Two Great History Books to Read Together: Sapiens and A Short History of Humanity

Two great history books that I’ve read and that I recommend reading together are Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and A Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe.

Sapiens, written by the historian Yuval Noah Harari, does an excellent job of tracing the great story of the rise of our own species and documents humanity’s creation and evolution throughout the ages. Looking into the intersections of biology and history, Dr. Harari takes his narrative all the way back to 70,000 years ago, when the first beginnings of modern cognition began to take place in homo sapiens. He then goes on to trace the start of the agricultural revolution, the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, the information revolution, and all the way up to where we were in 2014: the biotechnological revolution.

Though I don’t revisit books too often, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is one that I re-read as it’s one of those books that offers a captivating account of where we came from as humans and where we might be headed. I was definitely able to take away even more than I did the first time I read it all the way through, and I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates good quality storytelling backed by historical analysis to help look towards our collective future.

Throughout all of these developments and eras, Dr. Harari does believe that as humans, our innate emotions, desires, and biological triggers have largely remained the same. And he believes that ultimately, we are driven by our desire to give humankind eternal life or achieve some kind of ‘amortality.’ He also focuses a lot on the concept of happiness as a driving force in humanity, and it becomes a recurring theme throughout the book.

A Short History of Humanity: A New History of Old Europe, written by Johannes Krause and Thomas Trappe, offers a new and current (published in 2021) way of understanding our past, present, and future. It’s a great reminder of the global problems we are facing today – including climate change, deadly epidemics, ethnic conflict, and overpopulation. The book offers prehistoric insights from ‘archaeogenetics’ - the study of ancient DNA, and emerging new teachings that are complex, yet easy to understand.

Johannes Krause, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and journalist Thomas Trappe take us back to the genetic history of Europe, from the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, all the way to the present. They highlight how two of the largest issues that the world is facing today have been constant throughout human history, which are deadly pandemics and migration. Krause and Trappe track the genetic history of Europe in this exploration of early human migration and humankind’s millennia-long struggle with deadly diseases.

I recommend reading A Short History of Humanity right after Sapiens as it covers even more current data and focuses heavily on pandemics. The most important takeaway that I found from these two books is that we all must reconsider our preconceived notions about humanity, civilization, and how we impact the world through our actions. These books also actively encourage readers to look ahead and see how we now have the once-impossible ability to change everything around us, as well as ourselves. Both of these books seamlessly connect history and science in a way that makes them easy and enjoyable to read, and they offer us a new understanding of ourselves as we continue to move forward into the future.

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