Aug 1, 2017

Stan: A Brief History of His Father's Favorite Book

men's book club review Harari Sapiens
Dinner and Acknowledgments

Last Tuesday, Stan invited us into his home, served us Puerto Rican fare from Sol, and gamely attempted to lead us in a discussion of Harari's ambitious history of homo sapiens.  Stan struggled, but not because he hadn't finished the book.   No, Stan's encounter with a hit-and-run driver left him with two fused cervical vertebrae and a nasty concussion.  It was the lingering neck pain and an inability to concentrate that sidelined Stan during parts of our conversation.

Stan, we salute your courage, thank you for your hospitality, and look forward to your full recovery. But we do not excuse the manner in which you foisted Harari's anthropology text on us.  You've complained frequently and loudly about others' selections and have long urged us to adopt a rule that a title must be read before it is proposed. And then you persuade us to read Sapiens merely because it is your father's favorite book?!  Is this hubris...or merely the effect of that concussion?

Our Review and Discussion of Sapiens:  A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari

Speaking of hubris, Harari's study of the history and triumph of homo sapiens, and our likely future as we benefit from the fusion of biology and technology, is equal parts breathtaking, arrogant, illuminating, and entertaining.  Alas, at more than 400 pages, it is not brief.

Sapiens explains our ascendance over other primates by carving our recent history into three distinct "revolutions."  Like many Sapiens critics, we were reasonably impressed by Harari's description of the Cognitive Revolution (larger brain=speech=an ability to mythologize= population growth), somewhat impressed by his analysis of the Agricultural Revolution (domestication of food/animals=our own domestication=population growth), but nonplussed by his ultimate characterization of the Scientific Revolution (immortality is within reach if we don't kill ourselves first).  

While we generally agreed that Harari poses interesting questions and supplies provocative answers, none of us (except perhaps Glenn and Stan) was as captivated as the librarians in China who named Sapiens the National Library Book of the Year in 2014!  We appreciated re-learning the anthropology we'd forgotten (or never learned), but some of us questioned the book's rigor, others found its breezy textbook style off-putting, and still others found the book digressive and its conclusions overreaching.    

Our Rating of Sapiens

Despite our many quibbles, and perhaps because we felt rewarded for our efforts and Harari's ambitions, we gave Harari a thumbs-up and Sapiens a robust 7.6.

Next Up:  1984 by George Orwell

Dean offered us the chance to go back almost 10 years and read Verghese's Cutting for Stone, almost 50 years and read Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, or almost 70 and immerse ourselves in 1984.   With a hint of authoritarianism in the air, we picked the latter. We'll see if Orwell's classic stands the test of time.