I find it interesting how books come into our lives, and the effect they have on us (or don’t have on us). I recently finished two books. One was a non-fiction title I received from a friend as a Christmas gift; the other was a novel chosen by a woman from my book club last month. The former was Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, while the latter was Matt Haig’s The Humans.
I found that funny. Not funny like COVID-19, China picking on Lithuania (and removing the country’s name from its customs forms), Russia blaming the world for setting up shop on Ukraine’s border, or NHL stars not going to the Olympics. No. I found it funny that I had chosen neither book and yet both ended up being about, well, people like me — Homo sapiens/human beings
Both books opened my eyes, if in different ways. For example, Mr. Harari did an excellent job of documenting what we know about how Homo sapiens helped extinguish the other members of the genus Homo, almost like we were snuffing out a candle, leaving only us sapiens to work on wiping out the remaining 8.7 million species (est.) we share the Earth will. As Yuval Harari opined, it was almost like we were bent on exterminating life from our very inception.
For his part, Matt Haig, when not opening up the proverbial can of Riemann’s hypothesis, does a solid job of confirming that extra-terrestrial life not only exists, but that they also want ultimate control over the entire universe and will kill indiscriminately to maintain the present order of all things organic, even if that means no such things as love and passion and death and tragedy.
For me there were several times I paused and thought about what the authors were saying about me/us as a species. In The Humans, it was this:
“In every life there is a moment. A crisis. One that says: what I believe is wrong. It happens to everyone, the only difference is how that knowledge changes them. In most cases, it is simply a case of burying that knowledge and pretending it isn’t there. That is how humans grow old. That is ultimately what creases their faces and curves their backs and shrinks their mouths and ambitions. The weight of that denial. The stress of it. This is not unique to humans. The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.”
In Sapiens, it was this:
“Seventy thousand years ago, Homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. Today it stands on the verge of becoming a god, poised to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities of creation and destruction…Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”
While I would not recommend The Humans unless you’re a fan of Robert Fulghum (and if you are, then you might just love this work of fiction), I think Sapiens should be mandatory reading for all literate Homo sapiens. It’s that good. More importantly, it’s that important.