only requires more work but...

* Worse nutrition because you're eating only the narrow selection you can grow.

* Poor nutrition means worse health, digestive, and dental problems.

* Agriculture leads to higher population densities and living in proximity to animals which in turn leads to plagues.

* Agriculture leads to population growth and consequent vulnerability to weather, floods, etc.

* Agriculture leads to population density, leads to social organization, leads to war, genocide, feudalism, etc

There are lots of problems with primitive agriculture and it seems perfectly plausible that it would be a better life to be an early hunter gatherer than an early farmer. Try tilling a field with a sprained ankle, or with rotting teeth after a bad harvest to feed your starving children. Etc.


Err, try tilling the soil, planting, and harvesting with a sprained ankle? No thanks.

I wish more books were written/rewritten this way. I haven't read the post so far, perhaps it's a little bit too short to fit all the interesting stuff from the book, but I am pretty sure at least 80% (if not 99%) of books are at least 80% water.

I hope you are going to summarize the rest of the books of the same author and go on to other nonfiction authors perhaps. I would read such a blog regularly.


Indeed, that's the plan! You can find others I've done already tagged "Notes" - https://neilkakkar.com/categories/

I realise now I should make that more explicit in my posts!


Oh, also, for some more interesting stuff that doesn't fit into the overall flow of the blog post - you can have a look at the HTML comments!

There's usually some more interesting one-off gems in there!


Thanks for the clue! I thought nobody writes HTML comments any more.

"The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, constitutes the Cognitive Revolution. What caused it? We’re not sure. The most commonly believed theory argues that accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using a new type of language."

The genetic mutation story is not the most commonly accepted view in anthropology, regardless of what Harari suggests. Perhaps it was more popular at one time when archaeological evidence for "behavioral modernity" abruptly ceased beyond ~50 kya, but if anything, it has been waning as a convincing hypothesis as alternative interpretations[0] and evidence for modernity continues pushing back the ~70 kya date[1].

This isn't to say that a real uptick in complex behavior and cognition didn't happen in the Upper Pleistocene; of course it did. But an absence of archaeological data is a pretty poor basis for inferring a single mutation that caused artefact data to go from sparse to abundant/ complex. Beyond the obvious (simply lacking data), it also seems to gloss over, for example, the possibility of cultural evolution, demographic shifts, etc., all of which require no "Tree of Knowledge mutation".

[0] http://www.its.caltech.edu/~squartz/files/mcbrearty.pdf

[1] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...


Haven’t read the parent post yet, but in his book from the 1970s (outdated in numerous ways by now but still very interesting) “Dragons of Eden”, Carl Sagan presents the argument that it was our ability to use tools. Essentially, tools shaped us as much as we shaped them, and as our tools became more advanced, so did our minds.

Yeah that timeline of ~40,000 years being responsible for the large majority of our complex behaviors sounds ridiculously short?

Interesting bit about money since it's mentioned in there: Most economics give the same version in the notes which is that money just kind of _sprang up_ out of no where to solve this problem of trade, but it's actually very likely that Credit, and therefore also Debt, is the source of "money". That money only became more important as trade extended from tribes and to strangers we didn't trust. Also that the world goes through cycles of being currency heavy and credit heavy in their transactions of which right now we're living through a new credit heavy cycle which is hard to predict the outcomes of.

Recommend this book: https://www.amazon.com/Debt-Updated-Expanded-First-Years/dp/...


I read 'Debt' a few years ago. Am currently reading Niall Ferguson's 'The Ascent of Money' which dives more into the details of how our banking and monetary systems arose. Only two chapters in, but I would recommend already.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ascent_of_Money


Yeah, that narrative isn't new; its being covered in various documentaries and books, including this cartoon [1]

Harari gives very good examples of how money is useful for trade in his book. These examples underline how money is useful for trade. Its downright impractical to trade goods for goods because of multiple factors: fluctuation of value, different values for different people, lack of preference of the item from one of the parties.

