It is a common misconception to assume that human beings evolved in a linear fashion with Erectus evolving into Neanderthals and Neanderthals into us. While this concept evokes a singular existence of the Sapiens on earth, several human species had in fact coexisted from two million to 10,000 years ago.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari discusses at some length the general fallacies with a view to depicting the upward trajectory of human development from being an insignificant mammal to the only surviving human species at the top of the food chain. Inevitably, the author recalls our inherently destructive nature since the onset of “The Cognitive Revolution” (70,000 years ago) to date. With the backing of already established theories and arguments, the book offers a thought-provoking narrative on the past and the future of the “wise man”, aptly called Homo sapiens.
Deftly translated by Syed Faiz Ahmed and Protyasha Prachurja, the book has been published by the University Press Limited. The translators have ensured clarity adding footnotes every time they have introduced an apparently unfamiliar word. A noteworthy observation would be their use of sub-continental references, such as Thakurmar Jhuli in place of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, making the narrative intimate and relatable.
With relevant illustrations, the book is divided into four sections aiming to explore the three major revolutions in the history of mankind. Beginning with “The Cognitive Revolution” (70,000 years ago), the book argues that the Sapiens could build a bigger community compared to their archaic counterparts because the former shared a common imagination called “myths” (religion, politics, etc.). Their myths and fiction helped them work together and comply with the social order. Refuting the belief that “The Agricultural Revolution” (12,000 years ago) brought about positive changes in human development, the author points out how the surplus production instigated a population explosion and created an elite class. Moreover, the agricultural society was more prone to infectious diseases contacted from domesticated animals than the nomadic ancient foragers were. Finally, the book ends with a speculative note, claiming the advancement of genetic engineering will one day be able to manipulate our emotions as they can change us biologically nowadays.
Blending history with anthropology and archaeology, the book presents a vivid narrative on the evolution of mankind. Thus, the book spurs its readers on to leap forward and backward in history with a view to understanding their ancestry and prospect.