i‑Learner Education Centre

Teacher Diaries

Teacher Diaries: Ms. Nordstrom – Non-Fiction

“The better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another… In fact, the people who knew the period best – those alive at the time – were the most clueless of all.”

Non-fiction has never been a greatly attractive genre to me – I love fiction for its escapism and precisely because it is imagined and psychological. Whenever I do stretch tentatively for a non-fiction book, it is with slight skepticism and caution.

What this means though, is that the few non-fiction books that I end up liking, I end up loving.

Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, written by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, is one of the non-fiction books that falls under this category.

The book begins 70,000 years ago and works its way through human evolutionary, social, and technological developments. It takes the reader through surprisingly detailed accounts of the centuries and their intellectual movements all the way up to the present day. At each turn Harari overlaps biological discussion with historical and philosophical discourse.

His writing is lucid and compelling and somehow keeps your attention even though facts are coming at you from all angles.

The book isn’t without its faults – can you really lay out the history of humankind in about 400 pages?
Maybe not quite. Would I have loved it more had it only been 200 pages and less polemical in places?

But when you get into it at its best, these objections become less important.
I love this book for Harari’ description of the development of language, the underlying question about human happiness, about fear of death, about culture constructs and biology.

This is a book for anyone interested in how historical perspective can inform contemporary issues. It reads like a series of reflections and debates on the human condition.

Sapiens is without doubt a worthwhile, thought-provoking read – less about ‘how’ we are as a species than ‘who’ we are.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari