21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari 2018

Harari is a skeptical, secular, gay, Israeli historian who, in this his third book, provides the reader with his sweeping opinions and speculations about our world, how we got here, and where we might be going.  He has an impressive scope of knowledge and understanding, a compelling and often humorous writing style, and no hesitation in being wildly speculative about the future—all of which makes for an entertaining, if not authoritative volume.  In this book, as in Sapiens his first one, he seems to lose steam and energy as the book proceeds, but the beginning is powerful.  In five sections labelled The Technological Challenge, The Political Challenge, Despair and Hope, Truth, and Resilience, he identifies 21 quite disparate topics for discussion that range from civilization to meditation.  After depressing the reader with a future of artificial intelligence that will control our minds and bodies in a nationalistic, religiously fanatic, and war-like set of nation states, he retreats to the Buddhist notion that there is no self and no permanent essence, that suffering is universal, and that the sole reality is the inner you that is only discoverable through meditation.  There are some useful perspectives from history on our current situation in the Trumpian, post-truth, nationalistic, evangelical, anti-other world we live in, and reading this book does provide some sense that perhaps there is hope at the end of 2020.  On the other hand, I think Harari’s basic tone of pessimism for our species and our planet is the real message, and it’s not a happy one.  Read this book, but don’t expect to enjoy it.

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