cover image 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Yuval Noah Harari. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-51217-2

Magnificently combining historical, scientific, political, and philosophical perspectives, Harari (Sapiens and Homo Deus), a Hebrew University of Jerusalem history professor, explores 21 of what he considers to be today’s “greatest challenges.” Despite the title’s reference to “lessons,” his tone is not prescriptive but exploratory, seeking to provoke debate without offering definitive solutions. An early chapter is headlined with the lesson, “When You Grow Up, You Might Not Have a Job.” Not only will many jobs be lost to machines, but, Harari speculates, humans might not even be necessary to fulfill the role of consumers: “Theoretically, you can have an economy in which a mining corporation produces and sells iron to a robotics corporation, and the robotics corporation produces and sells robots to the mining corporation.” A chapter beginning with the lesson “Those Who Own the Data Own the Future” discusses how the improved human understanding of mind and brain, and the ability to manipulate both, raises the threat of control by those with access to one’s data, making the regulation of data ownership perhaps “the most important political question of our era.” Within this broad construct, Harari discusses many pressing issues, including problems associated with liberal democracy, nationalism, immigration, and religion. This well-informed and searching book is one to be savored and widely discussed. (Sept.)