21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari. A great book by a brilliant guy. It touches on every important topic, like migration, global warming, fake news, artificial intelligence and analyses them very carefully from all sides.
The author Yuval Noah Harari is probably best known for his earlier work - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind which I have yet to write about here on this page. I did read it about a year ago and if you follow me on Instagram you might even remember my endless raving about it. I might have even recommended it to you directly if you happened to ask for a book recommendation in a post I came across at that time.
I will write about it here as well, don’t worry. But as the European elections draw closer, I decided to first recommend this book as it might have a more direct impact on who you vote for and by extension on the future of the EU in the next few years. So, while the “Sapiens” is a brilliant book this one is concerned not so much with the past but with the present. And we do live in interesting times, to say the least. That is the reason I am recommending this book before Sapiens.
First, to get something out of the way – yes, this book is nowhere close to being as mind-blowing and eye-opening as Sapiens. But I feel that it cannot ever possibly be and that the reviewers and bloggers who make that comparison are really comparing apples to oranges. Sapiens is about the history and of course – if you did not know various tidbits from history or did not think about something that happened in the same way as the author, sure the book will be very revealing to you. “21 lessons” is about the present. We’re living in that present and you just cannot find out as many things from the book as you could from Sapiens.
Now for the book itself. You did not have to read any of the author’s other books. They are a nice series, mind you – “Sapiens” is about the past, “Homo Deus” is about the future and “21 lessons” book is about the present – but this book stands fine on its own.
In this book, the author is trying to, well – help save the World. The world is a complicated and quickly-changing place and he hopes to offer some clarity to help us all participate in the discussions that shape our world. He talks about our current issues, ranging from AI taking our jobs, climate change, fake news, religion, nationalism, immigration etc. Regarding each of these issues, he offers his insights to try and determine what exactly the problem is – and that is a very important step in the process of solving these issues. In order to have an effective and meaningful conversation about the issues, we need to understand what they are about. He analyses them without an agenda – he looks at a problem from all sides. Take immigration – he makes a point to take note of what both conservatives and liberals think about it and proceeds to analyze both conservative and liberal points of view, not only pointing the weaknesses of each but making an effort to point out the fact that some are anti-immigration but are happy to accept undocumented workers if that means they save money on salaries.
That all is just an example of the type of careful analysis the author does regarding all these issues. Almost every topic in the book – fake news, climate change, AI, nationalism – are dealt with in a similar manner. So, the author delivers what he promises in the introduction – he provides the reader who does not have much time to explore these issues on their own with some much-needed clarity which indeed helps us understand what the issues are about.
The only critique of this book would be that he sometimes takes too much of the “taking both sides into consideration” approach and as a result, the suggestions what should be done leave something to be desired. The book offers brilliant analysis of my own views, personally, I would say that he understands liberal side well and I have indeed learned much from descriptions of conservative views, but the book IMO falls a bit short on offering solutions. I feel that not many concrete, real-world solutions have been offered. For example, regarding the AI he has in mind a solution involving universal basic income but with the immigration issue, for example, I don’t remember he did offer a concrete solution in the same way as with the AI. I feel that because of this the book falls short and lands into a “great” instead of into a “magnificent” category.
Still, that is a very minor objection, as these are VERY difficult issues and even getting a clear picture is extremely hard, let alone offering feasible immediately implementable solutions. IMO it does point that the direction where we should be heading is one of liberalism instead of conservatism as conservatism rarely offers solutions that can solve these kinds of problems. Sure, conservatism might solve issue of migration for you if you are opposed to it and don’t feel that humans have moral responsibilities (beyond the very basic ones) towards one another, but conservatism with its usual isolationist and putting the short-term interests of one country first agenda doesn’t offer solutions for climate change, for example, so their “solution” is to deny it. These kinds of conclusions would seem to follow naturally from Harari’s analyses so he does not have to spell explicitly what kinds of philosophies we should be listening to.
Harari does succeed in offering clarity about the issues, so even if he doesn’t offer concrete proposals, he gives us a perspective to even begin to consider these issues with. Even when you stop and think to yourself that he’s very wrong you will learn something, gain something from it because that means he successfully provoked you into thinking for yourself. And if he can do that the book is already very useful to you.
Long story short – if you wish to know what some issues of our time are and what they are all about, you should pick up this book. And you should care about this because if you do not participate in the debates even at the most basic level, things will be decided without you. Or you will make a wrong decision because you didn’t care to be informed. Sure, that is indeed your right, but it is not an honest way to live. I believe that we all should do everything that is reasonably possible to participate in our democracies and this book will give you a lot of information to reach a decision about what would be the best way to move forward.