Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015)
By Yuval Noah Harari (Professor of History at Oxford and Hebrew Universities)
If you are not a historical, anthropological or biological specialist, this book is a must read as an introduction to the grand sweep of human history, viewed from a scholarly perspective. Given the well received scientific reviews and the widespread popularity of this book, it reflects an artistic creation to display and discuss human history in a fair minded and inviting manner. The story begins about 13.8 billion years ago when scientists currently believe the universe exploded into ever expanding energy and matter began to form. The earth itself according to science is about 4.5 billion years old. Simple life on earth is perhaps 3.8 billion years old. Animals very similar to modern humans evolved around 2.5 billion years ago. Only 70,000 years ago did these animals begin to evolve into homo sapiens who were fundamentally the same as modern humans. Agriculture emerged around 12,000 years ago allowing humans to begin to settle down in specific locations and form tribal communities with local but organized religions. Writing emerged around 6000 years ago. Monotheistic religion emerged about 4000 years ago with Zoroastrianism in Persia (Iran) and science probably emerged around the same time, also in the Middle East. And onward the story goes, bit by bit, life by life, death by death, catastrophe by catastrophe, invention by invention, dream by dream. Our study of this grand sweep of our lives and heritage has certainly existed for several thousand years. However the scientific revolution as we think of it today only began about 500 years ago. So, history wise, science is still in it's infancy! If life on earth continues, science will continue to evolve knowledge and technology and religions will continue to change to meet new circumstances and insights in our search for meaning and rightness, as they have for thousands of years.
Of course, vast amounts of history is left out here, only a very few of the personal stories of the 100 or so billions of people who have ever lived, are mentioned here. But Harari helps the reader to see this vastness and to realize that most of our history is simply unknown, possibly unknowable. Yet, there are compelling stories he does tell that help illuminate most of the great phases and discoveries of our human existence. Evolution, genetics, neuroscience, language, sociology, psychology, culture, religion, empire, war, law, science, economics, agriculture, and technology are just a few of the topics placed in a historical and scientific context here. It is a work of grand scope and Harari offers a grand vista from which to take a peak at it all. This is a foundational and accessible work for an educated citizen of the 21st Century to read or study.