At least read Chapter 11. Then come over here and talk about it.
Sometimes you want to read a book that rocks your world, really shakes things up. For a lot of people that book could be Yuval Harari's Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. And while the whole book is a feast of eye-opening ideas, you can get a bellyful in just the last chapter.
The subtitle is telling. Harari is a historian, not so much a futurist. He gained celebrity three years ago for Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and the new book is sort of a sequel. In it, Harari projects recent trends in history and says how he thinks they may play out in the next century or so.
The sequel notion applies partly because Harari thinks humanity won the wars of the past. He sees famine, disease and violence as the three chronic oppressions across history and argues that all three have been radically reduced since World War II. Next up, he predicts, will be the pursuit of happiness, of godlike powers and, yes, immortality.
What's more, Harari thinks the wars were won partly because what he calls humanist religions outperformed theistic religions in creating the modern world. The humanist trio -- communism, fascism and liberal democracy -- fought it out. Supposedly liberal democracy triumphed, but the rise of China presages a great irony in Harari's story: the scientific progress led by liberal democracy is making individuals, and ultimately humanity itself, useless.
Perhaps, Harari muses, there will be a small core of elitists who will become homo dei -- immortal, happy gods. But he's betting against it. He sees the world currently heading to a universal, and fatal, religion of dataism. The collection and flow of information is driving progress today, and people give up their privacy and individualism to be part of it. In time, however, the flow will be so terrific that no human -- even a divine one -- will be able to cope with it, and humanity will wash away like all the extinct species before us.
Or maybe not. Harari leaves the door open for us to respond to what he has written. But he acknowledges resistance may be futile.
Homo Deus is the subject of a Science and Technology Book Club session I'll be hosting at 7 p.m. on June 21 in the conference room of the Business, Science & Technology Department at the Main Library. I'm trying to build a nucleus of people who are interested in a broad range of science themes, and if people don't find this book interesting, then I'll be mystified.
Harari makes a lot of broad statements about science, religion, humanity and the rest of life on Earth, but he backs them up with examples and footnotes. Some ideas are not original, but the way he puts them together could well erode the confidence readers have in how and why they are living the lives they lead. Harari's writing style is absolutely accessible, especially for such a heavy topic, although he sometimes hammers his points a little deep in the ground.
Fiction lovers like to talk about how good novels cause them to examine their own lives, but non-fiction can do the same. I encourage you to give this one a try -- or at least read the last chapter -- and then come on by and talk about it.
Evan - Married, three children, two grandchildren, formerly a newspaper journalist, now a public librarian, at all times a board game nut.