Book Review: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Summary

Thoughtful, well researched, well articulated discussion of opposing perspectives on multiple global issues. A clear warning about the coming confluence of biotech and infotech. Topics covered include: disillusionment, work, liberty, equality, community, civilization, nationalism, religion, immigration, terrorism, war, humility, god, secularism, ignorance, justice, post-truth, science fiction, education, meaning, and meditation. In particular, the section on immigration is a great articulation of both sides of this controversial issue.

The subjects discussed are heavy, with serious consequences. While an easy read, the weight and breadth of topics in this book may leave you with the sense of being overwhelmed. This is one of the key challenges of modernity. The author asserts that our hunter-gatherer minds may not have the capacity to comprehend the complexity of modern life.

The most clear message of this book is a warning about a potential dystopia caused by the confluence of biotech and infotech. Harari’s call to action? Use the small window of time ahead to understand yourself, before the algorithms takeover and start determining your self, for you. How? Simply observe. Meditation is a good start, through which you will realize that so much of what you consider to be your “self”, is not, it is just the soup of other people’s thinking that you swim in every day.

Answers are suggested for many of the questions and challenges raised. Nonetheless, the world is a complex place, for citizens and leaders alike.

Big Ideas

  • Communism and fascism are discredited. Liberal democracy may be next.
  • What granularity are you willing to disclose your health to your employer and insurer?
  • Will billionaires become a different species?
  • AI: lost jobs vs benefits.
  • Current terrorism is overhyped relative to other sources of death.
  • Future nuclear terrorism is probably not worried about enough.
  • Could AI make centralized decision making practical?
  • Human decisions are dominated by feelings and obtaining power, not by thinking.
  • The algorithms will control our minds if we don’t start understanding ourselves better.
  • Our hunter-gatherer minds do not have the capacity to understand the modern world.
  • The highest priority of humanity should be the reduction of suffering.

Conclusion

Article Type: Book Review
Title: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Author / Source: Yuval Noah Harari
Rating: 11111111- 8 bits on, the full byte

This book represents a great survey of many important issues of modernity. The author makes a reasonable and seemingly honest attempt to present opposing viewpoints in an often, but not always, non-judgmental way. Harari concedes he may be biased to the concerns of elites, explaining that elites are the ones involved in the conversation, so therefore it is hard to avoid. Though he does also understand if you really want to understand something, you have to not just read about it, but get on a plane and experience it.

I recommend this book not because I agree with everything in it, but because, if you are going to have a discussion about the important issues facing the global community, the framings presented in this book are an excellent, well researched, and well thought out place to start.

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