Book Review: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

81o9vblSjmL

One of the things I love is history. It is important to understand of history of anything so that we can understand how we got here but mostly important where are heading from here.

Yuval Noah Harari is an amazing historian who has a way of capturing history and narrating it as if it’s a movie.

In his first book Sapiens: Brief History of Humankind, he surveyed the human past, examining how an insignificant ape became the ruler of planet earth.

In his second book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, he explored the long term future of life, contemplating how humans might eventually become gods, and what the ultimate destiny of intelligence and consciousness might be.

Having addressed the deep past and the distant future, Harari turns his attention to the present in this book.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century focuses on current affairs and the immediate future of current society.

What I love about Yuval is that he goes deeper on topics, he unpacks them in such a way that you understand and tries to give funny examples, even though sometimes his jokes are those dry English jokes, I guess it explains it because he studied in Oxford.

He explores the following issues:

  • Life in 15th-century China was pretty slow, but now the pace of change feels unstoppable.
  • Religion can be bad, but has its uses.
  • Nationalism can be bad, but has its uses.
  • Factory farming is very, very bad.
  • Liberalism is good, but under threat.
  • Hunter-gathering is a more exciting lifestyle choice than farming, or working in a factory.
  • Technological advances bring Big Ethical Questions.
  • And, of course, there is Harari’s main question, which is here spelled out in a chapter heading. “How do you live in an age of bewilderment, when the old stories have collapsed, and no new story has yet emerged to replace them?”

21 Lessons for the 21st Century is, as the title suggests, a loose collection of themed essays. I would rephrase the title to say: What Are the Biggest Problems Facing Us in the 21st Century?

This is in essence what the book answers.

Harari is such a stimulating writer that even when I disagreed him on certain topics or on his predictions, I still kept on reading and thinking.

All three of his books wrestle with some version of the same question: What will give our lives meaning in the decades and centuries ahead?

So far, human history has been driven by a desire to live longer, healthier, happier lives.

If science is eventually able to give that dream to most people, and large numbers of people no longer need to work in order to feed and clothe everyone, what reason will we have to get up in the morning?

Rating

7/10

Yuval’s writing is not for the faint-hearted. He gives his interpretation in a very sober approach and he doesn’t hold back any punches.

This is an interesting book. It is empowering and enlightening, you will learn a lot from it.

I loved this book but not as much as I loved Sapiens and Homo Deus, I rated both books 9.10.

I will certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in current affairs or is curious about certain topics.

Favourite quotes:

  • “In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.”

  • “Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”
  • “Individual humans know embarrassingly little about the world, and as history has progressed, they have come to know less and less. A hunter-gatherer in the Stone Age knew how to make her own clothes, how to start a fire, how to hunt rabbits, and how to escape lions. We think we know far more today, but as individuals, we actually know far less. We rely on the expertise of others for almost all our needs.”
  • “Silence isn’t neutrality; it is supporting the status-quo.”
  • “Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.”

  • “Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely.”
  • “We should never underestimate human stupidity. Both on the personal and on the collective level, humans are prone to engage in self-destructive activities.”
  • “The greatest crimes in modern history resulted not just from hatred and greed, but even more so from ignorance and indifference.”
  • “First, if you want reliable information, pay good money for it. If you get your news for free, you might well be the product.”

  • “Democracy is based on Abraham Lincoln’s principle that ‘you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time’.”
  • “Humans of all creeds would do well to take humility more seriously.”

  • “In other words, switching to autonomous vehicles is likely to save the lives of one million people every year. It would therefore be madness to block automation in fields such as transport and healthcare just in order to protect human jobs. After all, what we ultimately ought to protect is humans—not jobs. Displaced drivers and doctors will just have to find something else to do.”

One thought on “Book Review: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s