- File Size: 4454 KB
- Print Length: 345 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reprint edition (September 4, 2018)
- Publication Date: September 4, 2018
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B079WM7KLS
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,669 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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“If there were such a thing as a required instruction manual for politicians and thought leaders, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century would deserve serious consideration. In this collection of provocative essays, Harari, author of the critically praised Sapiens and Homo Deus, tackles a daunting array of issues, endeavoring to answer a persistent question: ‘What is happening in the world today, and what is the deep meaning of these events?’ . . . Harari makes a passionate argument for reshaping our educational systems and replacing our current emphasis on quickly outdated substantive knowledge with the ‘four Cs’—critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. . . . Thoughtful readers will find 21 Lessons for the 21st Century to be a mind-expanding experience.”—BookPage (top pick)
“A sobering and tough-minded perspective on bewildering new vistas.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Magnificently combining historical, scientific, political, and philosophical perspectives, Harari . . . explores twenty-one of what he considers to be today’s ‘greatest challenges.’ Despite the title’s reference to ‘lessons,’ his tone is not prescriptive but exploratory, seeking to provoke debate without offering definitive solutions. . . . Within this broad construct, Harari discusses many pressing issues, including problems associated with liberal democracy, nationalism, immigration, and religion. This well-informed and searching book is one to be savored and widely discussed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A highly instructive exploration of ‘current affairs and . . . the immediate future of human societies.’ Having produced an international bestseller about human origins and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny, Harari proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. . . . [In] twenty-one painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly ‘post-truth’ world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history. Harari delivers yet another tour de force.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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I will try to summarize some examples of why I think this book is a poor relative to Harari’s previous works. Harari argues that elections might be infeasible in the future. Why? Because if elections were about reason then obviously we would appoint a committee of experts to choose our leaders. Since we don’t, elections must be all about emotions which, as seen in 2016, are increasingly going to be controlled by AI. Therefore, per Harari, elections will become passé. He does not consider that, like guessing the number of coins in a jar, elections might be held because, when you combine millions of voters responses, individual biases in reasoning will balance each other out and you will arrive at the best answer.
Another example: AI will soon create works of art superior to humans. This is because Harari asserts that art is all about the emotions and so AI will be able to manipulate these emotions better than a human artist. However, when I, for one, read Aeschylus I don’t experience much emotion but do enjoy the incredible craftsmanship and artistry of a creative genius. Many patrons of the arts I think would agree.
Lastly, the book concludes with Harari explaining that all meta-narratives—Christian, liberal, communist, Islamic, etc.— have been proven wrong by modern science. Even the stories of personal identity we tell ourselves—what we were like as children and how that made us into the adults we are today—are bogus because there’s no human soul that would make different times in our life into a unity.
So, having dismissed all personal narratives, Harari then goes on to tell his own story about how Buddhist meditation led him from being a confused and stressed teenager into the confident author of Sapiens and Homo Deus. Doesn’t Harari see that he cannot recommend mindfulness meditation as the correct response to personal suffering by telling a story if several pages earlier he said that personal narratives are illusory?
Harari is a talented writer and one can enjoy reading this book as an intelligent man’s musings about the contemporary world picture. But it simply cannot be considered in the same light as his previous monumental achievements.
If anything unifies these essays--ranging from religion, morality, AI, terrorism, universal basic income, freedom, equality, meditation, nationalism, post-truth fascism, Trumpism, justice, secularism, and education—it is Harari’s desire to use his expertise as a historian, and by turn, a futurist, to equip us with the tools, attitudes, and moral approaches to moving forward in the 21st Century, shedding unwanted baggage such as fundamentalism, nationalism, racism, and other “isms.”
In his Introduction, he brilliantly begins: “In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power. . . . As a historian, I cannot give people food or clothes—but I can try to offer some clarity, thereby helping to level the global playing field.”
He warns us that the liberal secular vision of humankind moving forward with the powers of reason has taken a huge hit with the nihilism of Trumpism.
Taken as a whole, Harari’s book is intended to give us the tools to ward off nihilism, arrogance, and primitive “isms” and to become a fully realized modern human being. Highly recommended.
These are all questions that are clearly of concern to each of us in the here and now. They also motivate many of the “lessons” discussed in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, a volume that once again combines Yuval Noah Harari’s unique blend of history, science, philosophy, and anthropology. Unlike Sapiens, which explored mankind’s past 10,000 years, and Homo Deus, which projects humanity’s long-term future, this book purports to assess the major issues facing us in the present. Unfortunately, this exploration is neither wholly successful nor is it nearly as compelling as the author’s previous two efforts.
