Steve Wenick

Sapiens: The Pillars of Civilization (REVIEW)

SAPIENS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY, Volume Two, The Pillars of Civilization, by Yuval Noah Harari, is a continuation of the story of our species, the genesis of which he began with Volume One, The Birth of Humankind.

Once again, Harari, produced a unique and highly effective pictorial rendering of the story of the building blocks and pillars of civilization. He did it by including clever, colorful, and lucid illustrations, complemented by easily understood explanations encased in dialogue balloons.

On the opening pages of this fascinating history, the author presents a Timeline of History, from creation to the present time. What is curious about Harari’s timeline is there is no mention of the impact of Judaism on civilization. Granted, in numbers Judaism is a micro-religion but it was the progenitor of two other Abrahamic religions, Christianity, and Islam, both of which he cites as being a major player in the course of history.

Putting that aside, Harari and his team of creative co-authors, David Vandermeulen and David Casanave, show in word and artistic excellence the clear positive effect the Agricultural Revolution had on humankind, as well as the price we humans had to pay for its benefits. It turns out that, in the author’s rendering of the domestication of wheat, he says wheat actually domesticated us.

Harari then enlightens us as to the domestication of animals. He bemoans the fact that today our methods of treating domesticated animals such as cows, chickens, and pigs, is dreadful and he serves up a compelling argument to become a vegetarian or better yet, a vegan.

Climbing the ladder of evolution, from Volume One’s Birth of Humankind forward, Harari continues to explore the myths we humans create to sustain what he calls our “imaginary world.” Front and center of myth makers are the religionists, followed by capitalists, traditionalists, nuclear family promoters, and binary gender advocates.

Also, the authors do not shy away from pointing out that scores of major players of the American Revolution were slave owners, thus diminishing their redeeming qualities. But history teaches us that slavery was not an American invention. In fact, it existed on every continent and every civilization since the beginning of  ‘we’ and ‘they.’ Whether by oversight or intent, the author’s criticism of America’s Founding Fathers does not place events and persons within the context of their times, nor does he give credit to the British abolitionists, who were the prime movers against modern slavery. Unfortunately, the British did not succeed entirely because they could not extinguish slavery from parts of India, China, Africa, and Arab countries, where it shamefully exists today.

According to Harari, the fictions we create are the glue that binds large numbers of us together, thus enabling us to work together in exceptionally large numbers. Our mythologies empower us to quickly change the behaviors of large populations, rather than having to wait thousands of years for slow genetic mutations, which may or may not even occur.

After a careful reading of this absorbing account of the development of civilization and its impact on our societies, it is abundantly clear that, despite the remarkable advances we humans have made in medicine, technology, and the social causes we have made over the millennia, according to Harari, we have much more work to do.

About the Author
Since retiring from IBM Steve Wenick has served as a freelance book reviewer for HarperCollins Publishing and Simon & Schuster. His reviews and articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, Jerusalem Online, Philadelphia Inquirer, Attitudes Magazine, and The Jewish Voice of Southern New Jersey. Steve and his wife are residents of Voorhees, New Jersey.
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