Reading history – Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

I have always wanted to make more time to read history books and often they disappointed me when I did make the time. A few times I come across a book that takes a magisterial view of history and yet is written in such an engaging way that I want to read it to the end as soon as I can. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is one of these books. I am currently about three quarters of the way into it and I should finish it soon. (Yes, I’ve been promising more reading, and posting, about environmental economics. But along the way I thought a wider historical view would help me grasp the topic of impending environmental catastrophe better. Hence, I returned to this book, which I had only tasted briefly before, whereas this weekend I really got into it.)

So far, it strikes me as a tremendously well-written book. Yes, I don’t think Harari has everything about economics and game theory down right; the few references to these topics I found so far were generally accurate but somewhat misleading in their details. But he sure has the concept of money well understood, when he states that “money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised” (page 180). I am looking forward to getting to the chapter on Capitalism tonight; only the chapter on the marriage of science and empire is between my bookmark and that.

Science colleagues and friends, this is what it takes to succeed, beyond hard work, good ideas, and luck: really direct, spellbinding, convincing writing. One more reason I am going to finish this book is as a case study on how to write serious subjects well. Maybe I can emulate it. This very blog is a place for me to practice.

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