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Human Societies in Flux: A Comparative Analysis of Upheaval and Sapiens

——Upheaval by Jared Diamond & Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

In the realm of human history, the development of civilizations, and the progression of our species, numerous authors have sought to unravel the enigmatic narrative of our collective existence. Among the prolific works that have captivated readers with their groundbreaking insights, Jared Diamond’s “Upheaval” and Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” stand out as brilliant accomplishments. These two remarkable scholars, each in their unique way, provide distinct perspectives on the intricate tapestry of human history and offer invaluable lessons for our present and future.

Upheaval” and “Sapiens” are works that delve into the complexities of human evolution, societal structures, and the fundamental forces that have shaped our world. Profoundly insightful, both books aim to understand the different paths taken by various societies and cultures across time. Diamond and Harari illustrate how human history has been painted with triumphs and failures, upheavals and adaptations, and revolutions that challenge our deepest convictions.

Jared Diamond, a distinguished polymath, geographer, and historian, gained worldwide acclaim for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” In “Upheaval,” Diamond focuses on exploring how nations have coped with monumental crises throughout history. His analysis examines a range of critical factors like national identity, cultural resilience, political institutions, and societal responses to adversity. By studying the significant crises faced by a handful of nations, Diamond illuminates the intricate interplay between political stability, environmental pressures, and human resilience in driving the course of history.

On the other hand, Yuval Noah Harari, a globally renowned historian and professor, captivates readers with his thought-provoking book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” Harari chronicles the story of the Homo sapiens species, tracing back our origins to the Cognitive Revolution and ultimately questioning the very essence of what it means to be human. In his exploration, Harari unearths how our ability to create myths and cooperate in large numbers has propelled us to be the dominant species on Earth. By weaving together anthropology, biology, and history, Harari offers a fresh and challenging perspective on our collective journey.

Although Diamond and Harari approach the study of human history from distinct angles, both authors share a common objective: to decipher the forces that have shaped the human experience. Their books invite readers to examine the collective human past and reflect on how that understanding can help shape our future. Through their engaging narratives and erudite analysis, both Diamond and Harari compel us to question our assumptions, think critically, and ultimately reveal the extraordinary resilience and fortitude that humanity possesses.

In this comparative study, we embark on an intellectual journey traversing the pages of “Upheaval” and “Sapiens.” By juxtaposing the insights and perspectives presented in these two influential works, we aim to uncover the similarities, disparities, and compelling ideas arising from their respective research. In doing so, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms driving human history, challenge our preconceived notions, and appreciate the profound impact that historical events continue to exert on our lives today.

As we delve into this comparative exploration of “Upheaval” and “Sapiens,” we invite readers to join us in unraveling the complexities of our species. By delving into the depths of our shared past, we embark on a riveting journey that transcends time and allows us to reflect upon the experiences that have brought us to this present moment.

Brief Summary of Two Books

Upheaval by Jared Diamond

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis is a non-fiction book written by Jared Diamond. In this book, Diamond explores how nations can successfully navigate through times of crisis and institutional upheaval by analyzing various case studies.

Drawing from his expertise in geography, anthropology, and history, Diamond examines several countries that have faced significant crises, such as Finland, Chile, Germany, and Japan. He identifies twelve areas of individual and national behavior that contribute to a successful resolution of crises, encompassing aspects like national identity, acknowledging past mistakes, and adapting values.

Diamond provides in-depth analysis of how each country faced its unique challenges and transformed itself in the aftermath of those crises. He explains how Finland managed to emerge from a deep political crisis in the early twentieth century to become a stable and prosperous nation. Likewise, he delves into how Chile overcame political turmoil and economic struggles to become one of Latin America’s most successful countries.

Throughout the book, Diamond emphasizes the importance of national introspection, learning from history, and developing new national narratives. He argues that countries that undergo significant change and adapt to new circumstances are more likely to thrive and overcome crises successfully.

In Upheaval, Jared Diamond offers readers valuable insights into how nations can effectively respond to crises and establish a stable and prosperous future. By examining historical examples and applying these lessons to the present, Diamond provides a roadmap for nations facing significant challenges and seeking a path toward positive transformation.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari provides a comprehensive overview of the history and development of Homo sapiens, or modern humans. Combining insights from various scientific disciplines, cultural studies, and history, the book explores the major events and forces that have shaped and defined humanity from its origins to the present day.

Harari starts with the Cognitive Revolution, occurring around 70,000 years ago, which introduced humans’ ability to create shared myths and imagined realities. This sparked the development of language, cooperation, social structures, and complex cultures that differentiated humans from other species.

Moving forward, Harari explores the Agricultural Revolution, around 12,000 years ago, which saw the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to settled farming communities. This shift led to dramatic changes in human societies, including population growth, the emergence of hierarchies, the birth of cities, and the rise of institutionalized religion.

The book further delves into the impacts of the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, which revolutionized human knowledge and technological progress. Harari examines how these revolutions transformed societies, politics, economies, and even human behavior.

Throughout the book, Harari often questions commonly-held beliefs, challenging readers to reflect on the consequences of human actions and societal structures. He discusses topics such as the impact of imperialism, the rise of capitalism, the ethical dimension of modern developments, and the potential for humanity to shape its own future.

“Sapiens” ultimately aims to provide a historical context for understanding contemporary global issues and offers insights into how the collective actions of humanity have shaped our present reality. Harari concludes by suggesting potential paths for the future, urging readers to consider and make informed decisions about the direction of the human species.

Comparison between Two Books


Similarities in human societies

Both “Upheaval” by Jared Diamond and “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari explore the history and development of human societies from a broad perspective. While each book has its own unique focus and approach, there are several similarities between the two in their analysis of human societies.

