Book Review: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century – Yuval Harari

Published on: Fri 16 April 2021 by Claudia Cooney



Biggest Takeaways:

It might just be impossible to pick one or even three biggest takeaways. This book is written by a modern philosopher and historian who combines a seismic depth of knowledge about the behavioural patterns displayed by the human race throughout centuries of war and progress, with an effortless ability to provide insight into what this might mean for our future.

The five chapters are titled: The Technological Challenge; The Political Challenge; Despair & Hope; Truth; Resilience.

Who should read it:

Any human being with an interest in broadening their perspectives.

Quotes from the Book

21 Lessons for the 21st Century is so densely packed with intellectual insight that condensing it into a few paragraphs would do it an injustice. Instead, here are some quotes to give you a flavour of some of the topics he explores:


“People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.”

Truth vs Ritual

“If you want to know the ultimate truth of life, rites and rituals are a huge obstacle. But if you are interested– like Confucius– in social stability and harmony, truth is often a liability, whereas rites and rituals are among your best allies.”

Reliable Information

“It is the responsibility of all of us to invest time and effort in uncovering our biases and in verifying our sources of information. First, if you want reliable information – pay good money for it. If you get your news for free, you might well be the product. Suppose a shady billionaire offered you the following deal: “I will pay you $30 a month, and in exchange, you will allow me to brainwash you for an hour every day, installing in your mind whichever political and commercial biases I want.” Would you take the deal? Few sane people would. So the shady billionaire offers a slightly different deal: “You will allow me to brainwash you for one hour every day, and in exchange, I will not charge you anything for this service.” Now the deal suddenly sounds tempting to hundreds of millions of people. Don’t follow their example.”

Courageous Conversations  vs Acceptance

“Modern history has demonstrated that a society of courageous people willing to admit ignorance and raise difficult questions is usually not just more prosperous but also more peaceful than societies in which everyone must unquestioningly accept a single answer.”

Bias, Recruitment and AI

“Take for example job applications. In the 21st century the decision wherever to hire somebody for a job while increasingly be made by algorithms. We cannot rely on the machines to set the relevant ethical standards, humans will still need to do that, but once we decide on an ethical standard in the job market, that it is wrong to discriminate against blacks or against women for example, we can rely on machines to implement and maintain these standards better than humans. A human manager may know and even agree that is unethical to discriminate against blacks and women but then when a black woman applies for a job the manager subconsciously discriminate against her and decides not to hire her. If we allow a computer to evaluate job applications and program computers to completely ignore race and gender we can be certain that the computer will indeed ignore these factors because computers do not have a subconscious. Of course it won’t be easy to write code for evaluating job applications and there is always the danger that the engineers will somehow program their own subconscious biases into the software, yet once we discover such mistakes it would probably be far easier to debug the software than to get rid humans of their racist and misogynist biases.”

Food for thought indeed. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.