Title: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
10-Word Summary: The world is complicated but we need to understand it.
About 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
This is a book about the present world and some of the challenges we are currently facing. Yuval Noah Harari analyzes some these challenges, trying to explain what could be the causes and factors behind them. Some of the topics discussed in the book are truth and fake news, technology and its effect on society, terrorism and war, racism and immigration, nationalism and education.
Even though the topics are not exhaustively discussed and I do not agree with everything in the book, I still recommend this book to everyone. It offers a different perspective on the world and it can helps us better understand how challenging and complicated the present really is.
What I like about 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
1. It focuses on important topics
Since there is so much content about…nothing, I am always happy when I come across a book that looks at the things that truly matter in the world. And this book is definitely one of them! We are all aware of some of the problems humanity has to face right now. We hear about them on the news every day, we read about them on facebook or we talk about them at family dinners. Think about Trump’s lies and fake news, the immigration problem in Europe and the US, the loss of faith in religion in an increasingly secular world, terrorist attacks, the rise of AI and technology and so on.
And even though we all hear about some of these topics, we only understand them on a superficial level. Harari offers us more information and background to help us better understand what each phenomenon represents and why and how it is happening.
I think that, even though many topics are too complicated for us to truly understand, they are so important that we have to learn and talk about them. Reading this book can better help us to do that.
2. Harari has a great perspective
Anyone can talk about current events. I talk about them, my parents talk about them and you probably do too. But when Harari talks about them, he takes it to another level. His background in history and his ability to think critically give him a bird’s eye view that lets him see things more clearly and from afar. It takes a certain level of education and a great ability to analyze things critically to develop such a perspective.
Since most of us see things from a lower point, we can learn a lot from Harari and others like him. Reading books like 21 Lessons for the 21st Century can also help us look at the world in a more critical, accurate and deeper way as well. It can help us put things in perspective.
3. It has valuable insights
There are some valuable insights in this book that have the power to truly change something in the way you think about yourself and the world. If you accept these ideas and let them influence you, they can give you more clarity, alleviate some of your suffering and better guide you in life.
Do not expect this book to offer you the secrets that can help you get everything you want in life, because it won’t. No book can do that since such secrets do not exist. But do expect to find some great ideas in it, because you will.
4. Yuval Noah Harari himself
It often happens to me to read a great book and get to know the author as well. Sometimes the writer’s personality, values and personal philosophy are embedded in his words. And when I discover that the author has great values, I instantly like the book more.
I obviously cannot say that I know what kind of person Harari is after reading one of his books. But I can say how he seems to be. While reading this book, it seemed obvious to me that Harari values the truth and critical thinking and he tries to apply that to each topic in the book (even though he sometimes does this imperfectly, I think). He values equality and responsibility and cares about doing the right thing. These are some of the values that I really care about and I’m always happy when I read a book and I can resonate with the author.
5. It helped me learn about myself
While reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century,I had a chance to learn about myself. As I said, this book looks at different topics that are relevant nowadays. But instead of simply explaining the events themselves, their causes and effects, Harari also talks about the way we understand them. He sometimes offers a few perspectives and explains the reasoning behind them. While reading these explanations, I was able to ask myself: “Do I agree with the first perspective or with the second one? What does this say about me?” This helped me uncover the reasoning behind some of my beliefs and it helped me understand some things about myself in a different way. And I think this book can help you think about yourself and the world in a new and more accurate way.
What I don’t like about 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
1. There are other important topics that were left out
I wonder how Harari chose the 21 topics for this book and why other did not make the cut. To be honest, I do think that the topics he chose are important for this point in history. But at the same time, I think that there are other topics who are just as important (maybe even more) than the ones he included. Some of the topics that I think should have been included in this book are: relationships, wellbeing, mental health issues, suicide, pornography, the effect of social media on individuals and society and climate change. I think that any of these topics are increasingly more important for our societies, but some of them go unnoticed by normal people. I wonder if Harari is aware of how much these things matter or not and I wish he would have addressed them as well. I would argue that some of these topics are much more pressing than some of the topics he did talk about.
2. It has some questionable information
When I bought the book, I already knew who Harari was. I heard he was a best-selling author and an Oxford-educated historian. My boyfriend had read his first two books and shared many great ideas from the books with me. So I was excited to read this book and I had high expectations of it.
I can almost say that I was not disappointed. I think the book explores interesting and complicated topics, it is well-written and everyone can benefit from reading it. But as I was reading it, I occasionally experienced disappointment and frustration when I would read something that seemed to be incorrect, illogical or misleading.
