Friday, October 13, 2017


Harper, 2014, 443 pages
I was on a long waiting list despite the many copies at the Austin Public Library. When I was done, I could not renew the checkout because other people were waiting. Gratefully, I did not pay for the book. Despite (or perhaps indicative of) its runway popularity, it is shallow and facile, drawn from second-hand sources and not well integrated in its presentations.

Harari failed to correctly explain the origin of writing, the origin of counting, the origin of money, and the origin of coinage.  They are all tightly bound. In every case, his supporting citations point to other popularizers, rather than validated peer-reviewed academic publications. So, he gets a lot of the details wrong. From those he builds his attractive and erroneous narrative. Finally, like me and other bloggers, he is a synthesizer, collecting and republishing ideas that he likes without actually challenging any of those claims for their want of proof. 

One such assertion is that the agricultural revolution was not worth the price. Domestication of wheat brought longer working hours and slavery. It actually brought malnutrition, and set the stage for periodic starvation never known to hunter-gatherers. I reviewed Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization by Richard Manning (North Point Press,  2004 ISBN: 0865476225) for the Objectivist discussion site, Rebirth of Reason, here  in 2006 and later in 2010 here.  I wrote: "Among Manning's many points is that the "surplus" usually went to a handful of unproductive people, priests and nobles.  Moreover, as I pointed out in my original review, the nobles themselves hunted -- which they denied to those who were bound to the cultivating fields.  Nobles did not suffer a steady diet of grain.  When times were good, they ate well, a variety -- another point Jacobs made about city life -- with lots of fresh meat." It is an interesting fact to consider. But Harari just stops there. He does not see strawberries in January. Cutting off our food supply is integral to his thesis, which includes disdain for liberal humanism. Harari advocates for the postmodern anti-industrial revolution. 


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