Yuval Noah Harari on The Story of Sapiens, Forging the Skill of Awareness, and The Power of Disguised Books (#477)

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“As a species, we are very good in acquiring more power, but we are not good at all in translating power into happiness.”

— Yuval Noah Harari

Prof. Yuval Noah Harari (@harari_yuval) is a historian and bestselling author who is considered one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals today. His popular books—Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century— have sold 27.5 million copies in 60 languages. They have been recommended by Barack Obama, Chris Evans, Janelle Monáe, Bill Gates, and many others. The Guardian has credited Sapiens with revolutionizing the nonfiction market and popularizing “brainy books.”

He is also behind Sapiens: A Graphic History, a new graphic novel series in collaboration with comics artists David Vandermeulen (co-writer) and Daniel Casanave (illustrator). This beautifully illustrated series is a radical reworking of his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. The series will be published in four volumes starting in fall 2020 with Volume 1, The Birth of Humankind, which is out now.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#477: Yuval Noah Harari on The Story of Sapiens, The Power of Awareness, and The Brilliance of Bone-Conduction Headphones

This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs. Whether you are looking to hire now for a critical role or thinking about needs that you may have in the future, LinkedIn Jobs can help. LinkedIn screens candidates for the hard and soft skills you’re looking for and puts your job in front of candidates looking for job opportunities that match what you have to offer.

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This episode is brought to you by AllformIf you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you’ve probably heard me talk about Helix Sleep mattresses, which I’ve been using since 2017. They also launched a company called Allform that makes premium, customizable sofas and chairs shipped right to your door—at a fraction of the cost of traditional stores. You can pick your fabric (and they’re all spill, stain, and scratch resistant), the sofa color, the color of the legs, and the sofa size and shape to make sure it’s perfect for you and your home.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with someone who lives to share their fascination with history? Listen to my conversation with Hardcore History‘s own Dan Carlin in which we discuss finding one’s ‘radio’ voice, podcasting as a full-time job, the upsides of masochism, touchy subjects to avoid, creativity, and much more.

#20: Dan Carlin - Hardcore History, Building Podcasts, Creativity, and More


  • Connect with Yuval Noah Harari:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube


  • Does Yuval live on a moshav, or is this just another example of the Wikipedia echo effect? [06:34]
  • Yuval practices vipassana meditation for two hours every day and takes an annual meditation retreat for a month or two. But how did this dedication to the practice begin? [07:39]
  • Six months after this first experience with vipassana meditation, what changed for Yuval? [12:21]
  • How did Sapiens evolve from Yuval’s history lectures at Hebrew University to a sleepy Amazon self-publication of 2,000 to a worldwide sensation published in 60 languages to an audience of over 20 million (and counting)? [14:45]
  • What are the advantages to developing a book from lecture notes (as Peter Thiel and Blake Masters also did for Zero to One)? [18:53]
  • How did Yuval come to be so cognizant of suffering, and in what ways does he see it fitting into the larger picture of human history? [21:16]
  • On the test of suffering as a way to sort the real from the imaginary stories we collectively tell ourselves. [26:15]
  • Why money, from antiquity to the modern day, is really a story about trust. [31:20]
  • In what ways has life changed for Yuval since his unexpected elevation to fame as a bestselling author, and how does it compare to what it might have been like if he’d remained an obscure medieval history professor? [35:40]
  • If Yuval were superhuman, what would be his superpower — and why? [38:57]
  • What kind of advice can Yuval’s close friends rely on him to give? [41:23]
  • What would Yuval’s friends say is his superpower? [43:27]
  • How does Yuval relate to happiness and how it contrasts with suffering and misery? [44:46]
  • Has Yuval made any decisions or adopted any frameworks that have helped him preserve some modicum of personal space and privacy? [47:15]
  • Thinkers and writers from history who have influenced Yuval. [51:01]
  • Why art moves us most when it expresses externally the inner feelings and thoughts for which we have no vocabulary — and should serve as a reminder that it’s unfair to expect others to understand us fully when we don’t necessarily understand ourselves fully. [52:41]
  • On Brave New World1984, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as philosophy, and how Yuval listens to audiobooks while swimming. [55:42]
  • Is Black Mirror philosophy or prophecy? [1:02:23]
  • Why Yuval thinks the movie Her raises more interesting philosophical questions about the future of AI than, say, The Terminator. [1:04:05]
  • Does Yuval think we’re close to the point where AI will demonstrate the difficulties posed by the word “understand” and the concept of understanding? [1:08:06]
  • How and why did Yuval decide to take Sapiens into the realm of the graphic novel with Sapiens: A Graphic History, and how has it allowed him and his co-conspirators (David Vandermeulen, and Daniel Casanave) to rethink and teach history in an unconventional way? [1:10:40]
  • How did Yuval and his team balance scientific objectivity with political correctness when bringing Sapiens into a visual format? [1:16:03]
  • Sapiens: A Graphic History will eventually be a four-volume set. How soon can we expect to see the next three, what does the creation process look like, and what do Yuval, David, and Daniel hope the world will take away from the series? [1:22:50]
  • What is Yuval’s mission statement? [1:24:29]
  • What does Yuval see as the most important global problems facing humanity right now, and where does he see humanity going in the next two centuries? [1:26:40]
  • Of our possible fates, which worries Yuval the most? [1:34:12]
  • When reflecting on the darker aspects of past, present, and potential future, what keeps Yuval going? [1:35:56]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:38:01]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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12 Replies to “Yuval Noah Harari on The Story of Sapiens, Forging the Skill of Awareness, and The Power of Disguised Books (#477)”

