Gods and Mon­sters

Is­raeli au­thor Yu­val Noah Harari’s fol­low-up to his 2011 in­ter­na­tional best­seller on hu­man his­tory throws the story for­ward, and it’s a rather un­set­tling vision. But Mar­i­anna Cerini dis­cov­ers the au­thor is an op­ti­mist

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

uval Noah Harari is a some­what sur­pris­ing cult fig­ure. Sur­pris­ing be­cause the his­to­rian started his ca­reer as a re­searcher of medieval war­fare—not the most buz­zwor­thy of fields—and is now one of the most cel­e­brated con­tem­po­rary au­thors of non-fic­tion world­wide. Sur­pris­ing, also, be­cause in a world where lis­ti­cles reign and at­ten­tion spans are shrink­ing, he has pro­duced two macro-nar­ra­tives tack­ling per­haps the broad­est of sub­jects—mankind—and has won a loyal fol­low­ing of both aca­demic types and ca­sual read­ers.

Born in Is­rael in 1976, Harari is a tenured pro­fes­sor in the his­tory depart­ment of the He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem. His star rose with the 2011 pub­li­ca­tion of Sapi­ens: A Brief His­tory of Hu­mankind, his first book to be given a wide release. Sapi­ens grew out of an in­tro­duc­tory course on world his­tory he taught at the univer­sity as a ju­nior lec­turer a decade ear­lier, a course he took on be­cause no tenured pro­fes­sor wanted to.

Within a few months of pub­li­ca­tion, Sapi­ens had be­come an in­ter­na­tional sen­sa­tion, shoot­ing to the top of the New York Times in­ter­na­tional best­seller list, where it remains. It was cham­pi­oned by Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Mark Zucker­berg, and has been trans­lated into 40 lan­guages. Every­one and their mother read it and loved it—or, per­haps more ac­cu­rately, was dis­turbed and en­thralled by it.

As the ti­tle sug­gests, Sapi­ens ex­am­ines the eco­nomic, philo­soph­i­cal and cul­tural evo­lu­tion of hu­mankind over the span of 75,000 years. In it, Harari pre­dicts the dawn of a new era for hu­mans, one that will see us able to con­nect with com­put­ers, ma­nip­u­late DNA and evolve into some­thing be­yond Homo sapi­ens. A dar­ing, apoc­a­lyp­tic cliffhanger of a book, it left many yearn­ing for a se­quel. And Harari has thank­fully pro­vided.

Homo Deus: A Brief His­tory of To­mor­row (deus is Latin for god) takes off from where Sapi­ens left off. “Af­ter com­plet­ing Sapi­ens, peo­ple kept ask­ing me what the past might teach us about the fu­ture of hu­mankind,” says Harari. “I started talk­ing and writ­ing more and more about it, un­til I had enough ma­te­rial for a new book.” The re­sult­ing tome is a hefty yet fan­tas­ti­cally en­gag­ing dive into the fu­ture of mankind, a fu­ture that looks rather chill­ing.

“In the 21st cen­tury,” Harari writes, “the next big project of hu­mankind will be to ac­quire for us the divine pow­ers of cre­ation and destruc­tion, and up­grade Homo sapi­ens into Homo deus.” The au­thor con­tin­ues in his breezy prose to pre­dict in­di­vid­u­als will be­come just col­lec­tions of “bio­chem­i­cal sub­sys­tems” solely fo­cused on achiev­ing

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