21 Lessons for the 21st Century

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

In Sapiens, he explored our past. In Homo Deus, he looked to our future. Now, one of the most innovative thinkers on the planet turns to the present to make sense of today's most pressing issues.How do computers and robots change the meaning of being human? How do we deal with the epidemic of fake news? Are nations and religions still relevant? What should we teach our children?.In...

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Title:21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Author:Yuval Noah Harari
Rating:
Edition Language:English

21 Lessons for the 21st Century Reviews

  • Anni

    It's Life as we know it, Jim! (But don't ask what it means).

    'A wise old man was asked what he learned about the meaning of life. ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘I have learned that I am here on earth in order to help other people. What I still haven’t figured out is why the other people are here.’

    As Harari explains:

    “We are now living in an age of information explosion … the last thing people need is more information. What they really need is somebody to arrange all of the bits of

    It's Life as we know it, Jim! (But don't ask what it means).

    'A wise old man was asked what he learned about the meaning of life. ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘I have learned that I am here on earth in order to help other people. What I still haven’t figured out is why the other people are here.’

    As Harari explains:

    “We are now living in an age of information explosion … the last thing people need is more information. What they really need is somebody to arrange all of the bits of information into a meaningful picture – and this is what I try to do.”

    Following on from Sapiens and Homo Deus, both of which were entertainingly accessible, this investigation of our species has a more personal approach, yet is just as vigorously researched and remarkably impartial.

    There are so many fascinating insights that I wanted to highlight in this book that it is hard to chose examples, and many are frightening to contemplate, such as:

    'Globalisation has certainly benefited large segments of humanity, but there are signs of growing inequality both between and within societies. Some groups increasingly monopolise the fruits of globalisation, while billions are left behind. Already today, the richest 1 per cent owns half the world’s wealth. Even more alarmingly, the richest hundred people together own more than the poorest 4 billion. This could get far worse'.

    However I'm sure that contributors to Goodreads will particularly enjoy the section on the importance of literature, especially for aficionados of SF :-

    “… it is equally important to communicate the latest scientific theories to the general public through popular-science books, and even through the skilful use of art and fiction. Does that mean scientists should start writing science fiction? That is actually not such a bad idea. Art plays a key role in shaping people’s view of the world, and in the twenty-first century science fiction is arguably the most important genre of all, for it shapes how most people understand things like AI, bioengineering and climate change. We certainly need good science, but from a political perspective, a good science-fiction movie is worth far more than an article in Science or Nature.”.

    On the whole, the message Harari imparts is a positive one and he does offer some hope for the survival of our species. At the end of the book he describes his own personal way to discover a ‘firm ethical ground in a world that extends far beyond my horizons, that spins completely out of human control, and that holds all gods and ideologies suspect’

    This is the book I will pass on to my grand daughter when she is of an age to wonder why our world is the way it is. In fact, I think it is essential reading for every human being on this planet.

    Update: Many thanks to the publisher for granting my wish of reading an ARC via Netgalley

  • David

    This is an utterly fantastic book, the third book I have read by Yuval Harari. They have all been exquisitely excellent! Harari is opinionated and blunt, no doubt about it. But what I most enjoy about this book--as in all of his books--is the unique insights he brings to the discussion. I just love the way he thinks about things. This book contains very few answers--mainly it's about questions. But Harari develops ways to think about issues that are very relevant today.

    The 21 lessons

    This is an utterly fantastic book, the third book I have read by Yuval Harari. They have all been exquisitely excellent! Harari is opinionated and blunt, no doubt about it. But what I most enjoy about this book--as in all of his books--is the unique insights he brings to the discussion. I just love the way he thinks about things. This book contains very few answers--mainly it's about questions. But Harari develops ways to think about issues that are very relevant today.

    The 21 lessons are contained in 21 chapters, each one on a different subject. The first chapter is about disillusionment; mainly about disillusions with the liberal agenda. He wonders if today's evolution into nationalism marks the beginning of the end to liberalism. One of the issues is the loss of jobs to artificial intelligence. Harari discusses what types of jobs will probably be lost, but then highly skilled workers might find new jobs in this arena.

