21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

K Rajeshwar Sharma *

History is not my cup of tea. I hate history because I don't like to be a slave of the past as most of us are.

Years ago, when I was at St. Joseph's College at North Point, Darjeeling, I was absorbed in the world of plays and poems that took me to the ancient kingdom of Denmark and saw the ghost of king Hamlet, and to Xanadu where I saw Kubla Khan in his heavenly gardens.

With Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman, I sailed far out into the Atlantic Ocean in an epic struggle to catch a marlin. Like Saleem Sinai in Midnight's Children, I wished I had the power of telepathy. As a young man, I attended the lavish parties of Jay Gatsby every weekend, and joined the Joads family in their arduous journey to California where Okies were exploited.

But only recently when I read Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, did I realize history is as interesting as literature is. Other than Yuval, no historian has ever explained how Homo sapiens became the 'ruler of planet Earth'.

Yuval Noah Harari is a Professor at the Department of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2002, he received a PhD in History from the University of Oxford, specializing in World History. Dr Harari is a best-selling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that became number one in the New York Times bestseller, and The Sunday Times top ten bestseller.

He won the Polonsky Prize for creativity and originality in 2009 and 2012. In Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, his second book, Professor Harari explores 'the long-term future of life' where 'humans might eventually become Gods.'

21 Lessons for the 21st Century is his third book and the number one international bestseller in 2019. It is published in paperbacks by Vintage.

Window shopping and browsing at book-shops have been my bad habits ever since my college days.

Only recently did I come across 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari at a book-shop at KIA (Kampegowda International Airport) Bangalore as I was waiting for my flight to Imphal. I could not resist the temptation to buy the book as it would give me company throughout the flight.

As I flipped through the pages, I came across a chapter called God that attracted me most. Besides God, there are several other chapters on Equality, Justice, War, Ignorance, Education etc.

Unlike Sapiens and Homo Deus, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century dwells on the current pressing issues that we are facing today, such as climate change, war, technological disruptions, liberal democracy, misinformation or 'epidemic of fake news', nationalism etc.

What impresses me is the author's ability to dwell on a wide range of several issues that could have far reaching catastrophic consequences in one or two decades. As for instance, rise of sea level, which is due to climate change, will soon submerge several low lying coastal cities and islands rendering thousands homeless. We are so occupied with our daily chores that we do not think about these pressing issues and their catastrophic consequences.

Expressing his apprehension, Yuval Noah Harari writes 'Climate change may be far beyond the concerns of people in the midst of a life-and-death emergency, but it might eventually make the Mumbai slums uninhabitable, send enormous new waves of refugees across the Mediterranean, and lead to a worldwide crisis in healthcare'.

Animals live in objective reality but humans live in both objective reality as well as fictional reality which is more powerful than humans. God, money, Governments, Nations and corporations, according to Yuval Noah Harari, are fictional realities. Ability to believe in these fictional stories enables human beings to cooperate and rule the Earth.

'Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better' says Yuval. Money, Nationalism, religion, Government, etc. are all stories that we humans are fond of. In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval writes, 'They (sacred texts) are just stories invented by our ancestors in order to legitimize social norms and political structures.' So are Governments, money, etc.

There are 'three grand stories' - the fascist story, the communist story and the liberal story, which were formulated to explain the past and to predict the future. But each of them crumbled because of the inherent conflict among themselves. The Second World War had knocked out the fascist story. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the communist story had gone with the wind.

The liberal story seems to be the most popular of the 'three grand stories' but 'since the global financial crisis of 2008 people all over the world have become increasingly disillusioned with the liberal story.' Moreover, the confluence of information technology and biotechnology has undermined free will that underpins the whole ideas of liberal democracy and free market economy.

With the merger of information technology with biotechnology, human beings could now be hacked with 'Big Data algorithms that can monitor and understand my feelings much better than I can, and then authority will probably shift from humans to computers.'

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari has formulated an equation to hack human beings:
bxcxd = ahh!

It means that Biological knowledge multiplied by Computing power multiplied by Data equals Ability to Hack Humans. This equation has the potential to destroy the myths of individualism, liberty and freedom that we all cherish.

The brighter side of the equation is that 'People will enjoy the best healthcare in history' as 'Big Data algorithms informed by a constant stream of biometric data could monitor our health 24/7. They could detect the very beginning of influenza, cancer or Alzheimer's disease, long before we feel anything is wrong with us'.

