Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari ***

Reading dates: 25 September – 03 November 2016

In my opening remarks at our book group meeting (the only meeting in which I can have a 5-way conversation with comrades, which is wonderful), I mentioned how this book annoyed me because of the breadth it covers and the lack of evidence. Yet, I also though it was a great book to discuss because of the ideas it tries to put forward. We were critical of the chapters on money: we are widely read on this particular topic and Harari’s sweeping assertions did not wash with us. There are, however, some interesting thoughts about the origins of the species (which of course are not easy to validate) and about our potential futures, where technology is taking us.

I think for me the most enervating quality of this book is that I was not sure about the author’s positioning of the argument: is this history? Anthropology? Informed thought? Research? Where is Harari speaking from? It made me consider, of course, where I read from and what I demand from such books. I do like my sources, the sense of belonging to a space with a tradition, the limitations of a discipline (because it provides a focus). Without it, the writing becomes amorphous, too wide and, although imaginative at times, its tendentiousness detracts from the sometimes interesting ideas.