Perhaps there was not one reason why money is useful. There surely isn't one now.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AC6RSau7r8


The book was originally a college course (introduction to world history). I wouldn't be surprised if you could scare up class notes/handouts that summarise it all in bullet points. They'd probably be in Hebrew though.

Here is a series of videos that Yuval Harari (author) did that is enjoyable to watch

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLfc2WtGuVPdmhYaQjd449...


From a strict legal perspective, isn’t this a derivative work of the book?

I figured there must be some precedent involving Cliffs/Sparks/Coles Notes, but all I could find was this: [1]. Unfortunately it just talks about an upcoming lawsuit, not the result.

[1] https://www.wired.com/2008/04/prof-sues-note/


There seems to be a lot of hate on Sapiens every time it's posted here in HN. From what I gather, the criticism of his book comes from getting a lot of things wrong, or pushing some incorrect narrative. I assume that those who critique his book have read far more than myself and so have a stronger foundation to assert this critique, because as someone who just hasn't read that much nor has the appetite for digging through more dry tomes related to these subjects, Sapiens was very readable and reshaped my perspective a lot. Many people cite it as one of the best books of 2015(?). So is the criticism here just incessant nitpicking without respect for a palatable narrative, or are there books that provide another perspective that I'm seriously missing out on?

Like most grand theories of history most of this is only works as a result of approximation. For example, the Unification stuff appears to me to be pure garbage. There is no moment in history when people went from cleanly separating outsiders from insiders. The examples given are both wrong; Egypt was likely ruled by a dynastic elite that came from outside (a common pattern across many cultures in Asia throughout history); the Romans, ironically, are the ones who gave us the word "barbarian". People still rail about foreigners; cf. Brexit.

Unrelated to the primary content and purpose of this post but this was actually a pretty interesting use of an image map. Sadly the polygons don't seem to align that greatly with the image, nor does it seem like mobile Chrome applies the tap-helping algorithm it uses to help you tap the link you "intended" to tap (rather than were your finger actually registered its coordinates).

I was also surprised to find that there's lots and lots of text stowed away in the HTML comments. Perhaps it's a peak into how this particular article evolved?


Hey, yep, that's exactly right. I wanted to keep the artefacts, and regarding the image-map, sadly they aren't responsive, yet. They work perfectly fine on every screen with width > 700px though.

I haven't figured out a nice way to make them responsive yet.


> It’s the original text, edited to ensure it still flows like the book.

This blog post seems to start off with the premise that you understand what's going on, which I don't. Is the author summarising his own impressions of Sapiens (surely acceptable), or literally lifting the original text of the book and taking it as his own, as this quote seems inadvertently to suggest?


> This blog post seems to start off with the premise that you understand what's going on, which I don't.

From the top of the blog post:

> The goal? Future-me should be happy to read this once future-me forgets how we evolved.

The post isn’t for you, but a reference for the author. It seems to be one of those “I’m making this for me, but if it’s useful for anyone else, so much the better” cases.


Thanks, author here.

And for the other comments, no, I didn't update that right now. :)


Why not quote the sentence before that? The actual first sentence is:

> I spent over 25 hours building a cut-down version of Sapiens.

Unless OP is on HN and added that after comments here.


> Why not quote the sentence before that?

Because however many hours were spent making it is irrelevant as to why it was made, which was the point.


I don't mean the hours, I mean the "cut-down version of".

Similar reason. Explaining how it was made (by cutting it dow) has no bearing on the why, which was the point.

No it wasn't, you were replying to:

> Is the author summarising his own impressions of Sapiens (surely acceptable), or literally lifting the original text of the book and taking it as his own [...]?

The first sentence about cutting it down answers that.


> No it wasn't, you were replying to

No, I was not, I was replying to the section I quoted (hence quoting it, that’s how that works).


I understood it to be the latter: an edited (abridged?) version of Sapiens.

Indeed, me too. It seems a little bit untoward to me to post vast swathes of someone else's words literatim publicly, even if edited down, even with credit. If you want to make such notes for your own private use, then I see no objection to it.

from the title that would be the goal i think.

That's quite unclear, yep. He also uses affiliate links to the book on Amazon. Seems shady.

