Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

I was so excited when I requested this book, and it did not disappoint.

People are basically decent, and the world is not as bad as you think. That’s essentially the premise of this book. But it’s not a light, fluffy, motivational book, it’s actually a well researched and absolutely fascinating read.

I came to this book via a podcast (and now I can’t find which one, to link it for you, but I think it was an episode of either Criminal or This is Love, both of which you should definitely subscribe to anyway). It talked about the story The Lord Of The Flies, and how that book feels truthful to our cynical minds. It’s always really annoyed me when people use this book as an example in non-fictional scenarios, because it is fiction. So, that podcast episode caught my attention. The podcast went on to talk about a real life scenario where some school boys were marooned on an island. And guess what? They didn’t immediately descend into barbarity. They co-operated and helped each other, and because of that, they survived.

This story is drawn from the opening chapters of this book. So I knew I had to read it.

Now, if you’ve recently read or heard that the Milgram, and Stanford Prison experiments were actually faked to get the results that the experimenters wanted and were unethical, and also that the Bystander Effect isn’t real (and you know who Kitty Genovese is), you may already be ready to pick up this book. All these are covered, but there’s so much more as well. The book looks at how the human brain has a bias for kindness, and that people who take care of each other survive. Bregman looks at the brain, neurology as well as psychology, war, animals, civilization, archeology, philosophy, democracy, history,…. I mean, the guy is really thorough and I really liked that. Because if he left a gap, I’d notice. And if you’re thinking, well, what about the Holocaust? Does that nor prove that human being are the worst? Well, he covers that too. He also has some hopeful news for the future.

If all of this sounds kind of dense, long heavy, it’s really not, surprisingly. Bregman writes really well, which means this all becomes page turning stuff, never dry. That’s partly why this was long listed for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction. Normally, as I read, I think, who will like this, who is this for? Well, I know some of you with a negativity bias won’t love it. Negativity is addictive, after all. But I feel like everyone could really benefit from reading this right now.

Read It If: I know a lot of you are sad, frightened and overwhelmed after the last few years, this one may be just what you need. But I think everyone could really benefit from reading this.

And a huge thank you to HBG Canada, who were kind enough to send me this book for review. All opinions are my own honest thoughts.

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