Title: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
10-word summary: The world is complicated, but we have to understand it.
About 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
As the title suggests, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a book about the present. In this book, the historian and world-renowned author Yuval Noah Harari analyses some of the challenges of our times. He presents each challenge from different perspectives that are bound to make us reflect and maybe start a conversation about them.
The book consists of 21 essays and each of them presents one area, trend or phenomenon that is having an impact on our world. Some of the topics he addresses in the book are immigration, terrorism, religion, big data, post-truth, education and much more.
I think this book can open our eyes to the challenges of our times. While Harari does not provide clear answers or solutions to our questions and challenges, he does a brilliant job at presenting the challenges and encouraging us to reflect more on them.
Lessons from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
There are many lessons and wonderful insights in this book. However, I’d like to present 3 of the lessons that I believe are representative of the book (and probably of the author’s philosophy as well).
Lesson 1: Our world is so complicated that it is hard to understand it
Harari believes that our world is so complex and complicated that it is hard to understand it. If you feel overwhelmed, that’s normal and it’s even a good thing – according to him.
Because our world is so complex, it is often hard to see the chain of cause and effect and to understand the causes of our actions. However, he thinks that it is our duty to try to understand the world as much as possible.
Harari adds that being able to learn about and to reflect on the state of the world is a luxury and not everyone can afford to do this. Sadly, this does not mean that those who cannot understand the world will be spared of the effects of what is happening in the world.
Lesson 2: We need to be responsible
Even though it is hard to understand the chain of cause and effect and global events, Harari seems to think that we need to be responsible. We need to do our best to educate ourselves and to make better decisions – for ourselves, for others and for the world we live in. He believes that it is our duty to learn enough to know what are the consequences of our actions so that we can make better decisions.
Lesson 3: We need a new story
Harari says that in the 20th century, people had 3 main stories to choose from: the fascist story, the communist story, and the liberal story. History has shown that the liberal story has won. Our societies value democracy and freedom. Yet, according to Harari, people are starting to lose faith in the liberal story, so many people are left with no story to believe in.
However, if we want to successfully face the challenges of this century, we probably need a good story. A good story for our century should be one that helps better deal with our global challenges. And Harari believes that we cannot wait – we need a new story as quickly as possible. What will that story be? We’ll have to see how history unfolds…
Quotes from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.”
“We are consequently left with the task of creating an updated story for the world.”
“It is the responsibility of every citizen to liberate his or her imagination from the terrorists, and to remind ourselves of the true dimensions of this threat.”
“The most important secular commitment is to the truth, which is based on observation and evidence rather than on mere faith. Seculars strive not to confuse truth with belief.”
“People rarely appreciate their ignorance because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.”
What I like about 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
1. The book covers some trends and phenomena that are shaping our world
If you want to understand what is important right now, I think this book can be a great starting point for your education. We live in a complex world and there are many factors that are shaping our societies and, inevitably, our future. While not all of them are covered in this book, you will definitely learn about some of the most important events and trends of our century.
We can only be prepared for the future if we understand the direction we are going in. We can only find solutions to our challenges if we understand them and the factors that influence them. Understanding what is going on in the world is not easy, but it is necessary.
2. Harari presents each topic from different perspectives and helps us get a clear image of them
I think that Harari does a great job at presenting every topic in a rather objective way. He often includes some context and he references events in the past. He often presents the views of different groups or different perspectives and this helps us get a better understanding of the topic itself.
3. He shares many valuable, meaningful and life-changing insights
Harari shares many good ideas that have the power to change your mind on many topics and, consequently, your life. Some of these ideas go against what people usually believe, so accepting them may take time. But if you have the courage to truly consider Harari’s philosophy and the ideas he presents in this book, I think you’ll understand yourself and the world in a more accurate and more deeper way.
4. Harari’s ability to think clearly and to write with clarity, courage and wit is truly impressive
I honestly believe that Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best thinkers and authors of our times. He expresses his thoughts and his perspectives so clearly that I find it hard to imagine that somebody could misunderstand him.
Whether you agree with him or not, I think it is undeniable that he does a brilliant job at thinking about the world, explaining his thoughts and proving how ridiculous some of our beliefs are. I have nothing but respect for him.
5. This book challenged me and encouraged me to reflect on many important topics
When I first read this book in 2018, there were some ideas that I did not understand or agree with. Some of these ideas were challenging me and I could not accept them at the time. However, in time, I have changed my mind on many of these topics. While re-reading the book this year, it became obvious to me how much my philosophy and beliefs have changed.
Some of the ideas I loved from this book were related to our own ignorance, echo-chambers, the effects of our own actions, the luxury and responsibility to educate ourselves, meaning and the stories we tell ourselves, the idea of souls and free will and many more! There is a lot to explore in this book!
What I don’t like about 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
1. He does not always provide sources or logical explanations for his claims
While I admire Harari and I trust his ability to learn and analyse information critically, I believe that he should always provide sources and logical arguments for his claims. This is even more necessary when he makes controversial claims – like the ones about feelings, souls and free will.
He does include many resources for every chapter, but there are some ideas that are not explained or backed up by sources. While I believe that he is probably right and well-informed in most cases, I think he could have done a better job at proving that.
2. He is a bit misleading at times
I have noticed that Harari is sometimes misleading in his writing – especially in the beginning of a chapter. I think that he may consciously present a perspective in a way that makes us think this is his perspective as well. But as you read more and by the end of the chapter, you realize that his own view is quite different from the one he started with. Maybe he did this on purpose to make readers less defensive. I just wish he would have been much more clear from the start.
3. There are other topics he could have mentioned
I know that the book is not meant to be exhaustive and only a certain number of topics can be covered in any book. But there are many other topics that he could have mentioned, even if only to acknowledge that there are many more problems in the world. Some of these topics that he did not mention or did not explore enough are pollution and climate change, racism, sexism, economic inequality, mental illness, pornography and internet addiction and more.
4. The book offers no advice or solutions to our problems
Harari admits this in the introduction, so we should not be surprised. He also adds that he hopes the book would inspire us to reflect and have conversations about our challenges. In my opinion, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a great book and I wish everybody would read it.
Nonetheless, I would have liked to read the solution or advice Harari would give us all. Even though his solution or advice may be incomplete or imperfect, I would have liked to read more about it.
Should You Read 21 Lessons for the 21st Century?
Yes! I think that everybody should read this book. It will open your eyes to some of the biggest challenges of our century. It will challenge you to reconsider your own beliefs. And I believe it will inspire you to reflect on the great ideas in this book and to have meaningful conversations about them. It may even cause a big change in your life philosophy.