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
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