July, 2019

Once in a while an exciting new thinker bursts onto the world stage. It seems to me that Yuval Noah Harari is such a person. His first two books, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow were best sellers that I had put on my wish list where they remained unread.

Bill Gates has an impressive reading list worth monitoring. He names Harari’s third book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, as one of the 5 books I loved in 2018. In his review entiled A guide to worrying in the 21st century he writes,

...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? ...It’s no criticism to say that Harari hasn’t produced a satisfying answer yet. Neither has anyone else.

Harari is an historian, not a spiritual leader. However, 21 Lessons was a 2018 S&P Award Winner listed on the SPIRITUALITY & PRACTICE website. Book Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat As I peruse this list I see a number of books that I would love to read.

Is Russell Brand a madman or a genius? It seems to me that he is both. On his aptly named podcast, Under the Skin, Brand interviewed Harari a couple of times.

#005 Yuval Noah Harari - Is Humanity Finished?


Jeremy Lent is not well known but I have his book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning, on my wish list. I find the tone of Lent’s review of 21 Lessons overly harsh but I agree with the substance of what he says. In my opinion, the thoughts of any one thinker are necessarily incomplete and there is always more that can be said.

“Yuval Harari: Please Recognize Your Own Unacknowledged Fictions,” writes Lent.

Yuval Harari—I urge you to recognize your own fictions...Please recognize that nature is alive; that there are alternative stories on offer; that there is a moral imperative at this moment to engage in helping turn around our civilization’s path to destruction...I implore you to step up and play your full potential role in helping shape humanity’s future.

My response to Lent is please recognize your own fictions. The idea that we all have fictions that are very difficult to recognize resonates with me. Perhaps reality is illusions all the way down.

A Reading List for Yuval Noah Harari offered by Jeremy Lent is indeed impressive. I see several authors I recognize and several books I would like to read. Evan Thompson, a Canadian, and Antonio Damasio are high on my wish list.

The review on Forbes by Calum Chace is sarcastically entitled 21st-Century Schizoid Man? and seems to miss a key point, in contrast to Bill Gates.

It is also a shame that he offers no prescriptions… So is he going to give us a story which will help us navigate the challenges of the 21st century? Sadly not.

The world order driving progress for the past seventy years no longer seems adequate. No new world order, no new story, seems to be emerging. It is to his credit that Harari does not offer one.

One of the more interesting discussions of 21 Lessons that I have found is the lengthy one written by Marcus Paul. His review brings a different perspective, a Christian examining a very secular work. Paul’s comments are fair and respectful, an approach that is too uncommon in today’s highly polarized world.

Paul includes a great quote from Harari:

Truth and power can travel together only so far. Sooner or later they go their separate ways. If you want power, at some point you will have to spread fictions. If you want to know the truth about the world, at some point you will have to renounce power.

The Ann Rand Institute published a critical but thoughtful article, Silicon Valley Visionaries vs. Yuval Harari’s Dystopia, about Harari's forecast regarding the impact of technology in the next few decades. In my opinion, the future is unknowable so we will have to wait and see which view is the most accurate. As a side note, I mostly agree with the article where it disagrees with Harari on the question of free will.