My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So…100,000-70,000 years ago, there were at least six human species walking the planet. Today, there are three:
Homo sapiens – we humans are losing the battle against…
Homo retrorsum (“backwards man”) – they’re the 63 million who voted wrong in 2016, and a huge part of the 101 million who didn’t vote. They prefer regress to progress.
And Simiae inferiore (I’ll leave it to you to look up the Latin) – they’re the ones who the Homo restrosum elected.
I coined those taxonomic differentiations when I realized that they weren’t modern humans. Okay, that’s a little story ripe with opinion and this is a bigger story ripe also. With too little documentary support, Harari writes well enough, but much is not quite but could be hyperbole; certainly a lot comes off as contrived theatrics. He compares the Code of Hammurabi with the Declaration of Independence, the latter’s known composition year being 1776 CE (he uses AD, and BC) – and the former tagged as 1776 BC(E). One could dismiss his creative license if he didn’t include a picture of a stele that only a few keystrokes later revealed to be dated to a different, less convenient year.
I finished this more than a week ago yet haven’t self-motivated to write this. Maybe because this has all the hallmarks of a high school history text, albeit with a little more breadth, with some local color to embellish throughout. For the want of a nail? …if only “the Aztecs and Incas [had] shown a bit more interest in the world surrounding them”, they might have prevailed. Against guns, germs and steel? (Sorry Mr. Diamond.) The notes are sparse (see my “high school textbook” assessment); for example:
In fact, in the first recorded encounter between Sapiens and Neanderthals, the Neanderthals won. About 100,000 years ago, some Sapiens groups migrated north to the Levant, which was Neanderthal territory, but failed to secure a firm footing. It might have been due to nasty natives, an inclement climate, or unfamiliar local parasites. Whatever the reason, the Sapiens eventually retreated, leaving the Neanderthals as masters of the Middle East.
No note…pics! or it didn’t happen!
I’ll be fair, he does make more than a few good points…
The best way to appreciate the general direction of history is to count the number of separate human worlds that coexisted at any given moment on planet Earth. Today, we are used to thinking about the whole planet as a single unit, but for most of history, earth was in fact an entire galaxy of isolated human worlds.
12,000 years ago, there were many thousands of different human worlds (think…geography…) A little more than 500 years ago, before the Euros went exploring, many hundreds. Now? One (plus a few isolated indigenous groups trying hard to stay isolated.)
Monotheists have tended to be far more fanatical and missionary than polytheists. A religion that recognises the legitimacy of other faiths implies either that its god is not the supreme power of the universe, or that it received from God just part of the universal truth.
Hmmm…might just be on to something there. And on the conundrum of dualist good god/bad god dichotomy (or no! three is one! and one, three!), “humans have a wonderful capacity to believe in contradictions.” More truth.
Humans also have a deplorable capacity to understand impact:
The last 500 years have witnessed a phenomenal and unprecedented growth in human power. In the year 1500, there were about 500 million Homo sapiens in the entire world. Today, there are 7 billion.1 The total value of goods and services produced by humankind in the year 1500 is estimated at $250 billion, in today’s dollars.2 Nowadays the value of a year of human production is close to $60 trillion.3 In 1500, humanity consumed about 13 trillion calories of energy per day. Today, we consume 1,500 trillion calories a day.4 (Take a second look at those figures – human population has increased fourteen-fold, production 240-fold, and energy consumption 115-fold.)
The real point may be lost if people get wrapped around the axle on “calories”, an arbitrary unit, which may have been better conveyed if “kilowatts”, another arbitrary, if more accessible while not well understand unit. The real key is 115 times.
I was curious about bias throughout, and this stood out
We seldom think of the Arab world as particularly peaceful. Yet only once since the Arab countries won their independence has one of them mounted a full-scale invasion of another (the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990). There have been quite a few border clashes (e.g. Syria vs Jordan in 1970), many armed interventions of one in the affairs of another (e.g. Syria in Lebanon), numerous civil wars (Algeria, Yemen, Libya) and an abundance of coups and revolts. Yet there have been no full-scale international wars among the Arab states except the Gulf War. Even widening the scope to include the entire Muslim world adds only one more example, the Iran-Iraq War. There was no Turkey—Iran War, Pakistan-Afghanistan War, or Indonesia-Malaysia War.
No mention of Israel/Egypt/Syria/Jordan/Lebanon?
Still, I liked this anecdote:
On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the moon. In the months leading up to their expedition, the Apollo 11 astronauts trained in a remote moon-like desert in the western United States. The area is home to several Native American communities, and there is a story – or legend – describing an encounter between the astronauts and one of the locals.
One day as they were training, the astronauts came across an old Native American. The man asked them what they were doing there. They replied that they were part of a research expedition that would shortly travel to explore the moon. When the old man heard that, he fell silent for a few moments, and then asked the astronauts if they could do him a favour.
‘What do you want?’ they asked.
‘Well,’ said the old man, ‘the people of my tribe believe that holy spirits live on the moon. I was wondering if you could pass an important message to them from my people.’
‘What’s the message?’ asked the astronauts.
The man uttered something in his tribal language, and then asked the astronauts to repeat it again and again until they The man uttered something in his tribal language, and then asked the astronauts to repeat it again and again until they had memorised it correctly.
‘What does it mean?’ asked the astronauts.
‘Oh, I cannot tell you. It’s a secret that only our tribe and the moon spirits are allowed to know.’
When they returned to their base, the astronauts searched and searched until they found someone who could speak the tribal language, and asked him to translate the secret message. When they repeated what they had memorised, the translator started to laugh uproariously. When he calmed down, the astronauts asked him what it meant. The man explained that the sentence they had memorised so carefully said, ‘Don’t believe a single word these people are telling you. They have come to steal your lands.’
Not a bad read, but don’t expect any rigor (or many notes of substance.)