Review: Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Yuval Noah Harari

The third in Harari’s trilogy of books and by far his most accessible. If you know Harari through youtube videos and magazine articles, a lot of this will be familiar. Brilliant insights here into how A.I. will change work, how the stories will tell ourselves today may seem barbaric to our grandchildren, and the importance of clarity and insight in leading a fulfilling life. Perhaps not as mind-bendingly brilliant as Sapiens, or as forward thinking as Homo Deus, but still well worth the time and maybe even the best place to start. If 21 Lessons intrigues you, you’ll love his other works.

Recommended.

Review: Harari’s Home Deus

 

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Yuval Noah Harari 

The second in Harari’s trilogy on the past and future of our specifics. This isn’t quite as jaw dropping brilliant as Sapiens, but still well worth your time.

Sapiens takes all of human history and distills it down to a clear story powered by a compelling thesis – that what makes us human is our ability to create narrative. Homo Deus takes that story into the future and attempts to explain what the world will become now that humans have developed near divine powers of creation and cognition. Spoiler alert — the future is exciting and terrifying. We will extend life for the most advantaged of us, but make the less skilled irrelevant. We will need to address our treatment of animals and the planet, or face dire consequences.

As always with Harari, this book is chock full of challenging ideas presented in crystal clear prose. Some might find the tone of this too all knowing, but I appreciate a writer willing to stake a position and defend it well, even if at times I disagree with their conclusions. This and everything Harari writes is, from where I sit, a must read.

Recommended.

Review: Harari’s Sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari

 

This book comes with so much hype, and such rave reviews, I was sure I was going to be disappointed.

I wasn’t.

Harari’s sweeping history of homo-sapiens is riveting from start to finish. The central thesis is simple. What separates us from other species is our ability to organize large groups, and our ability to organize large groups is because of our ability to tell stories. Said differently, narrative is what makes us the ultimate apex predator. The facts Harari marshals to support this thesis are myriad and massive in scope — we’re talking prehistoric archaeological finding and current monetary policy. Its a tour de force of big picture thinking that is perhaps only available to those who spend three months a year in silent meditation.

I was not always convinced Harari was right, but I was always deeply impressed with the clarity of his argument and writing. This type of big idea book often comes and goes, but I think this one is here to stay for some time.

Recommended

What Are You Reading? For March 3, 2019 (Feat. Harari’s Sapiens, Newport’s Digital Minimalism and Tomlinson’s Elephant in the Room)

This month, I started a monthly newsletter of book recommendations call “What Are You Reading?”. I’ll be archiving the newsletter here on good old Milo.

If you want to sign up for the newsletter head on over here. 

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Welcome to the inaugural edition of “What Are You Reading?”, a monthly newsletter of book and article recommendations by me, Sean Sullivan. I am a father, husband, lawyer, runner and avid reader. My reading is a buckshot affair encompassing fiction, memoir, ancient and modern history, biography, theology, current affairs, self help, philosophy, genre literature in almost all its forms, diet books, and more. I’ll document it all here, but focus on the good stuff.

Ok, onto the books I read this month!

Recommended Books

Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind, Yuval Noah Harari This book comes with so much hype, and such rave reviews, I was sure I was going to be disappointed. I wasn’t. Harari’s sweeping history of homo-sapiens is rivetting from start to finish. The central thesis is simple. What separates us from other species is our ability to organize large groups, and our ability to organize large groups is because of our ability to tell stories. Said differently, narrative is what makes us the ultimate apex predator. I was not always convinced Harari was right, but I was always deeply impressed with the clarity of his argument and writing. This type of big idea book often comes and goes, but I think this one is here to stay for some time.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Cal Newport I’m a big fan of Cal Newport’s work (I’ve read Deep Work, twice). This feels like his best book yet. Part evisceration of social media and what it does to our brains, part guidebook on how to live a less distracted life, this book is essential for someone like me who has trouble standing in an elevator for five minutes without checking his phone. Newport puts together an excellent mix of practical advice, reporting, and science. Halfway through, I deleted all social media from my phone. I feel better already.

The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, Tommy Tomlinsin. Tomlisin is a lifelong reporter. It shows in this memoir of eating (and over-eating), love (and loss), and what it means to try to wrestle back a healthy life with a body that is fighting you, in a world that is trying to get you to hit the drive-through just one more time. Tomlinsin brings the crisp, direct, prose of someone who has written thousands of words on deadline. He couples that with the brutal, heartrending honesty of someone who has looked deep into himself and decided to make some changes. I devoured this in a couple days, seeing myself in many of Tomlinsin’s struggles and deeply impressed with his honesty.

 

Recommended Articles

Why Marlon James Decided to Write a African Game of Thrones, Jia Tolentino (The New Yorker) Marlon James is one of the more interesting writers today, moving from high literary novel to literary crime novel to, most recently, literary fantasy novel in the much anticipated Black Leopard, Red Wolf. This profile by tell you how a great writer develops and hones his craft. It is well worth your time.

A Post-Modern Murder Mystery by David Grann (The New Yorker) Many read this article when it came out years ago, but I did not. If you missed it too, this story of murder, post-modern thought, and police work in Poland will suck you in.

Other

I also read Becoming Ageless: The Four Secrets to Looking and Feeling Younger Than Ever, by Strauss Zelnick.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that this newsletter was inspired by the great monthly newsletter put out by Ryan Holiday, which you can sign up for here.