This book is a blanket must-read for all. There aren't many books with as much universal applicability. Harari talks about the basics of human history from all kinds of perspectives - biological, social, economical, etc. and encourages readers to consider the future.
In an age where we're all infatuated with productivity and media, a little perspective can go a long way. The book is long and it is difficult to capture its essence, but here are a few things that stood out to me.
Three important revolutions characterize human history: the cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolutions. From the cognitive revolution, things to consider include:
Such developments led to "First Wave Extinction". The journey of the first humans to Australia is one of the most unprecedented events in history and was proof that we had cemented our spot at the top of the food chain. Shortly after we arrived, 23 out of 24 species weighing > 50 kgs became extinct on the continent.
Next up, we have the Agricultural Revolution. The essence of this revolution was - keep more people alive under worse conditions. One of the most important lessons we can learn from this period is that there is a massive discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering. More Human DNA ≠ More Happiness. Think about cattle, sheep, and chicken. From an evolutionary perspective, they're doing great. Their numbers have ballooned. But their individual lives? Not so good.
As the number of humans increased, how did we organize ourselves in mass cooperation networks (>150 people)? We created imagined orders and devised scripts, like Hammurabi's Code. And we're still very much reliant on these orders. Sure, today we scoff at the idea of racial hierarchy but don't we still embrace the hierarchy of rich and poor? We live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools and use different healthcare systems.
But how did this order come to be? Harari says that most sociopolitical hierarchies lack a logical or biological basis - they are nothing but the perpetuation of chance events supported by myths.
And myths are well and truly alive all around us. Even 2 core pillars of society - equality and freedom - are inherently contradictory. If everyone is free, then not everyone can be equal. In a political sense, democrats want an equitable society and the republicans - they want to maximize individual freedom.
Apparently, three universal orders/myths united the human race - economic, political and religious. Harari says religion has been the third greatest unifier of humankind after money and empires. But if religion has been so prolific, doesn't that also mean that it must be missionary to some extent? Harari really goes off here. He says that cultures/religions are like viruses - they multiply and spread from one host to another, i.e. they’re mental parasites.
Okay, now we move on to the scientific revolution. Where did it stem from? Supposedly, it was a willingness to admit ignorance. For the first time in history, people started actively looking for new knowledge, instead of just accepting what the gods had told them. Science has certainly brought us some great things, but science can only flourish in alliance with some ideology. Science is expensive. The ideology behind it justifies the research costs. It also influences the scientific agenda and it determines what is done with the discoveries.
From an economic vantage point, things get even more complex. Harari boils it down to this simple concept. Over the last 500 years, this new idea of progress has convinced people to put more and more trust into the future. This trust created credit, which brought economic growth, which strengthened trust in the future - all of which allowed for even more credit.
He ends with his reflections on where we're heading. In the 21st century, for the first time in history, humans are transcending the laws of evolution and replacing them with intelligent design. Where will all this take us? Who knows - and there's probably no point trying to guess either.