Humankind Book Summary - Humankind Book explained in key points
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Humankind summary

Rutger Bregman

A Hopeful History

4.6 (200 ratings)
29 mins

Brief summary

Humankind by Rutger Bregman challenges the idea that humans are inherently selfish by presenting evidence of our altruistic behavior throughout history. This book provides a refreshing perspective on human nature that encourages empathy and community.

Table of Contents

    Humankind
    Summary of 9 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 9

    Crises like war don’t automatically make us barbarians.

    Do you know what Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt have in common? Yes, all their names are splashed across history. But that’s not all. They were each influenced by the same book: The Psychology of the Masses, by the French author Gustave Le Bon.

    In the book, Le Bon explains that in crises like war, the masses panic and gradually regress to their true nature, which is violent and selfish. In other words, when people fear for their lives, they become barbarians, concerned with nothing but their own well-being.

    Hitler had Le Bon’s ideas in mind when he sent 348 Luftwaffe bombers to London in 1940. He believed that, in the rain of bombs, the people of London would become panicked and barbarous, aiding in their own overthrow. 

    What actually happened when the bombs began to fall must have come as a surprise.

    The key message here is: Crises like war don’t automatically make us barbarians.

    In the year before the German Luftwaffe's "Blitz," which killed more than 40,000 people in London alone and destroyed entire neighborhoods, the British public built emergency psychiatric wards in a desperate attempt to prepare for the anticipated panic. 

    But these facilities remained empty. Countless observers described how the British went about their daily lives more or less normally, even though air raids had long been underway. Children played, shoppers haggled, and trains continued to run. Londoners calmly drank their tea, despite windows bursting in the background, shattered by the detonation of bomb upon bomb.

    Not only did Londoners remain unexpectedly calm – in many ways, they were psychologically and mentally better than ever before. Of course there was heartrending grief and deep mourning. But alcohol abuse decreased, and fewer people committed suicide. When it was all over, many Londoners even longed for wartime, because of the widespread camaraderie and solidarity it promoted. People helped each other out far more than they did under normal circumstances.

    In short, the people of London defied Hitler’s expectations and disproved Le Bon’s theory. 

    The existential threat by no means brought out the worst in people. Rather, it made them less selfish. Contrary to Le Bon's thesis, the crisis of the Blitz strengthened British society in many respects. Hitler had achieved the exact opposite of his actual goal.

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    What is Humankind about?

    Humankind (2020) is an optimistic study of its namesake. For centuries, the message seemed to be carved in stone: Humans are evil by nature, and only the veneer of civilization keeps us from terrorizing and murdering each other. The author Rutger Bregman aims to dispel that prejudice and reveal that our essential nature is peaceful and friendly. Perhaps humanity – as recent discoveries from disciplines like archeology and criminology suggest – is actually much less selfish than we think. 

    Humankind Review

    Humankind (2020) by Rutger Bregman is a thought-provoking exploration of human nature that challenges common assumptions and offers inspiring insights. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With impeccable research and compelling examples, it presents a refreshing view of human goodness, showing that people are naturally inclined towards cooperation and kindness.
    • Bregman dares to question age-old beliefs and offers alternative perspectives on topics such as crime, education, and democracy, leading to a stimulating and enlightening reading experience.
    • The book's accessible writing style and engaging storytelling keep readers hooked, ensuring that this exploration of human nature never becomes dull or tedious.

    Best quote from Humankind

    Empathy and xenophobia go hand in hand. Theyre two sides of the same coin.

    —Rutger Bregman
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    Who should read Humankind?

    • Optimists
    • Pessimists
    • Anyone in need of good news

    About the Author

    Rutger Bregman, born in the Netherlands in 1988, proves that a historian can also be a best-selling author. In his 2017 book Utopias for Realists, Bregman made the case for a universal basic income, open borders, and a 15-hour workweek. He’s also known for ruffling feathers at the World Economic Summit in Davos, in 2019, where he called out billionaires for tax avoidance. 

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    Humankind FAQs 

    What is the main message of Humankind?

    The main message of Humankind is that people are inherently good and cooperative, challenging the common belief in human selfishness and aggression.

    How long does it take to read Humankind?

    The reading time for Humankind varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Humankind a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Humankind is a thought-provoking and insightful read, shedding light on the positive aspects of human nature. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Humankind?

    Rutger Bregman is the author of Humankind.

    What to read after Humankind?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Humankind, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman
    • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
    • The Great Leveler by Walter Scheidel
    • The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
    • Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels by Ian Morris
    • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
    • How Not to Age by Michael Greger
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma
    • The Little Book of Stoicism by Jonas Salzgeber