The Israeli historian and professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is not known for his politeness. He tells it like it is without sensationalizing—“As far as we can tell from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has no meaning” is a classic, as is the oh-so-casual “Homo sapiens as we know them will probably disappear within a century or so”—which is, perhaps, part of the appeal of his highly readable histories of past and future, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014), Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016), and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018). In time for the holidays, Harper Perennial is out with Sapiens: A Graphic History—The Birth of Humankind, the initial volume in a graphic adaptation of Harari’s 2014 book. Here, Harari recommends his favorite books on the subject of humanity’s place in the world, and its relationship with other animals.
Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, by Frans de Waal
This book explores the emotional and social lives of animals. There is plenty of comedy, tragedy, politics, and ethics in its pages, but the heroes and villains are all animals. Reading this book will likely change your view not just of our furrier cousins, but also of human beings and their place in the great chain of being.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert
Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction explores the impact of humans on the rest of the eco-system. Five times in the history of the world, much of life went extinct, due to natural calamities such as an asteroid collision. Now it is happening again, but this time humans are the agent of change and destruction that is re-writing the most basic rules of the game of life.
The Last Whalers: Three Years in the Far Pacific with a Courageous Tribe and a Vanishing Way of Life, by Doug Bock Clark
This book explores the impact of environmental change on humans. Until the late 20th century, the Lamaleran tribe, which lives on the remote island of Lembata, Indonesia, used traditional skills to fish and whale in the nearby ocean, coexisting with whales, rays, and dolphins. Then, within a few decades, the Lamalerans had to face a tsunami of changes brought about by rapid modernization, industrialization, and globalization. The way the tribe coped with these challenges and opportunities poignantly reflects the story of the entire human species.