21 Lessons for the 21st century is not comparable to Harari’s previous landmark works of history and prognostication Sapiens and Homo Deus. Written with the purpose of focusing not on the future nor the past but on contemporary civilization, Harari tends to make sweeping assumptions and badly reasoned arguments when he is not flat out contradictory. Even worse, most of the content is the sort of generalizations seen in futurist websites and Facebook groups. It’s not so much that it’s false as that it’s not new.
I will try to summarize some examples of why I think this book is a poor relative to Harari’s previous works. Harari argues that elections might be infeasible in the future. Why? Because if elections were about reason then obviously we would appoint a committee of experts to choose our leaders. Since we don’t, elections must be all about emotions which, as seen in 2016, are increasingly going to be controlled by AI. Therefore, per Harari, elections will become passé. He does not consider that, like guessing the number of coins in a jar, elections might be held because, when you combine millions of voters responses, individual biases in reasoning will balance each other out and you will arrive at the best answer.
Another example: AI will soon create works of art superior to humans. This is because Harari asserts that art is all about the emotions and so AI will be able to manipulate these emotions better than a human artist. However, when I, for one, read Aeschylus I don’t experience much emotion but do enjoy the incredible craftsmanship and artistry of a creative genius. Many patrons of the arts I think would agree.
Lastly, the book concludes with Harari explaining that all meta-narratives—Christian, liberal, communist, Islamic, etc.— have been proven wrong by modern science. Even the stories of personal identity we tell ourselves—what we were like as children and how that made us into the adults we are today—are bogus because there’s no human soul that would make different times in our life into a unity.
So, having dismissed all personal narratives, Harari then goes on to tell his own story about how Buddhist meditation led him from being a confused and stressed teenager into the confident author of Sapiens and Homo Deus. Doesn’t Harari see that he cannot recommend mindfulness meditation as the correct response to personal suffering by telling a story if several pages earlier he said that personal narratives are illusory?
Harari is a talented writer and one can enjoy reading this book as an intelligent man’s musings about the contemporary world picture. But it simply cannot be considered in the same light as his previous monumental achievements.
- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Random House (4 September 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0525512179
- ISBN-13: 978-0525512172
- Product Dimensions:: 16.3 x 3.1 x 24.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 640 g
- Customer reviews: 1,268 customer ratings
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: 5,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)