And his book is a brilliant read. He zips from subject to subject – through thousands of years of human history – alighting on whatever seems to take his fancy but gradually builds up a picture of us as… well as what exactly? As more successful monkeys basically – so successful that we’ve enslaved all the other animals and bent the planet to our will. But whereas sharks and lions evolved over millennia to take their place at the top of the food chain – Harari compares us to ‘banana republic dictators’ who just got here. ‘They came to power very violently and lately so they feel extremely insecure about their position. So all the time they just take more and more power to beef up their position’.
Because in Harari’s view we have no real idea what we want even at the most basic personal level – let alone as a species. ‘Even what people take to be their most personal desires are usually programmed by the imagined order’. There’s nothing ‘natural or obvious’ about taking a holiday abroad he says – by way of example. ‘A chimpanzee alpha male would never think of using his power in order to go on holiday into the territory of a neighbouring chimpanzee band. The elite of ancient Egypt spent their futures building pyramids and having their corpses mummified but none of them thought of going shopping in Babylon’. We’re all victims of the ‘myths of romantic consumerism’ he says.