Sapiens Book Summary - Sapiens Book explained in key points
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Sapiens summary

Yuval Noah Harari

A Brief History of Humankind

4.4 (4211 ratings)
28 mins
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    Sapiens
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    Although not the first humans, Homo sapiens came to replace all other human species on Earth.  

    Human beings first stepped onto the world stage about two and a half million years ago.

    Back then, we weren’t so special. We were hardly splitting atoms or swapping NFTs. 

    In many ways, we were just another animal, and we didn’t have any greater impact on our environment than parrots, cheetahs, or jellyfish. 

    Sure, we had large brains, walked upright, used tools, and were highly social— but we weren’t the only ones. There were lots of other humans around.

    It’s a common misconception that Homo sapiens, the last human species to step onto the scene, evolved linearly from earlier human species— but actually, early Homo sapiens existed contemporaneously with at least six other species of humans. 

    There were the Homo floresiensis, a small archaic human who reached a maximum height of about three feet— but were still clever and organized enough to hunt down elephants. There were the Homo denisova, a species native to Siberia that was only discovered in 2010, which raises questions of what other extinct human species we have yet to discover. And of course, there was our most well-known cousin, the Homo neanderthalensis.

    Despite immodestly calling ourselves Homo sapiens— that’s Latin for “wise man”— we definitely weren’t the only clever apes running around.  In fact, Neanderthals were hunting down mammoths and perfecting their barbecue techniques long before we even existed. Their brains were bigger than ours, too. 

    So, if we weren’t so special back in our salad days, how is it that we prospered and spread around the globe, while other human species died out and left barely a trace? What happened to all of our cousins?

    There are two conflicting theories to explain this— one wholesome, one sinister. 

    The Interbreeding Theory suggests that Homo sapiens began mating with other species of humans – most notably Homo neanderthalensis – resulting in the gradual merging of these two species. There is evidence to back up this theory: the DNA of modern Europeans contains between 1 and 4 percent of Neanderthal DNA, as well as some DNA from other earlier human species. But critics of this theory point out that mating between Neanderthals and Sapiens could only rarely result in offspring, because they were different species— not just populations of the same species. 

    The Replacement Theory, on the other hand, suggests that Homo sapiens, thanks to their slightly superior skills and technology, pushed other human species toward extinction – either by taking away their food sources, or by violently killing them off. If this theory is true, it’s clear we haven’t outgrown our tendency to kill other humans based on squabbles over resources and superficial differences. 

    So which is it?  Did we interbreed with other human species and become one big happy family— or did we drive our cousins into extinction?

    The jury’s still out and the debate keeps raging as new evidence continues to pour in. But there’s a good chance that both are partially true. In the next blink, we’ll take a closer look at the slight advantages Sapiens had over other humans that enabled them to dominate the globe.

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    What is Sapiens about?

    Sapiens (2015) traces the evolution of our species – from the rise of our most ancient ancestors to our current place in the modern, technological age. How have we, a species of hairless, tailless ape, managed to completely dominate the entire planet? These blinks show you the developments and trends that have allowed Homo sapiens to rise to the top.

    Best quote from Sapiens

    Since the extinction of the dwarf-like Homo floresiensis, 12,000 years ago, Homo sapiens have been the only humans on the planet.

    —Yuval Noah Harari
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    Who should read Sapiens?

    • People curious about why our species – Homo sapiens – came to rule the world
    • Those who want to know how humans ended up living in a capitalist world community
    • Anyone curious to discover the beginnings of human society and culture

    About the Author

    Yuval Noah Harari works as a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and specializes in world and military history. Sapiens is his first international best seller; it has been translated into over 60 languages.

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