What strikes me hard is that animals that live in jungles are as much ethical as we humans are. They follow and act according to their ethical norms. They have a deep sense of morality perhaps more than the so called 'civilized human beings' do.

Yuval Noah Harari cites an incident where an old male chimpanzee in the jungle of Ivory Coast adopted an orphan chimpanzee when other female chimpanzees had refused to adopt the orphan. He writes, "Morality doesn't mean 'following divine commands'. It means 'reducing suffering'."

As 21 Lessons for the 21st Century covers as many as twenty-one different topics, this review is constrained to dwell upon a few of them. Last but not the least is the topic on Post-Truth. It is an era of fake news filled with lies and fictions. 'When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month – that's fake news' writes Yuval Noah Harari in his attempt to explain what fake news is.

It is not a recent phenomenon that cannot be blamed on Facebook. "For millennia, much of what passed for 'news' and 'facts' in human social networks were stories about miracles, angels, demons and witches, with bold reporters giving live coverage straight from the deepest pits of the underworld" says Yuval in his book to explain how deep – rooted fake news is in human civilizations.

It is 'the unique human ability to create and spread fictions' that Homo Sapiens could conquer the planet Earth.

Never before have I read a non–fiction like 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. It is so captivating that no reader would ever leave it in the middle or at the beginning. Grappling with the current global issues with an analytical mind is not an easy task that no scholar would ever take up without hesitation.

Not only is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century a current affairs book, but it is also a piece of literature where the people are the protagonist or rather the victims of history. I hope every book-lover will enjoy reading it as much as I do, and take part in the debate on the current global issues which Yuval alone tries to grapple with.

* K Rajeshwar Sharma wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer holds an Msc. Degree in Information Technology along with an Honours Degree in English and American literature,
is a freelancer aspiring to be a Feature Writer, and a voracious reader.
He is a resident of Khwai Brahmapur Nagamapal, Imphal.
The writer can be reached at sharmarajeshwar36(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 28 2022 .