1. Historical perspective: Both books adopt a historical lens to understand the trajectory of human societies. They provide insights into the past, studying societies from their origins to their present state, in order to uncover patterns and trends essential for understanding civilizations.

2. The role of geography: Both authors acknowledge the importance of geography in shaping the destiny of societies. Diamond, in “Upheaval,” discusses how geographical factors such as climate, access to resources, and proximity to other civilizations played a critical role in the development and collapse of different societies. Similarly, Harari, in “Sapiens,” emphasizes how geographic factors, such as the availability of fertile lands or access to water, influenced the choices made by early humans and led to the eventual establishment of more complex agricultural societies.

3. Emergence of social constructs: Both books examine how humans have established complex social structures and institutions. Whether through Diamond’s analysis of the impact of national identity and political systems on the fate of nations in “Upheaval,” or Harari’s exploration of the development of concepts like money, religion, and bureaucratic hierarchies in “Sapiens,” both authors highlight how these constructs emerged and shaped the trajectories of human societies.

4. Impact of cultural evolution: Both Diamond and Harari discuss the significance of cultural evolution in shaping human societies. They explore how cultural practices, ideas, and innovations, including technological advancements, have played a role in determining the success or failure of civilizations throughout history. Whether it is the impact of agricultural practices on human settlement patterns and social structures, as examined by Harari, or Diamond’s focus on cultural responses to crises and societal challenges, both authors recognize the vital role of cultural evolution in shaping societies.

5. Reflection on societal challenges: Both books recognize that human societies face various challenges that can potentially lead to upheavals or transformations. Whether it is political instability, economic crises, environmental degradation, or social disparities, both Diamond and Harari address these issues by analyzing past societies to draw lessons and insights relevant to the present and future.

In summary, while “Upheaval” by Jared Diamond and “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari have distinct focuses and premises, they both highlight the importance of historical analysis, geography, social constructs, cultural evolution, and societal challenges in understanding and explaining the development of human societies. These similarities provide readers with a comprehensive perspective on the complexities and factors that have influenced the rise and fall of civilizations throughout history.

Divergences in human societies

Both Upheaval by Jared Diamond and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari are thought-provoking books that delve into the history and development of human societies. While there are some similarities in their themes and conclusions, there are also noteworthy divergences in terms of the perspectives and emphasis placed on certain aspects of human societies.

One notable divergence between the two books is their approaches to analyzing societal upheaval and the factors that contribute to it. In Upheaval, Diamond examines how individual nations have dealt with significant crises throughout history, focusing on a smaller scale and delving into case studies. He explores how countries respond to challenges such as political turmoil, economic collapse, and environmental catastrophes, highlighting the role of national resilience and the effectiveness of crisis management strategies. On the other hand, in Sapiens, Harari takes a broader view and analyzes the overall history of humankind. While he does discuss societal disruptions and transformations, his emphasis lies more on the underlying forces that have shaped human societies across millennia, such as the development of agriculture, the rise of religions, and the impact of technological advancements.

Another divergence lies in their perspectives on the role of geography and environmental conditions in shaping human societies. Diamond, in Upheaval, places great importance on geography, arguing that geographical advantages or disadvantages have had a significant impact on the success or failure of civilizations. He asserts that natural resources, climate, and the presence or absence of geographical barriers have all played crucial roles in shaping the course of history. In contrast, Harari’s Sapiens places less emphasis on geography’s direct impact and instead puts forward the idea that it is human collective imaginations, such as shared myths and beliefs, that have enabled cooperation and societal development. While both authors acknowledge the influence of environment, their differing perspectives highlight a divergence in their analyses.

Moreover, Diamond and Harari offer distinct explanations for the rise and success of human societies. In Upheaval, Diamond emphasizes the importance of institutions, arguing that societies with strong institutions are more likely to thrive and recover from crises. He examines how countries have developed effective leadership, political systems, and cultural norms that promote stability and resilience. On the other hand, Harari’s Sapiens focuses on the power of human cognitive abilities, particularly the capacity to create and believe in fictions, such as money, religion, and political ideologies. He suggests that these shared fictions have enabled large-scale cooperation and the formation of complex societies. Harari’s perspective on the role of collective beliefs diverges significantly from Diamond’s institutional focus.

In conclusion, while both Upheaval by Jared Diamond and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari explore the history and development of human societies, they diverge in their approaches and perspectives. Diamond’s Upheaval examines specific nation-states and their responses to crises, placing strong emphasis on geography and the importance of institutions. In contrast, Harari’s Sapiens takes a broader view of human history, focusing on collective beliefs and shared fictions as the driving forces behind societal development. These divergences provide readers with contrasting insights into the complexities of human societies.


Both books are highly regarded and offer valuable insights into the evolution of human societies. However, the choice of which book is more worthy of reading ultimately depends on individual interests and preferences.

Jared Diamond’s “Upheaval” explores how nations have successfully solved crises in the past, using case studies to analyze factors that determine whether a country will flourish or fail. It focuses on understanding national resilience and the lessons that can be learned from history.

On the other hand, Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” provides a broad overview of the history of Homo sapiens, examining the major milestones that have shaped our species and societies. It delves into a range of captivating topics such as the cognitive revolution, the development of agriculture, and the impact of globalization.

If you are more interested in understanding the challenges faced by nations and how they have overcome them, “Upheaval” may be the more suitable choice. On the contrary, if you are more intrigued by a comprehensive exploration of human history and our species’ unique characteristics, “Sapiens” would be the recommended read.

Ultimately, it might be worthwhile to explore their synopses or read a couple of sample chapters to determine which book aligns better with your specific interests.

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