As I was reading the book, I would often think about it in these terms: “I can’t believe he said this. This just seems like he wants to believe this is true, so he relies on questionable logic. This seems wrong. Is he really wrong or am I just missing something?” Let me be honest, I don’t think that I am smarted than Harari who is read and praised by Bill Gates and Barack Obama. I feel quite anxious to challenge his work and…reasoning.
But at the same time, even if he is a great historian, author and thinker, that does not mean he is always right. If he makes claims without explaining them or backing them up with science or references, he can be wrong. He can make mistakes and have blind spots because he is also human. I will give you some examples to see what I mean.
He claims that we do not have free will. As you can expect, this is a controversial claim. As far as I know it, this theory was not scientifically proven. He offers no explanation to support this and no resource is claimed. So why should I believe he is right?
When talking about religion, he says that religious people invoke the mysteries of the Universe to justify why people should or should not do certain things.
He says that: “After giving the name of ‘God’ to the unknown secrets of the Cosmos, they then use this to somehow condemn bikinis and divorces. ‘We do not understand the Big Bang – therefore you must cover your hair in public and vote against gay marriage.’ Not only is there no logical connection between the two, but they are in fact contradictory. The deeper the mysteries of the universe, the less likely it is that whatever is responsible for them gives a damn about female dress codes or human sexual behaviour.”
Before addressing this, let me say that I do not consider myself a Christian, so I do not feel the desire to prove him wrong to defend my religion. But I was raised in a Christian family and I believed in God for many years, so this means that I know a few things about religion.
Harari’s argument can be summed up like this: (1) Christians claim that God created the Universe SO (2) God can tell you what to do and not do. If you put it like this, it will probably seem questionable, ridiculous or even stupid to be a Christian. But Harari purposefully crafted this in a way that guarantees this effect.
Here’s how the Christian logic actually goes: (1) God created the Universe SO (2) He knows how everything in the Universe works. (3) He created every human, including me. (4) Since God is my Creator and he is all-knowing, who could be better at telling me how to live than Him? (5) God told me and us how to live through the people that worshiped him and the Bible they wrote under divine inspiration. if you read this reasoning, would you still think that the Christian logic is stupid or that it makes perfect sense?
The way I see it, Harari either did not think about this argument long enough or he consciously oversimplified and twisted the way Christians think to prove his point. It is understandable since he is an atheist, but I still expected a better argument.
If you read this book, you can learn a lot from it. But keep in mind that you should read it with a pinch of salt. Analyze what you read and compare that with what you already know from reliable sources.
3. It offers little advice or guidance
Even though the book is called 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the book offers little advice or takeaways. I think the contents of this book can be better described as the result of an exercise of reflection. Harari explores the topics he discusses in different ways, but he does not really tell us how we should approach them. After reading this book, you will better understand some things that are happening or will happen, but you won’t really know what to do. The book is definitely worth reading, but don’t expect it to tell you how to live your life in the 21st century.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari is a great book. It tackles important topics about our world and presents them in a unique way. The books shows that Harari understands human nature and the challenges of the present moment better than almost everyone else. Even though this book is not perfect, it can provide valuable insight into our minds and the world around us. In my opinion, it is one of the best books you’ll ever read!
3 thoughts on ““21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari Book Review”
Hi, this is a very in-depth review and I think it’s fantastic. I have only just picked up the book and am hoping to go through it in the coming days.
Going through your review, I think what Harari meant to say about religion is probably that it interferes with how people of other faith live their lives too. I was born into a Muslim family but I myself am an atheist, and I have many times been forced to go and pray etc. What I mean to say is, I guess there’s a logic in saying that “God created us, so who better than him to tell us what to do”, but when you start to force other people to do things according to your religion without any real justification except for that it says so in the holy book, it becomes an issue. I hope I made some sense.
Also, there’s a book by Sam Harris about free will, you should check it out if the topic intrigues you.
Hope you have a good day!
Hello! Thank you for your comment. I understand your perspective and I agree with it. I also come from a religious family (Christian) and I have quite given up on that faith. I do agree that people should not impose their beliefs and behaviours on others. The thing that bothered me about the way Harari tackled this topic was not the motivation, but the logical argument. Even though I no longer believe in God, I still felt insulted that he twisted the Christian logic just to prove a point. It’s ok to debate an important topic like religion, even if it is controversial, but I wanted to see him do this with bullet-proof logic.
And yes, I have heard of Sam Harris’ book. It’s on my list, thank for recommending it!
Also, I’d love to hear what you think about Harari’s book once you read it. As I said, I still think it is a great book that is worth reading! 🙂
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