Combining historical, scientific, political, and philosophical perspectives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem history professor and the author of Sapiens explores 21 of what he considers to be today’s “greatest challenges.”
There is a new and frantic urgency in Harari’s writing, a tone that is quite different from the agreeable, leisured, scholarly tone of Sapiens, or from the cool speculative evaluation of humankind’s long-term future in Homo Deus, the book that followed it. We are running out of time, he says, to deal with the biggest challenge our species has ever confronted ... Harari’s book ranges across a huge territory: the nature of justice, the seductive appeal of identity politics, the failures of liberal democracies. It is erudite, illuminating, vivid. His lessons suggest new ways of thinking about current problems; they are less about answers than pleading with us to recognise and respond to the immediate threats they pose ... a splendid, sobering, stirring call to arms.
In his fascinating new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the historian Yuval Noah Harari creates a useful framework for confronting these fears ... 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 ... Sprinkled throughout is 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 ... 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 21 Lessons, I didn’t agree with everything in the book ... I wanted to see more nuance in Harari’s discussion of data and privacy ... I was also dissatisfied with the chapter on community ... 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 Harari is such a stimulating writer that even when I disagreed, I wanted to keep reading and thinking.
We should, he recommends, 'switch from panic mode to bewilderment.' Try telling yourself, he encourages the reader, 'I just don’t understand what’s going on in the world.' The author, by contrast, writes as if he understands absolutely everything about what’s going on in the world but needn’t stoop to details. Many of the book’s chapters have their genesis in occasional pieces of journalism, and much of the text is windy punditry. There are many generalizing statements next to which this skeptical reader penciled, in the jargon of Wikipedia, 'citation needed' ... Mr. Harari’s idea of technology is similarly more concerned with broad sweep than fact and plausibility ... This book is marketed as history and promises to guide us through the present and near future, and yet by the conclusion its overriding tone is rather mystically navel-gazing.