The first time I heard about Yuval Noah Harari was at Barnes and Nobles when I wandered around the bestsellers shelf where Homo Sapiens and the later Homo Deus were standing on the top. I read a few months ago Homo Deus on which I will probably write a review later on as the focus of my article today is the author’s latest work: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. This book has caught my attention in different ways but this time in an unusual critical way. I had heard so many people around me talking about it with a fascinated outlook, yet after closing the 318 pages-long I could not hide my disappointment. The title implied to me that the 21 lessons I would read about would be similar in the framework of their context but rather different in their essence. However, even if the author did diversify the topics, I felt that all these lessons were revolving around the pessimistic idea that artificial intelligence is going to remove every single drop of humanity in the universe to leave a highly technological, brain-hacked, manipulated world. I do know that artificial intelligence and computing systems are increasingly taking the lead on the world, but holding such a constrained view of “everything is going to disappear and we won’t know who we are nor what to do about it” is to me, a very narrow perspective that does not consider millions of other possibilities.
My opinion is also probably very influenced by the fact that I highly disagree with the author’s way of talking about religion. My point being that I acknowledge and respect every type of different opinion and religious beliefs, but what I actually found bothersome is that Yuval Noval-Harari did not seem to hold this same tolerant and open perspective. He presented his disbelief and criticism of believers as a given and normative position that everyone will come to agree with. In other words, it is not the content of his ideas that I necessarily found irksome but rather the way he conveyed his own judgement to the reader. When I picked the book to read it, I craved answers to some big questions as I assume many people did but I ended up with even more questions unanswered.
However, if I had to consider some claims he made as rather convincing, I would highlight the idea that as humans, we are more likely to engage with stories than with facts. More than that, he also argued that we do not need more information in a world overwhelmed with increasingly big amounts of data, instead, we need more tools that give us the ability to make sense of it.
All my previous reviews were about books that I really enjoyed, and even if I did want to continue on that path, I thought that it could also be interesting to explore why I did not like as much as I thought an author’s work, especially when it came to a bestseller.