To be sure, there is a lot to like about what appears here. In particular, Harari’s discussion of the economic, legal, and social challenges created by the ascent of Big Data is very illuminating. Who owns the information summarizing our lives—or, perhaps more critically, who controls it—is indeed likely to be one of the major issues defining our near-term future. I also thought that the author’s interpretations of nationalism and secularism were insightful. Overall, he did a nice job of connecting several disparate themes into a cohesive bigger picture (e.g., a discussion of the importance of developing a global community is followed by an examination of nationalist sentiment which leads to a consideration of the immigration problem and then to the threat posed by terrorism).
The main problem I had with all of this is that major portions of the book were not especially original and often seemed like slightly reworked versions of arguments used in the author’s previous studies. For instance, the rise of biotech was thoroughly covered in Homo Deus and humankind’s use of rituals and ability to create useful fictions were essential parts of Sapiens. As such, there are really far fewer than 21 distinct lessons presented here, despite the volume containing 21 different chapters. Finally, the last two chapters involving the role of personal stories and the importance of meditation were woefully self-indulgent and had an off-putting pop-psychology/self-help feel to them. So, while 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is not at all a bad book, the reader might be better served by considering the author’s earlier work instead.
Top international reviews
It is a book of 21 essays on different subjects beginning with ‘Disillusionment’, ‘Work’, ‘Liberty’, and ‘Equality’ under Part I, entitled, ‘The Technological Challenge’. The book has a total of five Parts. The other four are: ‘The Political Challenge’, Despair and Hope’, Truth’, and ‘Resilience’.
Harari’s thoughts spring from the basic, but important question, ‘What can we say about the meaning of life today?’ In order to put the age-old question into the context of today, Harari examines the scientific and cultural changes that have transformed human societies across the world. One major change wrought by technology is the phenomenon in which we get increasingly distanced from our own bodies, and are being absorbed into smartphones and computers.
Harari shows how ‘benign patriotism’ can so easily be transformed into ultra-nationalism; form the belief that ‘My nation is unique’ (every nation is) to ‘My nation is supreme’. Once we get to that, war and strife is, frighteningly, just a step away. He devotes a chapter each to ‘immigration’ and ‘terrorism’ because these are the two bogeymen of the world – not just the Western world. Harari fears that when New York or London eventually sinks below the Atlantic Ocean, people will be blaming Bush, Blair and Obama for focussing on the wrong front.
Given the undertones of religious conflicts and differences in the wars that an American-led West had inflicted on various parts of the world, Harari had much to say in his chapters on ‘God’ and ‘Secularism’. He tries to show how irrational belief in a personal God is. ‘Science cannot explain the “Big Bang”, they exclaim, “so that must be God’s doing”…After giving the name of “God” to the unknown secrets of the cosmos, they then use this to somehow condemn bikinis and divorces’. Not to mention abortion, eating pork, and drinking beer. What does it mean ‘Not to use the name of God in vain’? Harari suggests that it should mean that ‘we should never use the name of God to justify our political interests, our economic ambitions or our personal hatred’. He exposes the problems of dogmatism, and warns against the illusion that the falsity in one’s creed or ideology will never be allowed to happen. ‘if you believe in an absolute truth revealed in a transcendent power’, he writes, ‘you cannot allow yourself to admit any error – for that would nullify your whole story. But if you believe in a quest for truth by fallible humans, admitting blunders is an inherent part of the game’.
Harari’s conclusion is a treat to read and has much to commend in the way he reconciles religious beliefs and rational thinking. Humans love story-telling, he writes, and the answers to the question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ lie in the stories – but we do not have just one story each. And this is crucial. We not just a Muslim, or an Italian, or a capitalist. We do not have just one identity as a human. And we have many stories. We must not shut them out for the sake of one favourite.
The revolutions in biotech and infotech are made by engineers, entrepreneurs and scientists who are hardly aware of the political implications of their decisions…
Donald Trump warned voters that the Mexicans and Chinese will take their jobs, and that they should therefore build a wall on the Mexican border. He never warned voters that algorithms will take their jobs, nor did he suggest building a firewall on the border with California.
Humans have two abilities – physical and cognitive. The former have been partly supplemented by machines. Artificial Intelligence is challenging the latter…. Communism has no answer to automation, as the masses lose their economic value and become irrelevant.
Artificial Intelligence and human stupidity – if we concentrate too much on AI and not enough on human consciousness, AI will end up merely empowering the stupidity of humans.
Globalisation has resulted in growing inequality – the richest 100 own more than poorest 4 billion – and might in time lead to speciation. [People and species are opposite - species split, whereas people coalesce into larger groups, though mergers change.] Challenges are now supra-national – there are no national solutions to global warming. Nations have no answer to technological disruption. The nationalist wave [which he attributes in some measure to nostalgia] cannot turn the clock back to 1939 or 1914. Europe is a good example of supra-national solutions [he thinks Brexit is a bad idea]. Early humans faced problems which local tribes couldn’t handle (for example, Nile floods). Nowadays problems are supra-national.
