I wasn't sure whether to give 21 Lessons it's own thread or not. I decided this thread works as the Harari thread as we've done with the Peterson thread. It's apt since I found 21 Lessons to be the progressive answer to Peterson's 12 Rules. In some ways, the books are similar. Both authors are ensconced in the humanities. They give credence to the power of narratives, bristle against the current focus on technology, and have an idealistic idea of who humans can be when they apply themselves. They also both have a fascination with pop culture and know more about Disney movies than an adult male should IMO.
That said, they diverge on the usefulness of narratives. Peterson's book is almost an ode to the inherent truths in popular narratives and a warning that abandoning those narratives will cause us to lose our way, personally and as a society. Harari's Lessons are more a warning about the power of narratives and how they are used to control us, again both personally and as a society. Both authors show their perspectives in the best possible light and only give lip service to others ... Harari talks about secularism in the most positive terms while outlining all the dangers of other isms while Peterson makes traditional narratives sound like the only path to contentment. Of course, there are horrible secularists just as there are horrible traditionalists, both of whom can use their belief system to justify anything with only minimal effort.
I think there is as much 'truth' in Harari's book as there is in Peterson's. Peterson eschews progressive ideals as trampling over innate truths about humans, and in some cases that might be correct. Harari warns against clinging to narratives just because we've invested so much time and energy into them; he believes humans are best served by constantly reinventing themselves. Both, of course, are right. And wrong. There is no need to cling completely to established western truths to maintain a civil society as Peterson suggests. OTOH, Harari's idea of a constantly evolving set of human truths sounds, well, inhuman
, so is probably an impossible task for most people.
I enjoy Harari's writing and the success of Sapiens means he's given license to expound on ideas where other authors might get told to edit down. That said, he indulges in his pet peeves in every book and it's getting a little tiresome. One of those is his opposition to religion.* While I totally respect that viewpoint and can understand why a gay man growing up in judeo-christian society might have strong feelings about the subject, his understanding of religion, particularly of faith, is off the mark. When he mentions (several times) why people are religious, particularly why people have faith, he views it from his own perspective. He only talks about how he would have faith -- what would need to be true for him to have a faith in something -- which is very different from how many people come to faith or remain faithful. His version of faith is very different from mine and many other people based on my experience in the church. He misjudges its benefits and failures to some extent because of this.
Is it worth reading? I'd say yes, if nothing else as a counterpoint to Peterson. 21 Lessons is a much more exhaustive book and Harari is a better writer and thinker. He is also very good at identifying what the key issues are going forward even if IMO his remedies are naively optimistic at times. Serious discussion of how humans should act and how the world should function is useful, even if it is mostly academic in the end.
*Full disclosure ... a pet peeve of mine is when people criticize religion (particularly the Catholic Church) by invoking the wrongs done centuries ago. I have my own version of Godwin's law, where as soon as someone mentions Galileo in an argument against the Church I dismiss their argument. Harari commits this sin in 21 Lessons.