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

Illustration via 99designs

“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!

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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.


  • Connect with Yuval Noah Harari:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube


Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Does Yuval live on a moshav, or is this just another example of the Wikipedia echo effect?
  • 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?
  • Six months after this first experience with vipassana meditation, what changed for Yuval?
  • 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)?
  • What are the advantages to developing a book from lecture notes (as Peter Thiel and Blake Masters also did for Zero to One)?
  • 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?
  • On the test of suffering as a way to sort the real from the imaginary stories we collectively tell ourselves.
  • Why money, from antiquity to the modern day, is really a story about trust.
  • 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?
  • If Yuval were superhuman, what would be his superpower — and why?
  • What kind of advice can Yuval’s close friends rely on him to give?
  • What would Yuval’s friends say is his superpower?
  • How does Yuval relate to happiness and how it contrasts with suffering and misery?
  • Has Yuval made any decisions or adopted any frameworks that have helped him preserve some modicum of personal space and privacy?
  • Thinkers and writers from history who have influenced Yuval.
  • 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.
  • On Brave New World, 1984, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as philosophy, and how Yuval listens to audiobooks while swimming.
  • Is Black Mirror philosophy or prophecy?
  • Why Yuval thinks the movie Her raises more interesting philosophical questions about the future of AI than, say, The Terminator.
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • How did Yuval and his team balance scientific objectivity with political correctness when bringing Sapiens into a visual format?
  • 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?
  • What is Yuval’s mission statement?
  • 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?
  • Of our possible fates, which worries Yuval the most?
  • When reflecting on the darker aspects of past, present, and potential future, what keeps Yuval going?
  • Parting thoughts.


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 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.