Amazon Customer Review1
- Reading this book is like being trapped, stone cold sober, at a dinner party in which one’s tipsy host enthusiastically harangues his guests with an endless series of factoids all carefully selected to prop up his favourite pet theories about the world, until finally at 3 a.m. you manage to tip toe into the hall and call a cab.
- I held out great hopes for this but these were thoroughly dashed not just by the errors and the highly selective use of evidence, but the way in which that evidence was distorted and fashioned towards the author’s vision. All too often, arguments are presented which frequently give extremely reductive accounts, focusing on certain elements of explanation only, and these are then often given illusory force by being counterpoised to an opposing position which is frequently no more than a straw man. Counter evidence is either completely ignored or brushed away with a wave of the hand. Significant elements of complex positions are thus papered over, in an attempt to drive home the skeletal vision of human beings and their future.
- Here’s an example of many weaknesses – driving home a particular view of human happiness, and cobbling together partial views of science and of philosophy, the author attributes a simple view of pleasure and pain as the foundation of human motivation and of morality both to Bentham and to Mill. Yet, every first year philosophy student knows that Mill at least attempted to produce a more sophisticated account of happiness than Bentham’s. They’re probably even written an essay on the topic. Perhaps one such student could kindly send a copy to the author of this book. Likewise, in Harari’s account of happiness in Greek philosophy that precedes this discussion, Epicurus is discussed – but not Aristotle, perhaps because the Aristotelian account of Eudaimonia would provide a far richer attempt to explain human happiness which might well spoil Harari’s simplistic jaunt through the history of ideas. There are so many other oversimplifications that it would take longer than the length of the book to explain them all.
- A major task for anyone giving a general account of the trajectory of the human race is how to interweave the various strands that make us human into a convincing overall harmony. The general tenor of this book is a fragmented debunking account of the formation of many human beliefs and belief systems, which leaves a strong nihilistic scent. I got so despondent I was forced to read the book with a comforting mug of cocoa in hand. The impression is given that the human race keeps formulating plans which are just screwed up into a ball and thrown into the bin every so often, starting again from scratch. What an odd way to write a history of ideas. The reference to the narrative structures and beliefs that have guided humanity as ‘myth’, and the ways in which such stories are explained in ways which are then knocked down by the wrecking ball of science, means that it would be dangerous to let any alien life forms read this book, lest they conclude we are a bunch of utter simpletons ripe for takeover or domestication. In my view, a far more humane, interesting and plausible account of the development of the myths and belief systems of humans, informed by a more robust understanding of science, and a less derogatory account of suffering humanity, can be found in the works of Jordan B Peterson. Just saying.
- The claims that Harari makes about humanism – which is now a ‘religion’ - are breathtakingly sweeping. As someone who’s studied, researched, and taught ethics for 40 years, I was gobsmacked to find I’d missed the new humanist ‘formula’ for acquiring ethical knowledge – “Knowledge = experiences × sensitivity”. If only one of my many highly erudite philosophy lecturers had thought to mention in class. And, weirdly, Harari sticks this formula of human emotional experience onto the rationalism of science like a cheerful fridge magnet on the morgue’s chill-room door, blathering about ‘yin and yang’ as some kind of hand-waving explanation of the conjunction of human feeling and brute scientific fact. How the hell does that work? I have no idea.
- And just as I was thinking to myself that the last chapter on the Data Religion read like the late night ramblings of a group of stoned computer science students, who would wake up in the morning to realise they’d been talking crap, something happens that reminded me of that time when Bobby Ewing was killed in the 80s TV series Dallas, only to find many episodes later that ‘it had all been a dream’. In the very last couple of pages, we find that the scenarios and theories discussed were just one of many possibilities. What the …
- I would not ordinarily be so harsh in a review, but I guess the author has a large enough royalty cheque to cushion the blow. I also am not expecting that any book which encompasses such a large topic to be able to go into detail about all elements. What I do expect, however, is that such a book would not distort, not overreach its conclusions in so spectacular a manner. Providing partial views to outline one of many possible scenarios for the future is one thing; providing partial views in presenting an account of human history, human nature and human values, quite another.
- If you want a decent book about human nature, read Roger Scruton’s recent book on that topic. It’s far more profound, based upon decades of careful scholarship, and, a mere fraction of the length. Perhaps because after years of work, Scruton understands the ideas well enough to be able to explain them properly. Take note.
In-Page Footnotes ("Harari (Yuval Noah) - Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow")
- Vintage; First edition (23 Mar. 2017)
- Recommended by Naomi
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)