  1. Really enjoyed this podcast, will listen again. Heard about Sapiens but hadn’t picked up yet… will probably grab on Audible first. Huge fan on Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (the book).

    Made note to grab Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor… too bad not available to listen.

    The comment re: smart appliances that learn from the owners mood, likes/dislikes and react accordingly sounds a lot disturbing. How does that sort of technology affect spontaneity? Should that be the case? Who writes that technology? I believe in tech but also believe in better humans (Sapiens). If we keep making tech to “solve” problems but don’t work improving ourselves, we’ll have better tech to be more destructive and not just in the instance of manmade wars.

    The comment re: the same sex loving Neanderthals threw me off a loop and was funny.

    There was a lot that I wanted to write… but didn’t make notes. Agree re: the yearning to be understood… that’s probably a universal need. We should also seek to understand… then we won’t have the need for the smart machine that uses algorithms to get to know its owners and responding accordingly.

    Last… fascinated by Turing! Maybe would’ve had a chance with my name being Lawrence (and short haircut).

    Thank you for this.

  2. Incredible podcast that tackled many axes of life. The discussion made me wonder about the whole timeline of the universe and our current extremely limited position in it. We think we are so important whereas we really aren’t at the scale of the universe. I loved the partings thoughts: “Change is the only certainty”.

  3. A really great podcast. Thank you Tim and Prof Yuval for sharing such indepth commentary. Just one slight comment on what was mentioned about Black Mirror” Nose Dive ” -As a matter of fact China’s Social Credit System preceded Black Mirror Nosedive episode and since the episode was few years later Nosedive is merely indicativeIve the early stages of China Social Credit System and not in anyway the reality of it today. With a sophisticated financial banking system and use of fintech China has evolved way ahead of how we can understand how technology can be used to keep track of citzens finances.

  4. Hi Tim! I’m a huge fan of your podcast and books, which have inspired me to make my new song and music video: “Resilience”, which I’ve placed in the URL box Hope you like it and will share it in an upcoming #5BulletFriday to uplift and inspire people during these trying times. Thanks!

  5. Hi there

    Don’t take this the wrong way but is there a way to make the advertisements slightly shorter/less busy in your newsletters? If you need more words to name and explain all your sponsors and special offers than to describe the actual content of your show something’s off, don’t you think?
    I do get that you need to finance your company but it’s just too much in my opinion.

    Maybe something worth considering in the future, I don’t think readers particularly enjoy the way it’s currently done.

    Thanks for your consideration!

    1. totally agree, completely off putting, perhaps its an American thing to always lever off success, surely TF industries has enough benjamins

  6. This was another very nice interview Tim! A friend of mine read his book, and he was talking about it for a while. So I immediately linked the writer with the book.

    It also shows how good ideas need time to grow. His first title of the book sold few copies and after making a change in the strategies, he managed to become famous.

    I am thinking how meditation can be applied or thought in schools, maybe this will help us to be less divided and to try to invest more time in understanding other points of view.
    You should have an interview with Eckhart Tolle as well!

  7. interesting to hear the importance of extended meditation retreats to yuval’s annual planning. i know these retreats have been significant events for you as well, tim. given the limitations on the typical retreat centers (vipassana most notably), are there other resources for those interested in participating in an extended meditation retreat?

  8. Having sat many Vipassna retreats and having my life changed deeply by them, having been involved in the management of one of the biggest meditation centers in the West, I have mostly very good things to say both about the meditation technique taught there, the structure of the organization, ethical conduct of people involved, healing and positive transformation brought by this practice.

    However, as I was reading “Sapiens”, I couldn’t believe that this was writing of an assistant teacher in this very meditation tradition. Logical fallacies every 2-3 pages, refuted or controversial theories in anthropology and archaeology presented as “facts”, self-contradictory materialism, depiction of human life as a cruel struggle for racial dominance… The writing style is accessible and compelling though, and young people untrained in logic/critical thinking seem to be gulping up these ideas, endorsed by the oligarchs of today. Calling subatomic particles “real” and justice or love – “fiction” means that the author is either guilty of deliberate ideological subversion or simply be better off enrolling in Philosophy 101 before publishing his works. Apparently meditation without reason is a blind and dangerous alley, after all.