Thursday, January 13, 2022

Sapiens A brief history of humankind - Review



A Brief History of  



  Yuvai Noah Harari

Reviewed by

 Geoffrey W. Sutton

Sapiens has been reviewed many times since its international debut. So, I’ll just provide a summary and some thoughts from my perspective as a psychologist.

Despite its long reach—all of human history—it’s a relatively quick read because Harari is an engaging writer with a sense of humor and a knack for telling stories that create vivid images of our species wandering about on various continental stages for some 200,000 years. He reviews world history from a global perspective beginning with evolution. There’s not a lot new here for those of us who read similar works. Nevertheless, there were things I did not know and so I am grateful for those tidbits, which may only amount to “wow” trivia if I can remember them.


His subtitle, A Brief History,” provides the clue for what to expect. Harari takes us through history from the speculative beginning to current events. He organizes history into four units having approximately an equal number of chapters—20 altogether.

We grow into creatures with powerful brains—The Cognitive Revolution. We settle down and build in the Agricultural Revolution. Various factors like money and religion help bring people together into megagroups—The Unification of Humankind. Finally, The Scientific Revolution thrusts humans forward with considerable energy that leaves us wondering, what is progress, happiness, and the meaning of life.

I cannot speak to all the disciplines Harari draws on to describe one era or another. There are two aspects of humanity that I have studied more than others—human nature and religion.

I’m wary about making claims about our current behavior patterns linked to supposed evolutionary adaptations to hunting and gathering life on the savannah tens of thousands of years ago. It’s not that I deny evolution its just that so much of human behavior varies greatly within our cultures. Also, in the trek from one revolution to another I’m not always sure about the causes for change despite the evidence that significant changes occurred. I don’t mind reading about ideas but I would prefer they be tempered by a humble stance.

“There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

(p. 28)  Harari

One critical aspect of the drama of human nature that’s missing is a consideration of the role of human emotions in motivating human behavior related to major historical events. Harari emphasizes cognition in the beginning and refers to happiness near the end of this work. But there is no entry in the index for such life-changing expressions of anger or rage (e.g., Potegal & Novaco, 2010), jealousy (e.g., Hart & Legerstree, 2010) , or revenge (e.g., Price, 2009).

The second area that strikes me as shallow is his assumptions about religion. Others have noticed this too. How people formed religions and how religions function has been of considerable interest to psychologists for about a century ever since William James’ seminal work. Of course, there are considerable contributions from related disciplines like sociology, anthropology, history, and religious studies. I don’t deny the importance of religion to culture and the regulation of society but Harari’s definition doesn’t fit the view I share with psychologists that religion has a lot to do with a meaningful life and offers positive and negative coping strategies when confronting life’s conundrums (e.g., see Paloutzian & Parks, 2013. I realize Harari is an atheist but that does not mean he is exempt thinking more deeply about the role of religion in human experience. 


Sapiens offers a quick and well-written introduction to world history for those who haven’t had a course in a long time or have more than a passing interest in the major activities that occupied our species for thousands of years. It likely won’t satisfy those wanting a more in-depth analysis of historic trends. 

Harari will also stimulate some thinking about the importance of such matters as scientific discoveries, economics, religion, and other major factors affecting our lives. I suggest approaching Sapiens as a scientist looking for interesting ideas that can be tested by gathering more evidence elsewhere.

 Harari, Y.N. (2018). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. New York: HarperCollins.

 Sapiens is available on     Google


and elsewhere

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Think Again- Learning to Rethink - A review


Think Again

The Power of Knowing  

What You Don’t Know


  Adam Grant

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton


ThinkAgain works. Throughout the book, I found myself rethinking some of my assumptions and learning new applications of familiar and new psychological findings. In many ways, Adam Grant challenges us to rethink what we are doing at work, school, and even in relationships. It’s a book that deserves a place in any syllabus challenging students to think and rethink their assumptions and to develop confident humility. But Think Again also belongs in discussion groups in the workplace.

On a technical note, Grant divides the book into four parts followed by an Epilogue, and a more or less set of summary statements presented as Actions for Impact. The chapters are introduced with a poignant story. As the theme of a chapter unfolds, we encounter more stories and illustrations that help us appreciate the author’s point. You’ll find it’s like taking a course from a master lecturer with the added bonus that you can pause and think about the points. The notes are extensive and the index, comprehensive. Including the end matter, it’s only 307 pages but the conclusion ends on page 243.

