“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”

How to Use this Lesson


  1. Start by listening to the podcast episode.
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  3. Listen again while reading the transcript.
  4. Hover over the underlined words to see their definiton.

Hello there, Kevin here with another episode of the Feel Good English podcast; the only podcast that is helping you become more fluent in English and more fluent in life, at the same time.

Today we're going to talk about history, something I don't do very often here on the Feel Good English podcast, but this book that I’ve recently read is very interesting and I wanted to share something different with you, very interesting ideas on the history of humans, going all the way back three hundred thousand years, three hundred thousand years.

I'm going to talk about five main changes, transitions that happened during our evolution that has led us to common times.

If this is interesting to you I would highly recommend searching out the book we're going to talk about today which is called "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind." The author of this book is Yuval Noah Harari.

I'm going to talk about some of the key concepts from the book to give you an idea of what it's about and also, of course, to help you build your English knowledge, teaching you some new vocabulary, phrasal verbs, expressions and whatever may come about. Hope you enjoy this episode. Now let's get into the lesson on "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind."


So the first humans, the first species of humans appeared around two point five million years ago in East Africa. Two point five million years, two and a half million years ago.

Now I don't want to be controversial here if you have different religious views that's totally okay, I'm talking about the book here, so hopefully, you're open to the ideas here.

Anyways, so it wasn't until three hundred thousand years ago that the modern humans, homo sapiens first appeared. This is when humans had bigger brains, they could walk upright as opposed to hunched over ( hunch over ); they used tools and they were more social, so the things that separate us from apes.

The first big transition that happened is what he calls in the book a Cognitive Revolution. This is when the brain capabilities of humans, homo sapiens, expanded quite a bit, they got a lot larger and humans were able to outperform the rest of the other species.

They'd started developing communities, better tools, and techniques, and this allowed them to find resources, food, shelter, things like this in harsh environments and where other less evolved, less cognitively evolved species would die out because they couldn't find the resources, they weren't smart enough to continue to survive.

This also allowed humans to start venturing out into other parts of the land, to search out more pleasant places to live. They went from Africa and they went into Europe, Asia, America, even all the way down into Australia.

During this cognitive revolution they developed language; language was vital. If you found somewhere that was full of food, you needed to go back and be able to tell your friends and family where that food was so they could go find it themselves. Or you could just tell your best friends, your favorite people so they secretly could go find that food and not share it with the others. So language helped you be able to communicate about things that helped you survive. If there was a big dinosaur coming to attack, you could tell your friends about it; that's not correct, dinosaurs were long gone at this point, but you get the idea.

Another big thing language did is it allowed humans to talk about abstract ideas and to connect over ideas. In the book, they call these “Common myths”. Common myths are things like gods, history, stories and religion. So by sharing their ideas about religion, communities were formed, they were formed over common beliefs.

The next big revolution, big transition is called the Agricultural Revolution; agricultural, dealing with plants and growing things in farming basically.

Before this revolution, humans lived a nomadic lifestyle; they would hunt and gather, hunt and gather. They would go hunt for food and gather plants and fruits and things to eat, so they were constantly moving because the animals would move and they would eat all the vegetation in a specific area.

But about twelve thousand years ago, only twelve thousand years ago, that's not too long ago, there was the Agricultural Revolution where homo sapiens stopped relying on hunting and gathering and began to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. And only ten thousand years ago basically all humankind had settled into this agricultural lifestyle.

Something interesting he talks about in the book is this was the creation of work, and deciding to become farmers and to create all of our food forced us to work all day, from dawn till dusk, as opposed to just a few hours of hunting.

Imagine the days when you'd wake up in the morning, or you'd wake up whenever you want or I guess when people were being loud or there were scary animals around you; but you'd wake up, you would go find food you'd go hunt for food if you didn't have any and then your day would be done, that's it.

You'd eat your food, that's all you had to really do, versus, nowadays you wake up in the morning, you work all day and it's a never-ending cycle. This started way back in this agricultural revolution when humans thought it would be smart to create their own food as opposed to going out and hunting it which created long workdays. Dammit, why did they have to do that do that?

So, what happened from this? Well because humans, homo sapiens were able to create more food than they needed and to sustain their population from a constant food supply, the population exploded. And how did societies cope with such a population boom?

