Book Corner 2021.14

Sapiens: A Graphic History

by Yuval Noah Harari

Considering the fact that SAPIENS by Yuval Noah Harari was one of the best books I have read, EVER, I expected to love this graphical interpretation at least a little a bit. A problem is that I tend to be annoyed by graphic novels. They feel gimmicky. And this one was high on gimmick factor. It didn’t just illustrate Harari’s ideas… it introduced a young inquisitive niece character, Zoe; and an obese Indian woman scientist who carried a small dog everywhere. I honestly have no idea why. Any of it.

Most of the time I felt the book was at the level of the Zoe character – for children; older, genuinely science-curious children, but still… children. (Notwithstanding lots of nudity.) I kept wondering what I was getting out of it.

But in the end – though it seems I always have to spend a lot of any review being a nattering nabob of negativity – I DID get things out of it. It made me think about us all being animals… evolving from and with animals… animals, our brothers, our OLDER brothers, as I read in another scientific book of a different stripe recently, BRAIDING SWEETGRASS. Here in the graphic SAPIENS, the pictures did add something more than a gimmick, I have to admit: I remember a picture of a doe-eyed doe, and it made me think about being a nearly-evolved sapiens looking that doe in the eye, as an equal.

Another idea still persisting in my mind: “Our brains are still adapted for life as hunter-gatherers. Our eating habits, our conflicts, and our sexuality are all the result of our hunter-gatherer minds grappling with a post-industrial world.” I can’t be blamed for the fact that I simply cannot resist a plate of fries or a pie crust when they are sitting right in front of me. The hunter-gatherer in me would KILL – literally! – for that amount of delicious fat.

Also: One reason we can’t look at modern-day hunter-gatherers as a stand-in for what life was like for our early ancestors is that what’s left of today’s foragers are all living in the most marginal places. “Modern forager societies have mostly survived in regions with difficult climatic conditions, and inhospitable terrain that doesn’t lend itself to agriculture.” I’ve always tended to think of hunting-gathering with a big fat “No, thanx!” Agriculture is my favorite invention. When people talk about eating wild foodstuffs, it’s about as appealing to me as dumpster diving. Yay, a handful of fiddleheads, some mushrooms that hopefully don’t poison us; and maybe, if it is exactly the right time of year, some really seedy blackberries! Sounds WONDERFUL! Please, bring on the agriculture already.

But the hunter-gatherers in pre-agricultural times weren’t all trying to make a living on my 3 acres in Vermont. Think about our most fertile agricultural land, our most abundant seacoasts and forests. They lived in the good places. I’m not saying food was as thick on the ground as it is in your intensively cultivated plot of garden, maybe; but then again, maybe it wasn’t far from it, either.

They lived in the good places, and they lived all over the world. Before agriculture, think about it – we were already everywhere. We had an abundance of lifestyles and cultures, just like today. We just didn’t live in towns, or on farms. We all just lived on the land. Like the animals. Because that’s what we are. (  )

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