    The main theme of the book, is that we are at the confluence of two major revolutions; biology and computer science. Harari takes a unique look at where artificial intelligence could take humanity, and the decisions it could make for us. Would these decisions take something away from "being human"? The distinction is made between intelligence and consciousness; they are not the same, though people tend to confuse them. Consciousness develops feelings, which intelligent machines lack. Artificial intelligence could actually analyze feelings, without having feelings itself.

    While discussing the role of centralized data on our system, Harari writes:

    Harari is a historian, and he has studied the history of the world from a remarkable standpoint. He writes that Western civilization

    based on democracy (Sparta, Julius Caesar, Crusaders, Conquistadors, the Inquisition, the slave trade, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin). Western civilization is what it is.

    Another theme of the book is the three threats that are above any single country's ability to counter: nuclear war, climate change, and technological disruption. Harari feels that a global union can actually lead to more patriotism (as in Scotland and Catalonia), without a threat of invasion and violence. Religions are the "handmaids of nationalism." They make finding global solutions to our problems more difficult. Problems of nuclear war, ecological collapse, and technological disruptions can only be solved on a global level. Meanwhile, nationalism and religion divide human civilization into hostile camps.

    The chapter on immigration is very interesting. Harari discusses the four debates that underlie much of the arguments:

    1) Pro-immigrationists think that host countries have a moral duty to accept immigrants. Anti-immigrationists see immigration as a privilege and absorption as a favor. Host countries have worked very hard and made numerous sacrifices to build a prosperous democracy, and it's not their fault if Syrians have failed to do the same.

    2) Immigrants have an obligation to assimilate. Most agree that host countries are attractive because of their values of tolerance and freedoms. But do they need to absorb immigrants who are intolerant, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic? The culture of the host country should not be destroyed. If it offers eventual full equality, then should it also demand full assimilation?

    3) If immigrants sincerely work to assimilate, how much time should elapse before they become full members of society? Thte issue here is the difference between individual and collective timescales.

    4) Anti-immigrationists argue that immigrants are not assimilating and too many stick to intolerant, bigoted worldviews. o they should not be treated as first-class citizens. So, why invite more? Pro-immigrationists reply that the host country does not fulfill its side of the deal.

    Underneath all the debates lurks a more fundamental question; are all cultures equal, or are some superior to others?

    Harari has an interesting take on terrorism. A terrorist is like a fly in a china shop. The fly is so weak it cannot move even a single teacup. Instead, it finds a bull and buzzes inside its ear. The bull goes wild with fear and anger and destroys the china shop. The idea here is that a terrorist is desperate, and stages a terrifying spectacle, inducing his adversary to overreact. This overreaction is a bigger threat to security than the terrorist himself.

    I just love these quotes:

    and in the chapter on humility:

    Harari points out the contradictions between God as a mystery and as a dictator of arcane regulations. "... the mystery of existence doesn't care one iota what names we apes give it."

    Every religion, ideology and creed has its shadow. Secular science has one big advantage over most religions; it is not terrified of its shadow and is willing to admit its mistakes and blind spots. Yet, in the chapter on Ignorance, Harari writes that scientists who believe that facts can change public opinion are themselves victims of scientific groupthink. And, when a thousand people belive some made-up story for one month, that's called fake news. But when a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that's called a religion.

    Harari sometimes goes very deep into the human psyche. He believes that asking "what is the meaning of life" is simply the wrong question to ask. The correct question is, "how do we reduce suffering?"

    I just love this book, and I highly recommend it to everyone. The book is very accessible. There is no jargon or difficult passages. Harari is a great story-teller, and as a result his books are very engaging; and most important, his books make the reader think. A lot.

  • Emily May

    . I like his books a lot, but I think that is at least in part due to how much I like him. He seems like an intelligent, intuitive and empathetic person, and so his books become all those things.

    is really a book about where we are and how we can move forward. It bridges the gap between

    . I like his books a lot, but I think that is at least in part due to how much I like him. He seems like an intelligent, intuitive and empathetic person, and so his books become all those things.

    is really a book about where we are and how we can move forward. It bridges the gap between

    , which was about our past, and

    , which is about our future. Here, Harari looks at where we stand technologically and politically, debunking myths and suggesting ways we can combat "post-truth".

    I especially like how he reminds us that fake news is just a rebranding of age-old lying, and that terrorism is only as powerful as we let it be. Terrorists are fundamentally weak but use scare tactics to raise havoc. If we refuse to be scared by them, they cease to have power.

