Here we are, then, with our second volume of a graphic interpretation of Yuval Noah Harari’s epic, bestselling nonfiction work, Sapiens – the book of which was subtitled ‘a brief history of humankind’. Given that this is the second volume of (at least) three, and that each book so far clocks in at about 250 pages, we can rest assured that the graphic version will be a mite longer than the original book. Which is probably to be expected.
This time around we are concerned with ‘The Pillars of Civilization’, by which we mean: how Homo Sapiens moved from being a nomadic sort of people to staying more or less in the same place, rearing animals and raising crops and developing bureaucracies and systems of money and language and, eventually, war – with the likes of famine, disease and inequality not far behind.
Harari is a humanist in the Vonnegut mode and so the leisurely stroll through Sapiens (Harai is a character in the book and a lot of the ideas are opened up to a sort of conversational esprit de corps, whereby opposing views are offered, debated and usually firmly put to bed) feels like an enjoyable perambulation in the company of people who can see the wood for the trees.
Last time around, when we reviewed the first volume of this book, we were (we now think) too quick to pass this off as a book for teenagers, a way to get the ideas formerly enclosed within a potential offputting serious and weighty book into a comic book that looks and feels like the kinds of comic books used to teach people French when I was a kid (many many moons ago). What David Vandermeulen and David Casanave are doing here feels more than a little subversive.
Look at how breezy we’re being, they say. Why, how could anyone take offense at the light and humorous way we’re discussing the fact that “all human societies are built on fictions”? Hahaha, we can’t imagine anyone would have a problem with the way that we admit “one of the few iron laws of history is that every imagined hierarchy disowns its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable”. What anxious group of parents wouldn’t want their children to hear “What it means to be a Christian or Spanish or even a man or a woman depends on the stories people believe. It’s changed many times in the past, and will keep changing in the future. You won’t find the truth by killing people who disagree with you – you’ll just sink into ignorance.”
All of which makes us very glad that David Vandermeulen and David Casanave have embarked on this lofty crusade to ‘do’ Sapiens in comic form. We got a big kick out of Volume 1 and Volume 2 and we are heartily looking forward to Volume 3.
Any Cop?: If you want your eyes opening to history that stretches back a little further than the stained pages of your newspaper, you could do a lot worse than splash out on Sapiens (in either form).