gmhTODAY 15 gmhToday July Aug 2017 - Page 70

BOOK CLUB BEAT with Sherry Hemingway A t the dawn of man, at least six species of humans walked the earth. We homo sapiens, had brothers and sisters. Where did they go? How did our one species come to dominate the earth, at the expense of all other life forms – plants, animals, and environment. Are we better for the domination? Can humans understand humankind? How are we hard-wired to achieve or fail? Can we be truly happy? Is peace possible? What is the future of our race? Are we running out of time? So many questions posed and explored in one book. In “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” in 443 pages, Yuval Noah Harari tackles every aspect of the history and future of humans. His non-fiction, inter- national bestseller tries to makes sense of a world that often makes none. To date the book has been translated into 20 languages, an indicator of its broad appeal across the species. Sapiens is so readable, challenging and fast-paced that it defies being labeled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Author Yuval Noah Harari anthropology. Harari takes the reader on a journey from prehistoric humans “with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish,” and moves through the eras of man until it is trans- formed into the “master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem.” After homo sapiens apparently eliminated all other human species, what eventually set us above other life forms was our cognitive abilities. We were hunters and gatherers who could learn, remember and communicate, and we used those qualities to grow and change. Harari postulates that the Agricultural Revolution and wheat was a “farming plan that backfired.” It was the beginning of “The Luxury Trap” that plagues us today. This “miscalculation” led to more children and thus the need for more food, settlements that led to the rise of infectious diseases, man’s vulnerability to drought, and even crime. Bulging granaries tempted thieves and led to the building of walls and guard duty. The author warns, “the pursuit of an easier life brings hardship.” For eight years, dinner, wine and books have been the agenda for Book It B.A.B.E., an acronym for Bay Area Book Enthusiasts. Members from Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Los Gatos and San Jose are (Front Row l-r) Clara Woods, Karen France, Jackie Sakamoto, Penny Barnes; (Back Row l-r) Tina Coghlin, Nancy Miller, Linda Ettl, Dawn Miller and Melanie Gilbert. Favorite Books “Take Me With You” by Catherine Ryan Hyde “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty “Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd” by Jim Fergus 70 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY/AUGUST 2017 One of history’s iron laws, according to Harari, “Luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.” He looks back at how it played out in early society and takes us to the present and how we live with that law today. The slower parts of the book are about the history we know best – money, empires, religion, science, capitalism and industry. Readers who wander off at this point will miss the true gems at the end of the book: what makes humans happy, and the future of homo sapiens. Harari asks: “But are we happier? Did the wealth humankind accumulated over the last five centuries translate into a new- found contentment?” He makes the point that we have studied just about everything but human happiness, and wonders what would happen if serious research were to disprove the value of everything we now hold as progress. He observes, “Given the proven human propensity for misusing power, it seems naïve to believe that the more clout people have, the happier they will be.” We can only speculate whether this is offset by research that says family and community seem to have more impact on our happiness than money and health. How much longer will sapiens rule the Earth? The answer may lie with the fact that for 4 billion years every organism evolved by natural selection. Everything adapted naturally. Now scientists in labs are making the stuff of what once was science fiction: Biological engineering, genetic engineering, reviving extinct creatures, bionic life and engineering inorganic beings. Natural selection is being bypassed. “We are on the threshold of heaven and hell, moving nervously from the gateway of one to the anteroom of the other, says Harari. “History has still not decided where we will end up, and a string of coincidences might send us rolling in either direction.” Reading Sapiens brings to mind Shakespeare’s line, “What a piece of work is a man!” He didn’t mean it as a compliment, and Sapiens implies that we likely do not deserve one.