    Harari's writing remains so accessible throughout his three books. He takes on complex political and economic concepts and breaks them down so anyone can understand them. It reads like common sense. I would have no problem recommending this to any person of any age - it is both easy to digest and extremely engaging.

    Harari's opinions do come into play in this book, more so than in

    , but I think he comes across as very non-judgemental. He understands that he is just one person with opinions out of billions of people with opinions, and he ultimately concludes that the one thing we could all do with a little more of is humility. I agree.

    I sort of wish I'd ended the year on this book but, you know me, there's no way I'm going cold turkey for the few remaining days.

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  • Anton

    As always, masterful and exquisite non-fiction writing as we come to expect from Mr Harari. Delightful, wise and very perceptive. This book can be seen as an expansion and a companion to

    . The attention of this volume is focused on the Present as opposed to Past or the Future. Some parts will make you feel inspired, others will sow a despair. But it is a relevant and useful book that will give you a plenty to chew on.

    Strongly recommended

  • André Oliveira

    This book is going to upset some people.

    I really enjoyed

    and

    , my favorite being Sapiens.

    okay. this book.

    Yuval Noah Harari takes some really big topics as religion, nationalism, secularism, liberty, equality, immigration, terrorism, fake news and so much more, and give us his opinions on these subjects

    always being really frank and upfront.

    So, I can say that I liked this book

    This book is going to upset some people.

    I really enjoyed

    and

    , my favorite being Sapiens.

    okay. this book.

    Yuval Noah Harari takes some really big topics as religion, nationalism, secularism, liberty, equality, immigration, terrorism, fake news and so much more, and give us his opinions on these subjects

    always being really frank and upfront.

    So, I can say that I liked this book because I agree with a lot of his opinions. If you have different opinions, it may be difficult for you to finish the book. But that's the point, right? It made me think about topics that I've never thought about before. It gave me new perspectives and that is really important for me.

    At the end of the day, we are just a group of molecules and everyone just wants to live their best life. Think outside the box, do your research and leave your prejudices behind.

  • Otis Chandler

    Harari is one of my favorite authors of late, and his books Sapiens and Home Deus are among my favorites. This book builds on those, and is equally fascinating. He is one of those clear thinkers who is able to put together multiple macro trends combined with philosophical perspective. Sapiens is about the past, Deus about the future, and this book purports to be 21 lessons about the present. But it is also rooted in the past, and preparing us for the future.

    One of Harari's key themes in Deus an

    Harari is one of my favorite authors of late, and his books Sapiens and Home Deus are among my favorites. This book builds on those, and is equally fascinating. He is one of those clear thinkers who is able to put together multiple macro trends combined with philosophical perspective. Sapiens is about the past, Deus about the future, and this book purports to be 21 lessons about the present. But it is also rooted in the past, and preparing us for the future.

    One of Harari's key themes in Deus and this book is AI and what it will mean for humanity in the future. Many people - thanks to Hollywood - equate AI with machines that achieve consciousness -

    , as I think it more likely that AI will just be exceedingly smart. But regardless, along with nuclear power and climate change it's one of the great risks to our future. And it is being advanced rapidly. This will have a lot of side affects, the top one of which is what will happen to humans. I think this quote might be one of the most key from the book, and certainly a key theme of Harari's:

    He goes on to further explain that our whole economic system is causing us to head in this direction, and to - except for a small number of people who opt to prioritize differently - largely ignore how to improve ourselves.

    Another consequence of AI that is fascinating is that it can enable intelligence at a scale we today can't comprehend, which can be dangerous if it is controlled by the wrong people. AI is just a function of the data you put into it, so it follows that who holds the data in the future, will hold the power. I think this is a key concept.

    Harari talks about trends in globalization, nationalism, immigration, religion, terrorism, and war. A common theme across these is that many people worry a lot that trends in these areas is a cause for concern and causing decline in our world. However the truth is that in most of them, we have come a long way and made a lot of progress - however because we live in an unprecedented age of information sharing - "media" - people are a lot more aware of even small issues in these areas. Also, our governments are predicated on keeping us safe from political violence,

    .

    He talks about the danger of

    and

    and how in todays technological climate there is more risk of them so its better if everyone understands them. He explained this really well in his

    - highly worth watching.

