As an avid reader, I was thrilled by Sapiens. Not only did it broaden my concept of the world around us, but it also deepened my understanding of humans. The groundbreaking book, obviously, didn't face any competition while making its way to my 'best ever read' list.
Having enjoyed Sapiens, I was excited to read the graphic adaptation of the book illustrated by artists David Vandermeulen and Daniel Casanave. The two volumes—so far— haven't disappointed me.
Pitched in a much more engaging and colloquial style than Harari's 2015 book, the graphic novel is clearly intended for a younger audience. However, adults who liked Sapiens are likely to love this one too. Overall, an excellent work for both the purpose of teaching and entertaining.
Volume 1: The Birth of Humankind
At least six distinct human species coexisted 100,000 years ago on the earth. Today, there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species win the battle for supremacy? What happened to others? Volume 1: The Birth of Humankind, covering 'The Cognitive Revolution' section of Harari's original text, holds the answers for you along with its beautiful artwork. The authors guide us through thinking about early humans as insignificant animals that eventually developed into 'masters of fiction.'
Just as with Harari's original, the opening is intriguing. It starts with a prequel timeline, and then turns the page to a splash image of Harari sitting in an armchair surrounded by space imagery and speech bubbles. Before Harari introduces himself as the guide and explains the purpose of the graphic novel, the following few pages may hook you by describing chemistry, biology, and history. Harari's little niece, as well as other academics who teach him, are introduced as the narrative unfolds.
The first volume also addresses the rise of humans over other animals; the spread of Homo sapiens from Africa to the rest of the planet; and the ecological footprints we started leaving behind us as early as 70,000 years ago. Human evolution is reimagined as a tacky reality TV show. The first encounter between Sapiens and Neanderthals is explored through the masterpieces of modern art.
But it's not all doom and gloom with the book's entertaining characters and colourful, humorous scenes. Yuval, Zoe, Prof. Saraswati, Cindy, Detective Lopez, and Dr. Fiction all are introduced in this volume and serve in the next volume as well.
Volume 2: The Pillars of Civilization
Volume 2: The Pillars of Civilization highlights cultural beliefs that we live by and never question. Why did our foraging forebears band together to establish cities and kingdoms? What made us believe in gods, countries, and human rights in the first place? How did humans come to believe that money, literature, and laws could be trusted? And how did bureaucracy, scheduling, and materialism come to imprison us? These big questions of human civilization have been dealt with in this volume.
The characters traverse the length and breadth of human history to investigate how the agricultural revolution changed society forever; how an unlikely marriage between deities and bureaucrats created the first empires; how war, plague, famine, and inequality became an intractable feature of the human condition and why we might only have ourselves to blame. What if humanity's major woes originated 12,000 years ago when Homo sapiens converted from nomads to settlers in pursuit of the fantasy of productivity and efficiency? What if, by seeking to control plants and animals, humans ended up being controlled by kings, priests, and Kafkaesque bureaucracy! Once you start reading, you'll be riveted to the pages.
Harari also investigates how our ability to tell convincing stories and our shared beliefs help millions of strangers collaborate and toil toward common goals. As a result, he explains how humanity developed values to aid in the governance of societies. The underpinnings of society are shared ideas of law, money, religion, and nations that unite billions of us in an imagined order that does not exist outside of our consciousness. Even the concept of "rights" isn't based on biology. These are our made-up codes for a better coexisting society, and they work because enough people believe in them.
Both the volumes present complex ideas in digestible nuggets with pictures that engage anyone of any age, making it an easy, entertaining and very thought-provoking read. In brief, Sapiens: A Graphic History, as a series, is witty and colourful in retelling the story of humankind for adults and young adults.