by Yuval Noah Harari

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  • Lunch and Learn starts at @TemShalom today at noon with "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" based on the book by the… https://t.co/b955JOKPBQ
  • @ChrisEvans @YNB A must-read for any #anthropology students! Harari also recently came out with another book, “21 L… https://t.co/fEk18T0nU8
  • Hey @ChrisEvans, we have some great news for you! @harari_yuval’s new book just came out. It’s called 21 LESSONS FO… https://t.co/R2XXh1SUyd
  • BOOK REVIEW: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century https://t.co/KnzNtP4CYJ
  • @ChrisEvans Sapiens, a look to the past, was followed by another amazing book, Homo Deus, which considers our futur… https://t.co/WIp9cJcl8B
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    What people are saying on Amazon (sample)

    • Harari’s first two books, ‘Sapiens’, ‘and ‘Homo Deus’ have been critically acclaimed, and one wonders what else can he come up with. This question is normally asked of fiction writers, but Harari’s first two books have been so tremendously popular to the extent that they were likened to best-selling novels. This, his third book, does not disappoint. 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.
    • This book is hot. Recommendations of it and quotes from it are everywhere. I was very disappointed see it in its entirety, and I abandoned it about halfway through. I found it superficial and facile. There was nothing in it that I hadn’t already heard, and heard put better and in a deeper and more nuanced context. This is a self-help book written, as all such are, to address the moment’s anxieties in the most anodyne and superficial fashion. It is empty calories for the mind: the reader will feel satisfied and full, but really the mind will be neither nourished nor expanded. On the good side, the author does make some mordant if obvious observations. But again, naming an issues is only the barest beginning of understanding it.
    • How safe from obsolescence is the job you have now? Do you have the skills to adapt in the rapidly changing Big Data environment? How will the merger of infotech and biotech affect our collective future? How can we prevent climate change from irrevocably changing the planet? What will the next global armed conflict look like? Is the recent rise in nationalism a threat to world security? How does “post-truth” (i.e., fake news) affect our thinking? Do terrorist attacks create more fear and suffering than they should? How do the stories we tell ourselves, whether religious or secular in nature, influence our behavior?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.
    • Yuval Noah Harari’s name came up when a few years ago a friend urged me to read Harari’s best-selling Sapiens, which I have put off, but since reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, a book that reads more like an essay collection, than a outright book (not a bad thing in this case), I do want to feast on all of Harrari’s books. I had to underline close to a hundred cogent insights throughout the book.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.
    • 21 Lessons for the 21st century is not comparable to Harari’s previous landmark works of history and prognostication Sapiens and Homo Deus. Written with the purpose of focusing not on the future nor the past but on contemporary civilization, Harari tends to make sweeping assumptions and badly reasoned arguments when he is not flat out contradictory. Even worse, most of the content is the sort of generalizations seen in futurist websites and Facebook groups. It’s not so much that it’s false as that it’s not new.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.