Well, one of the ways is they invented money. Before the agricultural revolution, life was pretty simple; if you didn't have meat, you'd ask somebody for their meat or you'd fight for their meat and you'd eat and vice versa; they'd come ask for you for meat, or they'd fight you for your meat. So pretty straight forward. With the development of agriculture, you could trade and they started something called the barter system. B-A-R-T-E-R, to barter is to trade, I give you this, you give me that. I give you some meat, you give me some clothes. Alright, so that's what's that's what bartering is.

But this could only go so far because at some point you wouldn't have anything to trade for something else. If you had meat and somebody else had clothes, but you had enough clothes and that's all they could give you, well why would you want more clothes? So they wouldn't get your meat; so what did humans come up with? They came up with money.

Not going to go into the details of how money started but as you can see, there came a point where there needed to be something to trade that was always valuable. So if you wanted to give somebody a piece of meat they could give you something back that you could use in a larger variety of ways.

At this point, you can see why there was a need for laws; laws needed to be created so people could behave in appropriate ways. You also needed authority so somebody could enforce these laws, enforce a law, E-N-F-O-R-C-E. To enforce a law is to make somebody obey that law.

So this is where hierarchal societies were born, hierarchal with a king, queen, these types of things. There needed to be people to enforce laws. Taxes, things like this were created as well and very interesting here, how did these kings and queens and these emperors get people to obey their laws. Maybe people didn't care; they were punished in a certain way, maybe they didn't matter that much because they were going to die anyway.

This is where religion became very important. If people accepted the ruler as also connected with God, and God had the same will as the ruler had, well they would probably accept these laws and rules more easily. So as the empires spread their religions, theses specific religions to these empires spread as well.

This is why obviously religion is regional. Where culture started, where empires started is where specific religions started and now they have spread out around the world, quite interesting. But religion is pretty much based on where you're born, right? You're born into a specific religion, even these days; if your family is that religion that's what you are.

Next big revolution here, the scientific revolution. So up until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, sixteenth and seventeenth-century history, interesting point here; the sixteenth century would be the years 1500 until 1599; so the year 1554 is in the sixteenth century, the year 1694 is in the seventeenth century. Got it?

Up until this point, people pretty much thought gods chose their fate, gods and the empires that were connected with these gods basically controlled your fate, your destiny, what was going to happen with you, so people were quite pessimistic because they didn't feel they had much control over their future.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century attitudes began to change and the scientific revolution swept through Europe. People started to think how they could actually improve society through science; experimenting, observation, looking at the sky, developing medicine, physics, how to make things work better, started changing things.

And the benefits of science became very attractive, so European governments started to finance and invest in scientists and explorers to go around the world looking for new materials, resources to make them more powerful.

During this time European economies grew a lot as a result of the exploration and scientific innovation. This is when a lot of the Europeans colonized the rest of the world. Maybe you're from one of those European-colonized countries.

And those are the major revolutions you could say that have developed our society. I thought it was very interesting to put it into perspective and into big shifts of how we developed as humans, as homo sapiens. Looking back at all of this history in the last tens of thousands of years, today we are as comfortable as we have ever been.

But at the end of the book, he starts talking about happiness; we've never been more comfortable than we are right now, humans are extremely comfortable relatively to where they used to be. But does that mean we're happier, or more satisfied? All of this scientific evolution, scientific progress and evolution, has it made us happier as humans? Are we better off?

He also brings up the fact that most of the wealth and money that is in this world belongs to the pockets of a few white men. Not going to go into these topics, these are topics for another day; just something to think about.

Being comfortable having all that we need, does it make us happy?


Action step for the day, just think about how connected we all are; we all came from basically the same place, we're all here for basically the same reasons, just to get through our life, right? Most of us are trying our best, we're living each day, we don't have the answers to everything, nobody has the answers to everything.

Nowadays through social media, we've totally changed how we look at each other and I think we are often dissatisfied with the way that we are because we see everybody else's life all of the time, all over the world, which creates a lot of envy. So at some point today, take a minute to think of how connected we are, we're animals roaming around this big earth trying to figure out life. And the best you can do, make somebody smile.


I have a creation verse evolution joke for you today, it's a little longer but here we go.

So a little girl asked her mother, “Mom, how did the human race appear?” And the mother answered, “God made Adam and Eve and they had children and that's how humans were created.”

Two days later the girl asked her father the same question and her father answered, “Many years ago there were apes from which the human race evolved.”

