21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

by Yuval Noah Harari

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2 positive comments

3 neutral comments

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  • 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
  • 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
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    What people are saying on Amazon (sample)

    • 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.
    • Excellent author, easy to read. Some say it's not as good as his previous two books, but the bar was set pretty high. My guess is the author isn't very religious 😉. If you're one of the close-minded delusional majority, get ready to have your bubble burst, he doesn't pull any punches. He makes a lot of sense, so if you don't have any, well, let's hope this sinks in. I'm surprised the apologists haven't chimed in yet... Well, it's still early...
    • 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.
    • 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.