top of page
  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Unstoppable Us Volume 1: How Humans Took Over the World by Yuval Noah Harari

How helpful: historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari has rewritten his revelatory, bestselling book about our species - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - for a younger audience.

My 11-year-old lapped it up, and even as an adult, I really enjoyed reading it too. At 189 pages, this handsome hardback is slightly longer than your average non-fiction picture book, but it makes the meaty material more digestible, being broken up into chapters and illustrated throughout.

Harari skilfully makes events from tens of thousands of years ago relatable to kids today, like when he points out how when kids have a fear of a monster under their bed, that’s an evolutionary hangover from when we really did have to fear lions or snakes sneaking up on us in the night.

I also like how he positions the distinction between Sapiens and Neanderthals - namely, our ability to tell stories and cooperate with one another in large numbers - as being Sapien’s “superpower”. It’s fascinating to reflect upon the fact that in living our lives today, we lack the ability to be truly self-sustainable, relying on the products and technologies of others’ inventions - whether from near or afar - in order to survive.

From our ability to create tools, make fire and cook food; to the inhabitants of Flores Island in Indonesia, where people gradually grew smaller over time (no more than three feet tall and weighing about 25kg) due to the conditions of their environment; to how we killed off so many animals wherever we travelled - mammoths, moa, mastodons… so many fascinating facts and points to ponder.

Reading about the day-to-day lives of Sapiens, you can’t help but feel a twinge of envy: once their foraging was complete - a few hours of work each morning - they had the rest of the day to themselves. Sure, they had to watch out for ferocious animals, but at least they weren’t working themselves in a tizz just to pay off their mortgages and being at the mercy of a supermarket duopoly; modern life in the western world can sometimes feel like a slightly elevated form of subsistence living.

Harari has a sense of humour too: when examining Sapien’s storytelling abilities, he has a dig at the modern invention of corporations (“one of the most interesting games grown-ups play”), using McDonalds as an example, which will undoubtedly give food for thought for budding philosophists.

Every human should know where we came from. My son and I look forward to future volumes.

Reviewer: Stacey Anyan

Penguin Random House


bottom of page