Homo Deus (Harari)

Homo Deus:  A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari, 2017
464 pp.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the critically-acclaimed New York Times bestseller and international phenomenon Sapiens, returns with an equally original, compelling, and provocative book, turning his focus toward humanity’s future, and our quest to upgrade humans into gods.

Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but, as Harari explains in his trademark style — thorough, yet riveting — famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges.

For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.

What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda?

As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century — from overcoming death to creating artificial life.

It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.

With the same insight and clarity that made Sapiens an international hit and a New York Times bestseller, Harari maps out our future. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 24, 1976
Education—Ph.D., Oxford University
Awards—Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality (twice);
   Moncado Award for Military History
Currently—lives near Jerusalem, Israel

Yuval Noah Harari is the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He lectures at the Department of History, Faculty of Humanities in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Harari originally specialized in medieval history and military history, completing his doctorate at the University of Oxford (Jesus College) in 2002 and publishing numerous books and articles, including Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550; The Ultimate Experience: Battlefield Revelations and the Making of Modern War Culture, 1450-2000; "The Concept of 'Decisive Battles' in World History"; and "Armchairs, Coffee and Authority: Eye-witnesses and Flesh-witnesses Speak about War, 1100-2000."

He now specializes in World History and macro-historical processes. His research focuses on macro-historical questions such as:

—What is the relation between history and biology?
—What is the essential difference between Homo sapiens and other animals?
—Is there justice in history?
—Does history have a direction?
—Did people become happier as history unfolded?

His most recent book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind surveys the entire length of human history, from the evolution of Homo sapiens in the Stone Age up to the political and technological revolutions of the 21st century. It has generated much interest both in the academic community and among the general public and has turned Harari into an instant celebrity. YouTube Video clips of Harari’s Hebrew lectures on the history of the world have been viewed by tens of thousands of Israelis. He is also offers a free online course in English entitled A Brief History of Humankind. More than 100,000 people throughout the world have already taken this course.

Harari twice won the Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality, in 2009 and 2012. In 2011 he won the Society for Military History’s Moncado Award for outstanding articles in military history. In 2012 he was elected to the Young Israeli Academy of Sciences.

He lives with his husband in moshav Mesilat Zion near Jerusalem. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/11/2015.)

Book Reviews
[E]ssential reading for those who think about the future. The algorithms that Harari describes are not trying to imitate humans; they are trying to become human, and possibly exceed our abilities.
Siddhartha Mukherjee - New York Times Book Review

I enjoyed reading about these topics not from another futurist but from a historian, contextualizing our current ways of thinking amid humanity’s long march — especially … with Harari’s ability to capsulize big ideas memorably and mingle them with a light, dry humor.… Harari offers not just history lessons but a meta-history lesson.
Washington Post

Thrilling to watch such a talented author trample so freely across so many disciplines … Harrari’s skill lies in the way he tilts the prism in all these fields and looks at the world in different ways, providing fresh angles on what we thought we knew … scintillating.
Financial Times (UK)

A remarkable book, full of insights and thoughtful reinterpretations of what we thought we knew about ourselves and our history
Guardian (UK)

What elevates Harari above many chroniclers of our age is his exceptional clarity and focus.
Sunday Times (UK)

[A] great book…not only alters the way you see the world after you’ve read it, it also casts the past in a different light. In Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari shows us where mankind is headed in an absolutely clear-sighted & accessible manner.
Mail on Sunday (UK)

Like all great epics, Sapiens demanded a sequel. Homo Deus, in which that likely apocalyptic future is imagined in spooling detail, is that book. It is a highly seductive scenario planner for the numerous ways in which we might overreach ourselves.
Observer (UK)

Harari is an intellectual magpie who has plucked theories and data from many disciplines — including philosophy, theology, computer science and biology — to produce a brilliantly original, thought-provoking and important study of where mankind is heading.
Evening Standard (UK)

[Homo Deus]…provocatively explores what the future may have in store for humans in this deeply troubling book.… Harari paints with a very broad brush throughout, but he raises stimulating questions about both the past and the future.
Publishers Weekly

This work…leaves readers with questions about consciousness and conscience and whether unrestricted data flow will necessarily lead to wisdom. —Wade M. Lee, Univ. of Toledo Lib.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) [I]ntellectually provocativel.… [Harari] smoothly tackles thorny issues and leads us through "our current predicament and our possible futures." A relentlessly fascinating book that is sure to become — and deserves to be — a bestseller.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Homo Deus … then take off on your own:

1. Yuval Noal Harari insists that human beings have never had free will. He writes provocatively that "the free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms." Talk about what he means. Do you agree with him? Why or why not? (By the way, what do you make of the author's concession on page 399 that perhaps we aren't algorithms after all? Does that undercut everything that went before?)

2. Harari makes the case in his book that we are at a point in human history in which famine, disease, and war are no longer the existential threats they once were: we can now manage them and reduce their devastation. Is he correct? And if so, what are the implications of that?

3. Do you agree, as the author posits, that we humans "are in fact trying to upgrade [our]selves into gods." What he does mean — and how, according to the the author, might that spell our doom?

4. We now have the technical ability to select embryos with the most optimal health or to slow down our aging process. Good things … or bad?

5. What frightens you most about the future? Do you see the possibility of humanity, as Harari imagines, breaking off into securely isolated islands of perfect beings with re-engineered brains and bodies? (Have you seen Westworld?) Or perhaps you envision machines endowed with artificial intelligence taking over our lives, becoming our overlords? (How about 2001 Space Odyssey?)

6. Harari predicts that at some point it will be feasible for a machine not only to reveal a diagnosis but also to explain to us what it means. As Harari writes: "how about receiving the news from an attentive machine that tailors its words to [our] feelings and personality type." Is that appealing? Or does it bother you? Would you rather have a flesh and blood doctor tell you your medical fate, even one with a lousy bedside manner, or a computer with soothing voice and affect?

7. Do you think Harari is an alarmist? Or do his prognostications have merit? Where do you see humanity heading?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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