The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom, how was it possible that you told me the human race was created by God and dad said they developed from apes?” And the mother answered, “Well dear, it's very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his.”

Hope you enjoyed this lesson on history today and I will see you next week.

Bye bye.

How to Use this Lesson


  1. Start by listening to the vocabulary lesson
  2. Don’t read the text. Listen only the first few times.
  3. Listen again while reading the transcript.
  4. Answer the questions in the audio, to yourself, out loud. Pretend you're talking to me.
  5. Use the forum to practice and get feedback from the team. Don't be shy!

Welcome to the premium lesson for the episode on the book Sapiens. I'm going to go over the vocabulary, expressions, phrasal verbs from this lesson that you might not be too familiar with. I will talk about them, use them in examples and then ask you some questions about them trying to get your brain working and help this to be more interactive.

So just listen to this, do as I say, repeat the lesson, get these words deep into your head and be relaxed about it. This shouldn't be a stressful experience.

If you are feeling stressed right now maybe you're not in the right environment, maybe you're sitting at your desk looking at the screen. That might not be the best place to do it; maybe it is. If not, if you are feeling stressed, go out for a walk or wait until you're driving in your car or at the gym. Find a time when you are inspired and motivated. It’ll make this a lot easier and a lot more effective.

Anyway, first phrase here -- this is a phrasal verb “come about”, to come about. To come about simply means to happen or to take place (another phrasal verb) to happen or to take place. In the lesson I use it when I say I will talk about the new vocabulary phrasal verb expressions and whatever may come about. So kind of what will appear, what will happen. When you went to the party yesterday, what came about? What happened? If you're talking about something specific. We don't separate this phrasal verb come something about or come the party about, we use it together. What came about the other day during that meeting? What happened during that meeting? And remember, the goal here isn't for you to use this phrasal verb as soon as possible; the goal is for you to understand it when you hear it (very important). Don't stress that you need to use this. Focus on comprehension.

Next one here -- in this lesson you here a few instances of numbers. And in English there are a couple of different ways to talk about numbers. Here we're talking about millions, specifically numbers in the millions. And when we're talking about millions, something that we do that makes it faster, makes it faster to say a large number we use point: 2.5, 2.5 million or 3.8 million would be 3,800,000, 2.5 million (2,500,000). We usually only do this when it is a rounded number. If it has a lot of numbers 2,586,300 whatever, we don't do that, but if it's just like 3.5 million, 6.8 million we say it like this. This is just to make it easier. Often when we talk about millions we don't use large numbers, we don't use very specific numbers, we use more just rounded numbers like 3.5. It's easier to say 3.5 million than 3,486,942. So when you hear that, visualize a four, five zero zero, zero zero zero which would be 4.5 million.

Next one here, hunch over. Now, first I want you to think about -- there is an older story based on a guy called The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's a French fable or story. I don't really know the history behind it actually. It was a guy in a clock tower, he would walk around and his back would be hunched over. He would be bending down kind of at the knees and his back would be hunched, bent. Think of really old people. Sometimes you see old people walking down the street and their back is bent towards the ground and they're literally walking while looking at the ground. It's a sad sight to see, but that’s hunched over. To hunch is to bend basically. To hunch over is to bend over at the knee so your back is kind of almost parallel to the ground.

Question for you, are you sitting down? If you're sitting down, are you hunched over in your chair? Are you bending forward? That's not good for your posture. So you can put your back straight, sit back, sit straight up; that would be the opposite of hunched over. Don't hunch over in your chair, it's bad for your posture. Do I sound like your mother?

Next word here, harsh, a harsh environment. This could usually mean severe, like, a severe, extreme environment. If you're in the middle of the desert, it’s hot; that’s just an extreme environment. It's difficult to deal with. Talking about in the episode how when humans got smarter they were able to deal with harsh environments and the species of humans that weren't getting smarter died, but harsh is extreme.

Often if somebody says something rude or offensive to you, you can call that harsh. You hear somebody talking to somebody else “Oh, you're fat,” you say, “wow, don't be so harsh, don't be so extreme.” So harsh is usually pretty negative. It could mean cruel as well. “Don't be so cruel. Don't be so evil.”

When was the last time somebody said something harsh to you?

When was the last time you were harsh with somebody? Maybe you were too harsh on an employee or a colleague. Has that happened recently? Think about it, talk about it out loud or in your head if you're embarrassed.

