Why I'm so excited for Yuval Noah Harari's upcoming book
The bestselling author and world history professor who wrote 'Sapiens' and 'Homo Deus' is writing a new book about the 21st century.
When I read Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” a few years ago, I was amazed to discover a new take on how my world came to be. I wasn’t the only one; the book wound up on the must-read list of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and President Obama. "Homo Deus," his next book, covered the distant future.
Today, I found out that the bestselling author and world history professor is writing a new book centered around the only time he hasn’t covered yet: the present. “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” will focus on the upcoming 100 years – what we can learn from the past to create or avoid certain futures. It’ll come out next August.
And I am frigging excited, because …
Harari always finds new takes on things I thought I understood.
When I heard Harari was coming out with a sequel to “Sapiens,” I was skeptical. “He probably didn’t realize his first book would be so successful,” I thought. “Now he has to write another one, but he’s already covered literally everything that’s happened. So he has to write about the future. But no one can predict the future.”
To my surprise, “Homo Deus” delivered. Harari used trends from the Stone Age to the modern era to predict what humans will likely be up to next, and his conclusions were actually pretty inarguable. He pointed out, for instance, that humans will likely continue their search for happiness by biologically altering the human mind to be happier.
I figured that’d be the end of it, since he’d covered every time imaginable. But now that a new book is coming out, I’m ready to rethink the century I’m in.
It might give me some hope.
“Homo Deus” suggested what may happen in the distant future (and told a pretty fascinating story about lawns) in a way that made me feel a bit helpless.
The future he predicted was dark, though not in a dramatic, “the world is ending” kind of way. Rather, Harari suggested that, if humans succeed in doing what we are actively trying to do, we’ll get a future that looks impressive but empty. We’ll all just end up worshiping data until we lose our humanity.
The book explains that this is just one possibility, but it doesn’t actually go into detail about how we can avoid such a future or what alternatives exist. It’s the sort of book that might cause you to buy a tub of Nutella and eat it with a spoon all afternoon.
So a book focused on what we can actually do in the present seems like a logical third step, and a psychological relief.
Today’s visions of the future are stuck in the past.
Most predictions about the future sound like techy versions of the past, either "1950s Americana plus computers" or "hunter-gatherer utopia plus computers." Harari explains that the world is stuck in nostalgic visions of the past, which probably aren't going to help us make our way through the coming decades.
“This definitely is not going to work, because nostalgic fantasies by their very nature don’t provide us with answers to the real questions we are facing,” says Harari. “It’s kind of a transitory phase until somebody manages to come up with a new meaningful vision for the future. So people hold on to these fantasies.”
“21 Lessons for the 21st Century” will discuss well-worn topics like global warming and nationalism, but (hopefully) in a way I’ve never heard before.
Or as wise Dumbledore once said, "It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live.”
The present is super confusing.
Media is no longer something I seek out for an hour or two a day, in the form of a favorite TV show, book or hour of nightly news. Instead, it blasts at me while I’m working, while I’m with friends, when I wake up and when I go to sleep.
There’s so much information out there, and it’s harder and harder to figure out which bits to pay attention to and how to make sense of it all.
“We are now living in an age of information explosion,” explains Harari. “The last thing people need is more information. What they really need is somebody to arrange all of the bits of information into a meaningful picture – and this is what I try to do.”
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