    But in the end, the only major recommendation Harari makes is around meditation. He impressively meditates for TWO HOURS per day, and TWO MONTHS per year. That is obviously a *huge* time commitment, and yet one he finds fulfilling. If we are going to invest in ourselves, the biggest way might be to start with our minds, and to stop worrying about all of these trends - because in the end, they don't matter to our ability to have a good, happy, loving life.

  • Mehrsa

    I've read all of Harari's books and I really like him as a thinker and a writer. This book is wonderful in the way all his books are wonderful and is flawed in the way the rest are. It is an act of bold ambition and also hubris to write a history of the world, answer the meaning of life, and to propose a path toward the 22nd Century. He certainly does not do all of that, but the act of trying is a lot of fun to read. A lot of his predictions for the future sound like fantasy and science fiction,

    I've read all of Harari's books and I really like him as a thinker and a writer. This book is wonderful in the way all his books are wonderful and is flawed in the way the rest are. It is an act of bold ambition and also hubris to write a history of the world, answer the meaning of life, and to propose a path toward the 22nd Century. He certainly does not do all of that, but the act of trying is a lot of fun to read. A lot of his predictions for the future sound like fantasy and science fiction, but as he readily admits, anyone who tries to imagine the future without sounding like a sci fi writer is certainly wrong. That's fine, but some of the predictions did seem to me to be pretty far fetched.

    The biggest strength of the book is the breadth and depth he uses to articulate the problem. The book's fundamental weakness then is that his solution (meditation) does not even come close to being a satisfying result. He sounds pretty nihilistic at the end as he dismantles every single "meaning of life" story. That is fine and maybe he really wants us to stop pretending that there is one. But if the book is going to be about lessons (plural) for a whole century, I would have liked to see some more lessons. Perhaps reducing suffering or increasing compassion? I mean, I refuse to consider a world that will be controlled by robot overloads in which the only way to survive is to count our breaths.

  • Emily (Books with Emily Fox)

    This book is quite difficult to review.

    I enjoyed Part 1 about the technological challenges humans will be faced with and how we can adapt. It reminded me that I need to read Homo Deus which hopefully will satisfy that craving for me.

    The rest of the book was more political, religious and philosophical than I usually go for. The title misrepresented the content of the book as there are 21 chapters, not 21 lessons.

    Overall learned quite a bit but I much preferred his other w

    This book is quite difficult to review.

    I enjoyed Part 1 about the technological challenges humans will be faced with and how we can adapt. It reminded me that I need to read Homo Deus which hopefully will satisfy that craving for me.

    The rest of the book was more political, religious and philosophical than I usually go for. The title misrepresented the content of the book as there are 21 chapters, not 21 lessons.

    Overall learned quite a bit but I much preferred his other work.

  • Bill Gates

    The human mind wants to worry. This is not necessarily a bad thing—after all, if a bear is stalking you, worrying about it may well save your life. Although most of us don’t need to lose too much sleep over bears these days, modern life does present plenty of other reasons for concern: terrorism, climate change, the rise of A.I., encroachments on our privacy, even the apparent decline of international cooperation.

    In his fascinating new book

    , the historian Yuva

    The human mind wants to worry. This is not necessarily a bad thing—after all, if a bear is stalking you, worrying about it may well save your life. Although most of us don’t need to lose too much sleep over bears these days, modern life does present plenty of other reasons for concern: terrorism, climate change, the rise of A.I., encroachments on our privacy, even the apparent decline of international cooperation.

    In his fascinating new book

    , the historian Yuval Noah Harari creates a useful framework for confronting these fears. While his previous best sellers,

    and

    , covered the past and future respectively, his new book is all about the present. The trick for putting an end to our anxieties, he suggests, is not to stop worrying. It’s to know which things to worry about, and how much to worry about them. As he writes in his introduction: “What are today’s greatest challenges and most important changes? What should we pay attention to? What should we teach our kids?”

    These are admittedly big questions, and this is a sweeping book. There are chapters on work, war, nationalism, religion, immigration, education, and 15 other weighty matters. But its title is a misnomer. Although you will find a few concrete lessons scattered throughout, Harari mostly resists handy prescriptions. He’s more interested in defining the terms of the discussion and giving you historical and philosophical perspective.