Most stories are held together by the weight of their roof rather than by the strength of their foundations. Consider the Christian story. It has the flimsiest of foundations…. Yet enormous global institutions have been built on top of that story, and their weight presses down with such overwhelming force that they keep the story in place.
This is another intellectual tour de force from Harari, though as other reviewers have said it’s essential to have read the other two books first.
People might argue that expectations should be low for a low price, but I say that the Big discounts displayed on products should also be according to similar quality stuff, and not the original publication.
A note to Penguin and its imprints. Please stop printing with Replika. The quality of print is abysmal and this is the second such experience for me (Devlok 2). I know of others who have felt the same. If this continues, readers will complain in droves and/or stop buying your books printed with Replika. So change the quality of printing or the Press in question.
The book begins with a lot of detail about how collection and analysis of huge amounts of data and advances in technology will allow us to even re-engineer our bodies, and in particular our brains, to allow artificial intelligence to know what we are thinking in order for it to make better decisions for us. It goes on to speculate that robots could make huge numbers of people redundant and irrelevant, forcing people to change careers at an increasingly regular rate. There is then a lot of discussion about religion, in particular the author's own Jewish religion, and how fiction has played and continues to play a crucial role in life.
I enjoyed the book but if you are looking for life lessons to follow, then it probably isn't the book for you. If you want a glimpse into the (possible) future of the human race and a summary of how we got to the point we are at now, then this is something for you. It is certainly a very well-written book.
Recognizing and exploding many of the narratives that have allowed the human ape to dominate the planet, he suggests that our children’s education should be characterized by greater humility, respect for the “other” and for the biosphere that we are rapidly destroying. Skills will become obsolete in a decade and therefore in need of constant renewal. The ability to adapt to whatever the world needs will therefore become the vital learning required by the whole of humanity. But “what should we wish to become?” remains the unanswerable question. Identity and philosophy therefore become vital subjects.
While the progress of science enables mankind to design and create modified forms of humans, our ethical and philosophical understanding has not kept up the pace of change offered by the sciences. Science fiction allows us to imagine plausible futures, but we should be wary of taking any of them literally, says Harari. But the reality is that any future we will face by 2050 or 2100 is likely to be a future that in 2018 seems like science fiction.
This book should be mandatory reading for everybody involved in education and in preparing for the future. That means all of us! Harari’s grasp of historic reality and his wide fields of knowledge are here presented in a manner accessible to us all. As a primer to change management, there can be no better text book. I happen to agree with 99% of his views. But even when I am not convinced, I am driven to consider carefully why not. It is therefore a compulsive read!
On the eve of the Second World War there were globally three main ideologies: liberal democracy, fascism, and communism. At the end of the war and the collapse of fascism there remained only two, liberal democracy and communism. And with the fall of communism in 1989 there remained only one, liberal democracy. By the early 1990s, thinkers and politicians alike hailed 'the end of History', confidently asserting that all the big political and economic questions of the past had been settled and that the refurbished liberal package of democracy, human rights, free markets, and government welfare services remained the only game in town. This package seemed destined to spread around the whole world, overcome all obstacles, erase all national borders, and turn humankind into one free global community.
But suddenly with the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing widespread skepticism on financial markets, globalization and liberal capitalism - the world is left without ideology. Liberalism is losing credibility as the twin revolutions of information technology and biotechnology might soon push billions of humans out of the job market and undermine both liberty and equality. Big Data algorithms might create digital dictatorships in which all power is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite while most people suffer not from exploitation, but from something far worse - irrelevance. And as a result precipitating social, economic and political crises.
The above is just one theme of the poly thematic book. Of the remaining, I found particularly interesting the chapters on education and meaning.
In the light of the enormous speed of change, many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching 'the four Cs' - critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. - Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things, and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations.
When we look for the meaning of life, we want a story that will explain what reality is all about and what is my particular role in the cosmic drama. This role defines who I am, and gives meaning to all my experiences and choices.
The stories that provide us with meaning and identity ( religion,nationality) are all fictional but humans need to believe in them. If you want to know the ultimate truth of life, rites and rituals are a huge obstacle. But if you are interested - e.g. Confucius - in social stability and harmony, truth is often a liability, whereas rites and rituals are among your best allies.
What is then the aim of my life? To create meaning by feeling, by thinking, by desiring and by investing. Anything that limits the human liberty to feel, to think, to desire and to invest, limits the meaning of the universe. Hence liberty from such limitations is the supreme ideal.
The impactful patterns to see the world in the past and in the future, mature in a more doubtful experienced view. Love it.