A Brief Summary

There’s a lot to unpack in this book. I’ve focused on some of the salient points.

Part 1: Individual Rethinking

We learn about three roles we may take in arguing our opinions; however, Grant wants us to think like scientists, which is a theme repeated throughout the text. When we adopt the scientist role, we begin with doubt but have hypotheses. We collect data from experiments, which enables us to discover usable knowledge. Now about those other roles. As preachers we present our ideas as gospel and argue against different views by calling them heresies. As politicians, we are swayed by popular opinion instead of facts. As prosecutors, we are passionate about destroying other ideas instead of discovering truth. Throughout part 1 we learn to appreciate conflict as long as we are focused on information about how to improve our work on the tasks at hand rather than defending against interpersonal threats.

Part 2: Interpersonal Rethinking

Here the focus changes on how we can interact with others in a positive manner by framing disagreements as debates and discovering ways to influence people who resist new and effective ways to solve problems. People are not easily persuaded by logical arguments with a long list of reasons why we should support a particular opinion. Researchers find that the weaker reasons gain the focus of those who want to reject the main idea. Thus, presenting a few strong reasons is often the best approach.

Also, it turns out that presenting two sides of an argument is not the best way to help others rethink a strongly held position. What works? Sometimes, the best method is to present several alternatives—that is, move from simplicity to complexity.

Catchy quote: “What doesn’t sway us can make our beliefs stronger.”

Part 3: Collective Rethinking

Grant encourages us to think about out community and promote lifelong learning. We learn how to promote rethinking at work by creating a psychologically safe setting where conflicting opinions can be offered without fear of reprisal. We find an example of a teacher who encourages children to rework their original projects based on peer and expert feedback. And we are reminded of the importance of rewriting drafts.

Part 4: Conclusion

Grant encourages us to rethink our careers and plans rather than pursuing a vocation or life choice that isn’t working out. The problem with persistence in a failed enterprise is known as the “escalation of commitment.”


I began this post by recommending the book for students and people in the workplace. I can easily recommend it to retirees like myself. It’s rarely too late to rethink a course of action by examining the data of our lives and making new plans. As I write, the pandemic of 2019 as thwarted a number of plans. I’ve made plans based on what I know at this time. Flexibility is built into offers of wonderful adventures I can book. What strikes me is the importance of flexibility when pursuing a course of action.

I strongly affirm Adam’s theme of learning to think like a scientist. In graduate school, we were to be scientists first before applying scientific knowledge to helping people. The culmination of our work was to be an original experiment following strict rules of protocol. As a clinician, I encouraged patients to think about their beliefs, assumptions, and how they could rethink the troubling events in their lives. After years as a clinician, I taught research and statistics to undergraduate and graduate students. Many were fearful of statistics. Yet, many developed a sense of pride when it came to presenting their end of semester projects—they had learned how to discover knowledge rather than rely on mere opinion.

It may be an oversimplification of dealing with information by considering four roles (scientist, preacher, prosecutor, and politician), but I see his point and find myself in agreement. There is a nuance. In some settings, preaching and prosecuting may make sense. We live in a time when scientific knowledge presented by scientists is treated with cynicism rather than skepticism. My skepticism probably began with my father who was highly critical of opinions other than his own. Philosophy courses helped me develop more cogent arguments as I learned to identify weaknesses in my own opinions. I value skepticism but not cynicism. It’s good to analyze news reports, advertisements, educational theories, politician’s promises, history books, and medical advice. However, rejection of expert views in favor of opinions by those lacking expertise can lead to disasters in relationships, health, and governance.

The Epilogue could use some rethinking. Perhaps a few questions could send us on our way.

About the author

Adam Grant  is an organizational psychologist at Wharton. He earned his PhD from the University of Michigan.

About the reviewer

GeoffreyW. Sutton is a retired psychologist and professor of psychology who continues to write about psychology. He earned his PhD from the University of Missouri.

Book Reference

Grant, A. (2021). Think again: the power of knowing what you don’t know. New York: Penguin Random House.


Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON  


Also, consider connecting with me on  

    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     

  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

 Adam Grant - Think Again - insights by the author on YouTube

An interview on YouTube about "Think Again"