Yuval Noah Harari (2011)

A balanced and thoughtful history of humanity.

This is a wide-ranging book that often comes at familiar questions from different perspectives. Are humans causing rapid species extinctions in modern times? – yes, but it happened before as we spread into new regions and the local megafauna “coincidentally” disappeared. Have agriculture and science reduced human suffering? – yes, but at an enormous cost in animal suffering. And so on in a cascade of provocations that constantly raise questions and force judgements on the reader.

I think one can disagree somewhat with the trajectory of the arguments while agreeing with all the details. Harari maintains throughout that the ideas and philosophies we embrace today are just as transient and laking in foundation as any others. The transience is certainly true, of course, but I think one can be slightly more optimistic about the large-scale direction, and not be totally consumed by relativism.

The final two pages are perhaps the most insightful: “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?” The only conclusion In think we can draw from this book is that we’re going to be as gods, like it or not, and we’d better start deciding what we want to do with those powers: “what do we want to want”, in another of the author’s very insightful phrases.

5/5. Finished Sunday 20 August, 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)