As non-fiction goes this is right up there with the best. I can hardly imagine reading anything that was more fascinating. For me the study of humans and where we came from has always seemed such a high yield topic for getting that dopamine rush of understanding.
The resounding beauty of this book is the voice with which he explains society’s institutions. He really makes you understand them objectively, like an outsider looking in. He shows you where they originated and developed: in the cognitive revolution and agricultural revolution respectively. How they’re “myths” that form an intersubjective reality to bind us together. This would otherwise be impossible in such high populations. Yet these myths of institutions have become studied deeply, layer upon layer. Exacted through numbers. They’ve become the fabric for much of life. We’re the fish in the fishbowl that can’t comprehend water.
I like that he began from the very beginning. Physics. Then chemistry. Then biology. And by the end he had covered what might be expected from the future of humanity. Really venturesome ideas that aren’t apparent today at all; such as genetically engineering super humans which don’t share our failures. Like greed, hatred or perpetual discontent. He by no means skipped on the philosophical discussion of these new areas either, going the extra mile like this are what I believe earns a book rating that fifth star. I presume his other book Homo Deus covers the futurism aspect in greater detail and I look forward to reading it.
Some things that stuck with me after reading it were：
- The cognitive revolution is what occurred in the human mind to give us our intellect, including the ability to communicate and pass knowledge down the generations
- The agricultural revolution sparked writing, marriage, class system etc
- Total number of civilisations is decreasing as they merge into larger ones – trend towards globalism
- Money, empire and religion are what first “globalised” the world
- Capitalism and science are basically why Europe became most developed and conquered the world. Capitalism liked empire
- Expected economic growth is a recent phenomenon but it underpins the modern economy and financial system (Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations). Constant growth becomes necessary to keep functioning properly because why borrow or invest otherwise?
- Constant growth of demand requires consumeristic society and culture. It permeates our minds and controls our behaviour in profound ways
- The market has replaced the family/community for meeting most of the needs of individuals: it demands individualism though
- The poor have a consumerist ethic but the rich have an investment ethic, two sides of the coin
- People may not be any happier now than in the Middle Ages, because of expectations, beliefs about an afterlife etc. What’s the point of progress without happiness?
- Mathematics has brought exactness into life, hence why they teach it to everyone. Not a priori knowledge apparently
- Standardised time replaced natural time and regional times. First standardised time was in Greenwich, England. Used initially in factories, then schools and shops naturally followed suit. In this way time is an extension of capitalism? Now time is incredibly exact, virtually inescapable.