The footnotes in the links point out that they are affiliate links.

I think the shady comment was about profiting from another’s work (even if you’re upfront about it)

I’m not familiar with Amazon’t affiliate program, but it’s my understanding that these don’t typically take money from the author, their commission coming from the platform’s cut instead.

Given that, and seeing as the blog post author was upfront about it, I don’t see a problem with it unless the book’s author objects. Affiliate links don’t even steal credit — they give an author’s work more visibility to people who might be interested in it without cutting into their revenue. A commission is an incentive to share work you enjoy.


Oh I don’t really care about the ethics of any of this I was just pointing out that you seemed to be misunderstanding which aspect the parent was calling shady. It’s not that the affiliate links were poorly labeled, it’s that they were for profiting from the (in the context of the comment) questionably sourced material

"Proletariat = collective noun for working class people."

Thanks, footnote. I was completely stumped.


hahaha, I was too! (and I wanted to save people a google search :P

wow this blog post is amazing b/c oftentimes I want to refer to a specific part of the book and since I don't have an ebook version, I don't have it readily available! Thank you so much for putting this together!

Every book should come with a free ebook, especially the non-fiction ones. This is something the publishers should get in on.

Thanks for taking out the time to let me know! :)

> If a species boasts many DNA copies, it is a success, and the species flourishes. From such a perspective, 1,000 copies are always better than a hundred copies. This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.

LOL, such a succinct rebuttal-yet-affirmation of the "Paleo diet"


Thought this was going to about the Sapiens indie game that's been in development the past 4 years.

https://www.youtube.com/user/majiDave


Sequel: Homo Deus

This is a great summary. Someone suggested to me this book but , in reading this summary, I now realize that this book is just a regurgitation of the neo liberal manifest destiny.

I genuinely don't understand how you could come to this conclusion.

I am comparing parts of the summary to what I understand of https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Fukuyama

Fukuyama’s recent books are genuinely scholarly and thorough.

I haven’t read Sapiens, but I read other books of the author. Calling him neo-liberal is the last thing that crossed my mind.

The book actually calls out the liberal humanist ideology as an ideology. Discusses the benefits (greater collaborative opportunities) and the drawbacks (loss of ideological meaning) I think it’s an excellent exploration of the ideology common in western secular society. Even if you oppose that ideology I highly recommend that you understand it.

Right but from the summary I feel it seems like a history told from that lens. Just like a different lens causes one to see "the history of society is the history of class struggles".

I'm at 2/3 of the book Sapiens (so I haven't finished it yet). Thus far, I can highly recommend the book in order to understand more of the current world politics and history. Heck, I believe this book great material for high school (though it does fit with many history lessons I had). I fully disagree the book is "just a regurgitation of the neo liberal manifest destiny". I don't understand how you can get to that conclusion. I haven't seen Harari trying to support any of -ism. From [1] you can read he is Israelian (therefore probably Jewish though I did not confirm), historian, openly gay, vegan. I did not see any specific support for any of these -isms. All I read is explanations on why humankind and humanity is the way it is.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuval_Noah_Harari


"All this changed dramatically over the last two centuries. The Industrial Revolution gave the market immense new powers, provided the state with new means of communication and transportation, and placed at the government’s disposal an army of clerks, teachers, policemen and social workers. At first the market and the state discovered their path blocked by traditional families and communities who had little love for outside intervention. Parents and community elders were reluctant to let the younger generation be indoctrinated by nationalist education systems, conscripted into armies or turned into a rootless urban proletariat.

"The state and the market approached people with an offer that could not be refused. ‘Become individuals,’ they said. ‘Marry whomever you desire, without asking permission from your parents. Take up whatever job suits you, even if community elders frown. Live wherever you wish, even if you cannot make it every week to the family dinner. You are no longer dependent on your family or your community. We, the state and the market, will take care of you instead. We will provide food, shelter, education, health, welfare and employment. We will provide pensions, insurance and protection.’"

If nothing else, two centuries is an awfully short time to allow you to conclude that 100,000 years of the past are no longer especially relevant.




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