    He deploys, for example, a clever thought experiment to underscore how far humans have come in creating a global civilization. Imagine, he says, trying to organize an Olympic Games in 1016. It’s clearly impossible. Asians, Africans and Europeans don’t know that the Americas exist. The Chinese Song Empire doesn’t think any other political entity in the world is even close to being its equal. No one even has a flag to fly or anthem to play at the awards ceremony.

    The point is that today’s competition among nations—whether on an athletic field or the trading floor—“actually represents an astonishing global agreement.” And that global agreement makes it easier to cooperate as well as compete. Keep this in mind the next time you start to doubt whether we can solve a global problem like climate change. Our global cooperation may have taken a couple of steps back in the past two years, but before that we took a thousand steps forward.

    So why does it seem as if the world is in decline? Largely because we are much less willing to tolerate misfortune and misery. Even though the amount of violence in the world has greatly decreased, we focus on the number of people who die each year in wars because our outrage at injustice has grown. As it should.

    Here’s another worry that Harari deals with: In an increasingly complex world, how can any of us have enough information to make educated decisions? It’s tempting to turn to experts, but how do you know they’re not just following the herd? “The problem of groupthink and individual ignorance besets not just ordinary voters and customers,” he writes, “but also presidents and CEOs.” That rang true to me from my experience at both Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. I have to be careful not to fool myself into thinking things are better—or worse—than they actually are.

    What does Harari think we should do about all this? He offers some practical advice, including a three-prong strategy for fighting terrorism and a few tips for dealing with fake news. But his big idea boils down to this: Meditate. Of course he isn’t suggesting that the world’s problems will vanish if enough of us start sitting in the lotus position and chanting om. But he does insist that life in the 21st century demands mindfulness—getting to know ourselves better and seeing how we contribute to suffering in our own lives. This is easy to mock, but as someone who’s taking a course on mindfulness and meditation, I found it compelling.

    As much as I admire Harari and enjoyed

    , I didn’t agree with everything in the book. I was glad to see the chapter on inequality, but I’m skeptical about his prediction that in the 21st century “data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset” separating rich people from everyone else. Land will always be hugely important, especially as the global population nears 10 billion. Meanwhile, data on key human endeavors—how to grow food or produce energy, for example—will become even more widely available. Simply having information won’t offer a competitive edge; knowing what to do with it will.

    Similarly, I wanted to see more nuance in Harari’s discussion of data and privacy. He rightly notes that more information is being gathered on individuals than ever before. But he doesn’t distinguish among the types of data being collected—the kind of shoes you like to buy versus which diseases you’re genetically predisposed to—or who is gathering it, or how they’re using it. Your shopping history and your medical history aren’t collected by the same people, protected by the same safeguards, or used for the same purposes. Recognizing this distinction would have made his discussion more enlightening.

    I was also dissatisfied with the chapter on community. Harari argues that social media including Facebook have contributed to political polarization by allowing users to cocoon themselves, interacting only with those who share their views. It’s a fair point, but he undersells the benefits of connecting family and friends around the world. He also creates a straw man by asking whether Facebook alone can solve the problem of polarization. On its own, of course it can’t—but that’s not surprising, considering how deep the problem cuts. Governments, civil society, and the private sector all have a role to play, and I wish Harari had said more about them.

    But Harari is such a stimulating writer that even when I disagreed, I wanted to keep reading and thinking. 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? So far, human history has been driven by a desire to live longer, healthier, happier lives. If science is eventually able to give that dream to most people, and large numbers of people no longer need to work in order to feed and clothe everyone, what reason will we have to get up in the morning?

    It’s no criticism to say that Harari hasn’t produced a satisfying answer yet. Neither has anyone else. So I hope he turns more fully to this question in the future. In the meantime, he has teed up a crucial global conversation about how to take on the problems of the 21st century.

  • David Wineberg

    Society 101

    Yuval Harari is well known for his books Sapiens and Homo Deus. He has decided to squander his reputation on a book called 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. The basic problem is that every chapter is the subject of whole shelves of books, and putting them all in one book cannot possibly do them justice. What we have left is a set of 21 editorials, which might inform the totally uninformed, but provide little insight and no solutions. As “lessons” they are unhelpful.

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