21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

by Yuval Noah Harari

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3 neutral comments

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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
  • BOOK REVIEW: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century https://t.co/KnzNtP4CYJ
  • @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
  • @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)

    • I have very much enjoyed Yuval Noah Harari's two previous books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, which were among the best books I have read in my life (and I read a lot). But 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is even better. It is the author's magnum opus, the best attempt to date to make sense of life in the digital age. If most people around the world read and tried to really understand this book, the world would surely be a much better place.
    • Harari's two previous books--Sapiens (which explored our past) and Homo Deus (which considered our potential future based on current developments)--are exceptional detailed looks at a wide range of topics. In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, he breaks down these broader themes into digestible chapters that are practical, relevant, and compelling.Many of the ideas here are ones explored in his previous works, though I found reviewing them again helpful and reinforcing; they also allow new readers to understand his theories without having to work through his previous books (which interested readers should do anyway). In addition, he organizes these ideas into five broad themes--the technological challenge, the political challenge, despair and hope, truth, and resilience--and each chapter has both a title (e.g., "Liberty") and a core concept (e.g., "Big Data is Watching You"). Harari often does a nice job tying one chapter into the next, making the entire work a cohesive argument instead of a series of unrelated musings.Harari writes from an authoritative position not because he earned a doctorate in history from Oxford, but because he's thoughtful, insightful, well-read, and relies on the scholarship of many others. He has the ability to construct powerful arguments through research, history, philosophers, cultural study, and his own insights and analysis, and he is quite willing to suggest flaws in the arguments of groups on both sides of any issue--religious, political, nationalistic, cultural, etc. But what I most appreciate about this is his repeated admonition that we don't know as much as we think we do. This allows him to take a "guide on the side" stance instead of being a "sage on the stage," and the reader is therefore challenged to consider the arguments and find points of agreement or disagreement.So yes, there are areas where a reasonable person could disagree with Harari in terms of content and presentation. At one point he argues that since all experiences are self-created, "Whatever you can feel in Fiji, you can feel anywhere in the world." I believe some experiences are so unique to setting and context that they'll only occur in that specific setting (including not only Fiji, but seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on the big screen or attending a Bruce Springsteen concert). His section on "Despair and Hope" is heavy on despair and light (perhaps absent) of hope, and his section on Resilience focuses more on the challenges we face than how we may overcome them.In fact, Harari offers little in the way of "solutions" to the numerous problems he describes. Interestingly, his closing the book with Meditation suggests this is the closest thing he has to an answer, and in a sense this is correct; given his emphasis on awareness of our challenges, the practice of paying attention is critical. However, he describes meditation as a method to alleviate personal suffering by recognizing that all experiences are self-created because there's no objective truth, and the implication seems to be that alleviating suffering is thus a central goal. This doesn't mean we should focus on relieving the suffering of others, as he shares an anecdote of a person saying his purpose in life was to help others, but "what I still haven't figured out is why the other people are here." Does Harari believe that if everyone relieved personal suffering they'd be happy? Does it matter if there's no broader meaning to life in terms of our happiness, when lots of research indicates a sense of meaning and purpose is what makes us happiest? Is it a goal of life to be happy, or just to exist until we don't exist anymore? He might have answered this by simply explaining why he dedicated so much time to researching and writing this book (and his others). Understanding what motivated him to take on this task could have shared some insight into how he personally finds meaning and purpose in life, which would have added some nice context to his outstanding work. Sadly, that's missing.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.