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • ILP Check point at Jiri : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 27 June : Govt of Manipur
  • The untold story, lest it be forgotten
  • Assistance to victims of Assam Flood
  • A glimpse of 'Yangna Paikhredako Punshi'
  • Market innovations in developing country
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • Anti-drug day expose state pathetic situation
  • The wedge amongst the Nagas
  • Coming of Manipur University in 1980
  • COVID-19 Status 26 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Laitonjam Lanchenba: Best Swimmer
  • Our capital Imphal - the city of sanity
  • Workshop : ND & PS Act, 1985
  • Mara Prabhu - Lord of the trees
  • Essence of international anti-drug day
  • July 1 : Taking the fight to plastic
  • Miss Shirui Lily 2022 #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 25 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Flesh Trade : Connection between Goa & NE
  • Importance of Soil Testing & Management
  • ST status Vs Classical language for Meetei
  • Life, faith and belief
  • MANISFA General Secretary appointed
  • Flood Watch : 23rd June #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 24 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Community led in ensuring HIV treatment
  • Approach to ideology & development
  • Solar Energy solution for healthcare facility
  • Yoga for health, beauty and immunity
  • Innovation Prize Launched for Designers
  • Knotty higher education sector
  • Classical language status and ST demand
  • Flood Watch : 23rd June #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Birds and Bees Talk launched 3rd phase
  • Luck matters, Rio's first entry into cabinet...
  • Need to deal with dumping of waste materials
  • Training on mushroom at Nagamapal
  • 1961 as base year: Take it or leave it
  • 10 years too late : JCILPS
  • Phamnaiba Jagoi @ Thangjing : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 22 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Women's cleanliness enjoys equal rights...
  • Life in some hill villages
  • The MCI Restoration II
  • 'BRO Cafes' on 75 border roads
  • Protest over boundary row headache for Govt
  • Issues on the indigenous question
  • Drug Menace In Manipur : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 21 June : Govt of Manipur
  • ST tag for Meiteis - A perspective!
  • Manipur State Welfare : Politics 1-0 Citizens
  • International Yoga Day at Assam Rifles
  • International Yoga Day at IBSD Imphal
  • International Yoga Day at NSU Imphal
  • Manipur Lokyukta: Fighting against corruption
  • Vision to distribute local rice under NFSA...
  • Taking the fight to the drug menace
  • Landslides - Imphal-Jiri [Jun 17] : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 20 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Thangjing in folklore of Koireng tribe
  • Health Workshop on Diabetes at Pune
  • Everyone is a thief :: Poem
  • E- barton for CM & Governor
  • Intensive cultivation of vegetables
  • High time to encourage e-vehicle operators
  • Scripting success story with Rs 500
  • Leima Jagoi by Transgender #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 19 June : Govt of Manipur
  • June 19 2022 : Father's Day message
  • Nine Hills One Valley : Ottawa Film Fest
  • Shirui Lily Festival or mud festival ?
  • Yoga for Women organised
  • Flight link to Mandalay dream come true
  • Action of Govt needs to be backed
  • 21st Great June Uprising #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 18 June : Govt of Manipur
  • The Great June 18 Uprising :: News Timeline
  • Revive environmentalism in Meetei ethos
  • COVID-19 Status 17 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Elephant army of Lord Guruvayurappan
  • Who will be next at Rashtrapati Bhawan
  • Hiyang Tannaba @ Loktak #1 : Gallery
  • Freedom movement against British #2
  • Inequity and health security
  • Donating blood is an act of solidarity
  • Unregulated deposit schemes & BUDS Act
  • Extension of entry age : Agnipath
  • Citizens feeding on adulterated food items
  • Of food safety and street vendors
  • Pooja Elangbam, IAS, 81st ranker in AICS
  • COVID-19 Status 16 June : Govt of Manipur
  • NE Model @Delhi Kids Fest : Gallery
  • Manipur Rajkunja
  • Effective Legal Aid to Women Prisoner
  • How to avoid cracked heel during hot summer
  • Aid to artisan must to promote local product
  • Education for whom ?
  • Kabui Dance @Nongshaba Haraoba : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 15 June : Govt of Manipur
  • 'Let's Talk About It' : music album
  • Significance of World Environment Day
  • The MCI Restoration
  • North East CSR Award 2022
  • Prolonged sitting or standing spoils your leg
  • State fast-tracking towards drug making hub
  • 'Progression' from smuggling to manufacturing
  • Bonny Elangbam : Longest distance covered
  • COVID-19 Status 14 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Interaction with Makakmayum Hosni Mubarak
  • India to become $5 trillion economy
  • Exploring traditional medicines of NE
  • Freefall of the kids after COVID-19
  • Honour the tax payers, expose defaulters
  • NE needs more than 'unprecedented'
  • Miss Shirui Lily 2022 #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 13 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Water management in paddy cultivation
  • PM Modi hails Nagaland Gaon Burahs
  • Blight of Nature :: Poem
  • Moreh as Las Vegas
  • NHIDCL's reputation at stake
  • Drugs, poppy & 'alternatives'
  • Thaopai Shithaine of Poumai #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 12 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Jadonang Park, Tamenglong :: Gallery
