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21 Reasons to Read Yuval Noah Harari

Explore the history of humankind and learn what our future might hold by looking at the works of celebrated historian Yuval Noah Harari.
by Jennifer Duffy | Aug 27 2020

Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best-known public intellectuals of our time. His books have sold 27.5 Million copies in 60 languages, and he has been credited with revolutionizing the nonfiction market. Sapiens emerged from a series of lectures Harari delivered on world history for an undergraduate class. Initially published in Hebrew, the English translation, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, appeared in 2014. It explains the history and evolution of humanity in a clear, accessible way and covers a remarkable time span. The Guardian has called Sapiens ‘a publishing phenomenon,’ crediting its publication for starting ‘a surge in the popularity of intelligent, challenging nonfiction, often books that are several years old.’

Sapiens has been endorsed by Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Janelle Monáe, and many others. With Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016) and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) the historian became a philosopher, too, considering the important questions for our age.

In 2018 and in 2020, Yuval Noah Harari gave keynote speeches on the future of humanity on the Congress Hall stage of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

In 2019, Yuval Noah Harari and his husband Itzik Yahav founded Sapienship, a multi-disciplinary organization dedicated to discussing global challenges and supporting the quest for solutions. They recently donated $1 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) following funding cuts from President Trump.

  1. In his work, Yuval Noah Harari tackles macrohistorical questions like: Have people become happier over time? What is the essential difference between Homo sapiens and other animals? Is there justice in history?
  2. The modern era has been a story of growth and progress, and to understand this we must consider the history of humankind as a whole. Sapiens charts this history, and his follow-up books turn to the future.
  3. Sapiens covers an impressive timespan, and shows how through the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens became the dominant species. This happened through creating more complex tools, better communication leading to societal growth and new trading networks. Now, with technology becoming ever more sophisticated, we must consider what our future is.
  4. Harari wants to start conversations and debates, not just lecture his readers. His books raise thought-provoking questions that will stay with you long after you read the final page. On his most recent release, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari said the following.
    “I hope that people will read the book not as an infallible guide to living in the 21st century but as a list of questions. You can’t have answers before you have a debate. So we first need to start a debate.”
    — Yuval Noah Harari
  5. In his books, Harari presents complex challenges in an accessible manner. He invites the reader to consider values, meaning and personal engagement in a world full of noise and uncertainty. In Homo Deus he presents predictions and potential outcomes, with the aim of encouraging conversation and debate.
    “Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”
    — Yuval Noah Harari
  6. Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century engage with the pressing issues of our day including the climate crisis, the rise of far-right politics and terrorism. Harari explores the history and evolution of our species, but he uses this knowledge to engage with the political turbulence of the present and the uncertainty of the future. By drawing on pertinent examples from current affairs, his work becomes much more relevant and engaged with his readers’ lived realities.
    “…you can’t live in the past and you can’t live in the future. You can live only in the present. So unless you can take these long-term insights and say something about the immigration crisis, or Brexit or fake news, what’s the point?”
    — Yuval Noah Harari
  7. We need to learn about the ongoing Scientific Revolution, which has seen technology boom. Harari states humanity has experienced three huge revolutions — the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution and that we are now in the midst of the Scientific Revolution. From the 1990s onward, computer technology has arguably changed our world more than any other force, and Harari foresees a future in which humans are replaced by AI and algorithms.
  8. You will learn about the benefits of meditation for your health and wellbeing. Yuval Noah Harari credits his Vipassana practice with making him a better historian and philosopher. Every year, he spends several weeks on a silent meditation retreat, usually in India, to help focus his mind. He says the experience of meditation is, “so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it.”
  9. These books explore what Harari views as the three primary threats to humanity — nuclear war, ecological collapse, and technological disruption. He shows the challenges the world currently faces and critiques government responses to these problems.
  10. Throughout history, shared narratives have been created through religion, leading to a network of shared desires and values. Harari sees religions, societal norms, nations, and more, as fictions. They are a way of creating a moral code, and believing we can write our own scripts.
  11. Harari considers the potential consequences of the rise of big data. He suggests an outcome may be dataism, a future in which algorithms would be all-powerful and occupy the dominant role once held by humans.
  12. Harari credits the rise of the far-right to a fear of being left behind by dominant liberal political systems. He states that people feeling disenfranchised has led to political earthquakes with Brexit and Trump.
  13. Harari is an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. He contradicts the idea that it is “unnatural” to be gay as anything that exists cannot be unnatural, stating that the laws of nature cannot be broken. He is open about his own sexuality, and is an advocate for acceptance and tolerance.
  14. In his work, Harari theorizes about the knowledge illusion which means that we fail to recognize our own ignorance and therefore don’t understand how complex the world really is.
  15. The immigration challenge is more pressing than ever. With globalization, the world has become increasingly smaller, and there is more movement of people. Harari engages with questions around assimilation and acceptance of different cultures.
  16. Throughout history, we have seen short-term rises in happiness and sadness, but over the longer-term, our happiness hovers around the same level. Harari states that Homo sapiens probably evolved this balance to ensure stability. But on a societal level — are we happier? Harari writes that for privileged white men the answer may be yes, but minorities who have been victimized and oppressed over and over are only beginning to gain equality.
  17. He makes a compelling case for a complete overhaul of our current education system, which he sees as outdated and no longer relevant. At present, Harari argues, there is too much emphasis on information, which no longer makes sense in a world so oversaturated with it. Harari feels it is far more necessary for today’s students to learn how to distinguish between important information and fake news. This type of schooling would help them to develop critical thinking skills and empower themselves.
  18. Harari explores the impact mass media and the internet have had on information distribution, and how we process and evaluate the messages we receive.
    “In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information”
    — Yuval Noah Harari
  19. Harari sees superhumans as a potential outcome of the current technological boom. Impressive advances in bionics have made the merging of man and machine possible. Harari argues that superhumans will come into existence, which are half organic, half machine. With technology making more decisions for us than ever, we must consider how much we are relying on digital devices.
  20. Harari exposes many of our societal norms and structures, showing them to be fictions. He has said that these things do not reflect reality as it is, but rather are stories the majority have chosen to believe.
    “There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.”
    — Yuval Noah Harari
  21. Sapiens and Harari’s other books will not just educate you, but will also help expand your mind and change your thinking.
    “We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
    — Yuval Noah Harari

These are only some of the provocative lessons Yuval Noah Harari offers in his books. Delving into Sapiens will give you a thorough insight into the evolution of humanity, while Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century will help you engage critically with the present day—and futureproof your life and career. Read the key insights from all these titles now on Blinkist.

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