Last question here, next time you're about to say something harsh, maybe you're angry or full of emotions, maybe it's even in an email, maybe you're going to email somebody with some harsh words what can you do to avoid being so harsh, to avoid offending the other person, to avoid being cruel? What can you do to avoid that situation?

Another phrasal verb, die out. So we know it die means; to die is to end your life, to stop living is to die. When we throw the word out after die, we’re talking usually about a species of an animal or something like that, so to die out is like extinction if it goes extinct forever. So if a species of, I don’t know… insect dies out, the species totally died out, that means it’s gone forever. So for whatever reasons dinosaurs died out.

Also, a candle can die out, a flame. You light a candle it has a flame, that can die out when it stops burning maybe the fuel of a lamp, the fuel of something burns up, there’s no more left, so that would die out as well.

So two situations: animals go extinct, they don’t make anymore offspring, they don’t create anymore babies, they die out or a flame, a candle or a lamp dies out. Similar to this but different is a light bulb and a lamp like a lightbulb that most of us use for light in our house. That doesn’t die out, that actually burns out. So a little different there. Not in the episode “burn out”, but I just wanted to point this out to you, look at all these phrasal verbs. So a lightbulb burns out.

When was the last time a light bulb burned out in your house or apartment?

What did you do about it when the light bulb burnt out?

Quickly give me an answer to this as quickly as possible, what is the first animal that comes to mind, the first species of animal that comes to your mind when I talk about a species that have died out. Think about it. What’s the answer? Go!

Next word here, gather. Hunt and gather, you here this a lot when you talk about history, the hunters and gatherers. To gather is to collect or to come together. You ever heard of the word gathering? “We’re having a gathering next weekend. We’re having a gathering at my house.” That would be like a little party, you have some friends coming over, you’re collecting in the same location. Or a large crowd gathered in the square to protest Donald Trump. They gathered in the square to protest Donal Trump. When you’re talking about food you go out in the fields and you and you gather food, you collect it, you bring it together. Probably not going to use that definition very often, but in your life you will use it to gather together. Let’s gather in the meeting room in 10 minutes. Let’s get together, let’s collect, in the meeting room in 10 minutes. We’re going to gather in the meeting room in 10 minutes, or “I’m having a gathering next weekend, would you like to come over to my gathering?”

So asking you some questions about this, what was the last gathering that you went to? What was the last social gathering that you went to?

What is the next gathering that you have planned? Do you have something planned in your future? Is there a gathering that you have planned in the future that you're going to or maybe that you're going to have?

Next one here is to cope, to cope with. The verb is to cope, C-O-P-E. To cope is to deal with a situation, a difficult situation, to deal with, to handle, to fix you can say or to manage. So how are you going to cope with getting fired? You just got fired, bad situation, how are you going to cope with that? Often in my podcast I talked about different ways to cope with different emotions, different experiences, different things that happen to us in life, giving you strategies that I learned from books on how to cope with things. Maybe you can't cope with something, “I can't cope with her anymore, she's too problematic. This woman in my life she's bringing too many problems to my life. I just can't cope with her anymore. I can't deal with her anymore.”

So question time for you, what is something that has been difficult recently? Something that has happened to you recently, how did you cope with it?

Or maybe you haven't coped with it yet. Maybe you have not coped with the situation yet because you haven’t been able to. Do you have any plans on how you are going to cope with this? If you plan on coping with this, if you want to take care of the situation, do you have any plans on when or how you will cope with the situation?

The term here “come up with”, to come up with. You’ve probably heard this before. This is to produce something or a solution or an idea specifically when you're pressured or challenged to do so. So you're in a meeting and everybody’s brainstorming solutions to problems that you're having or a specific problem at work, you need to come up with a solution. You're trying to come up with a solution, trying to produce a solution or an idea or product to solve this problem.

You can also use come up in a different way if a date or some events coming up, coming soon in the future. “Oh, your birthday is coming up” or “We have that big project coming up.” That means it's coming soon, it's coming into your future soon. Totally different way to use come up, but that's the tricky part of phrasal verbs; multiple meanings.

Quick questions for you, when was the last time you came up with something that you think was quite innovative or helpful? Tell me about the last time you came up with something cool.

Are you good at coming up with things? Are you creative or do you like when other people do it for you?

If you don't practice, NOTHING will happen. Use the forum topics below to burn new English into your beautiful brain and also improve your English skills with feedback from myself and other wonderful people.


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