  • Freedom movement against British #1
  • Multi-Tasking Staff at Leima Traders
  • Toning down rhetoric that hurts religion
  • Shirui Lily fest brings to fore plastic menace
  • Conservation of pony & grazing fields
  • Kakwa Lairembi Haraoba #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 11 June : Govt of Manipur
  • The unheeded cry of children in labour
  • Why present distribution of urea fails?
  • World Day Against Child Labour 2022
  • Sunrise on the Civil Aviation Horizon
  • Arambam Samarendra Ningshingba :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 10 June : Govt of Manipur
  • NE Ex-Super Model at Delhi Kids Fest
  • What Diphu has, Dimapur & Kohima don't
  • Towards Manipur Budget 2022-23 ...
  • NE Social & Behaviour Change inaugurated
  • Fighting corruption remains an uphill task
  • Environment needs more than tree plantation
  • SN Chand: The father of Manipuri cinema #3
  • COVID-19 Status 09 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Degree Certificate for Survival #2
  • Value chain management of Umorok
  • Pulses for Nutrition Security in Manipur
  • Keeping your skin oil free during summer
  • Demand for impartial probe into IMC scam
  • Politics of isolating the NSCN (IM)
  • Raas @Manipur Rajbari, W Bengal :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 08 June : Govt of Manipur
  • A rare book on Birds of Manipur
  • Condemns bomb blast in Manipur
  • Market Innovations made America great #2
  • Jal Jeevan Mission : PHED Manipur
  • Disturbing data on lifestyle diseases in state
  • Tough talk against drug menace
  • Trekking to Shirui Peak, Ukhrul #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 07 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Take a leaf from sunderban if you're serious
  • Testimony of brother Ninghor Mahongnao
  • Local leaders unitedly push for One Health
  • Letters from the Republic of Dust #2
  • Soil testing for better crop production
  • Despicable threat to school
  • Outrage at Little Flower School
  • Ibudhou Thangjing Lam Thokpa #3 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 06 June : Govt of Manipur
  • India-Taiwan Global Bamboo Tech Forum
  • Condemns bomb attack at LFS
  • RSS chief sounds logical
  • Career options in Environmental Science
  • We reap what we sow
  • NRC in focus as keyboard warriors spar...
  • Coming together of COCOMI, UNC
  • HSE Result 2022 : Statistiscal Abstract
  • HSE Result 2022 : Subject Pass Percentage
  • HSE Result 2022 : District-Wise Pass %
  • HSE Result 2022 :Science Topper
  • HSE Result 2022 : Arts Topper
  • HSE Result 2022 : Commerce Topper
  • HSE Result 2022 : Science Stream Result
  • HSE Result 2022 : Arts Stream Result
  • HSE Result 2022 : Commerce Stream Result
  • COVID-19 Status 05 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Nagaland: Is it fair to blame Indrajit Gupta ?
  • 4th Plenary Session of WMC at Sugnu
  • World Environment Day at Tamenglong
  • World Environment Day at Lilong
  • World Environment Day at Haraorou
  • Musing :: Poem
  • Yet another World Environment Day observed
  • Mounting pressure for solution
  • Padmashree Award Moirangthem Muktamani
  • COVID-19 Status 04 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Congested road at Shirui Village :: Gallery
  • Degree Certificate for Survival #1
  • Admission for National Sports University
  • World Environment Day at Imphal
  • Include Meeteis in the ST list
  • Inhumane act of De-addiction centres
  • UK band Monuments @ShiRock #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 03 June : Govt of Manipur
  • 'Provocation' charges arrests on social media
  • Gerinda Loitongbam: Natl Women Award
  • Timeless Memories :: Poem
  • Ket Meth releases music video Trauma'
  • 8 years of Modi Govt: More hits than misses
  • Bad example commanders
  • Posers parents may raise within
  • Miss Shirui Lily 2022 #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 02 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Letters from the Republic of Dust #1
  • Workshop on Food Processing at Lilong
  • 1st June is the Global Day of Parents
  • 'Developing human resource in Manipur'
  • Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen)
  • 'Yoga for personality development' orgd
  • Row over boundary fencing project
  • Brain storming session of the Congress
  • Lunghar (Imp-Kohima / Jessami) #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 01 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Delphi Oinam : Topper at Nagaland HSLC
  • Teaching at Churachandpur Govt College
  • Jadonang Park at Tamenglong renovated
  • Quality seed production of rice (HYV)
  • Audiobook for NEET aspirants launched
  • Naga issue: From bush war to shadow boxing
  • Tenants in Nagaland tag on the NSCN (IM)
  • Wakhom Leikai Lairembi Haraoba #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 31 May : Govt of Manipur
  • Pageant winners showcase Robert's collection
  • MIFF to pay homage to Irom Maipak
  • Awareness on Legal rights of women prisoner
  • Election petitions galore in Manipur
  • Training program on mushroom at Nagamapal
  • Must expedite process for border projects
  • Wanted : A far sighted leader
  • Naga Indigenous Wrestling :: Gallery
  • June Calendar for Year 2022 : Tools
  • UK band Monuments @ShiRock #1 :: Gallery
  • Ibudhou Thangjing Lam Thokpa #2 :: Gallery
  • SN Chand: The father of Manipuri cinema #2
  • Licypriya speech at East Timor :: Gallery
  • On 200th Anniversary of MK Binodini Devi
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2022 #2: Gallery
  • Harvesting Fest of Tarao #4 :: Gallery
  • Id-ul-Fitr @Hatta Golapati :: Gallery
  • Rules of English Pronunciation : Download
  • Sub-Syllables in English : Book Download