Book Review: Yuval Noah Harai’s “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”
By: A.E. Santana
Who would like to know the future? To know and understand the coming changes to our environment, society, and the individual? Whereas Yuval Noah Harai doesn’t claim to be omniscient or a fortune teller, his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow paints a picture of what may be in store for humanity in the next fifty or a hundred years. Harai does this not by making psychic predictions but, instead, by carefully examining history, biology, psychology, and technology. With a copious amount of research to back up his claims, Harai gives a detailed hypothesis on the next steps of human evolution—taking people from Homo sapiens to Homo deus. Whereas Harai gives intelligent, thorough explanations, it is through his clear, clever, and often humorous writing that he connects with readers.
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is broken up into an introduction and three parts: “Homo Sapiens Conquers the World,” “Homo Sapiens Gives Meaning to the World,” and “Homo Sapiens Loses Control.” Each part delves into the rise and fall of societies, provides an intimate look at biology and psychology, and discusses the growth of technology as it pertains to Harai’s claims. It is by understanding these topics, Harai suggests, that people will be able to understand how society may progress into the next stage of human evolution.
This book is “less a prophecy and more a way of discussing our present choices.” Harai explains that in the past, people focused heavily on dealing with famine, war, and plague. Society, religion, industrial, and technological advances were designed for keeping humanity from succumbing to widespread epidemics, starvation, and violence. Yet, in the twenty-first century, humans have gained the upper hand on these destructive forces and remain in control. Today, Harai points out more people die from overeating than from malnutrition. This type of control gives people the possibility to create what Harai identifies as “The New Human Agenda,” which is the pursuit of consistent happiness, an elongated lifespan, and ultimate control and power over ourselves and our environment—a sort of divinity. “We want the ability to re-engineer our bodies and minds in order, above all, to escape old age, death, and misery,” Harai says, “but once we have it, who knows what else we might do with such ability?”
Homo Deus brings together history, science, psychology, biology, and technology with a shrewd and vibrant voice. Harai maps out a timeline of what humans have done and, more importantly, why it was done. Understanding why people act and think the way they do is one of the significant clues to what humans will evolve into. He discusses religion, society, and individual desires almost as an outsider—analyzing the “whys” of human actions with a scientific approach, but his tone and voice are anything but sterile. He discounts social norms as outdated behaviors, such as the status of a nice lawn being nothing more than a leftover “trademark of nobility” from the Middle Ages, and remarks on what did and didn’t work for social movements, such as communism, with deadpan one-liners: “Marx forgot that capitalists know how to read.”
Harai is unapologetic in his writing; he is funny but frank in describing humans, at best, as animals and, at the least, a biological algorithm, stripping away any pretenses that humanity is special other than winning the lottery of evolution. He confidently hypothesizes what people may do to themselves and to each other to obtain happiness, immortality, and ultimate power. Narcotics, bioengineering, and cybernetics, Harai claims, will become everyday tools to achieve the New Human Agenda, upgrading humans into gods.
Harai’s theories are explained as a comprehensive dissertation complete with meticulous endnotes. Peppered with smart and amusing exposition, Homo Deus peeks into a possible future by analyzing the past and scrutinizing the human body and mind. The historical and scientific accounts are interesting and eye-opening, and his theories are well discussed with anecdotes and references. For this reason, Homo Deus, at times, reads more like a book dedicated to history, rather than a look into the future, but Harai uses the extensive research as proof to his argument. He offers his thoughts with humorous comments—sometimes silly, sometimes sarcastic—but always with the goal of connecting with the reader.
A.E. Santana is a Southern California native who writes horror, fantasy, and science fiction. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a minor in scriptwriting from California State University, San Bernardino. She taught fine art, theatre, and writing at the middle school level and writes media content for a non-profit organization. A.E. Santana is also part of a theater group, East Valley Rep, in Indio, CA and is one of their founding playwrights. She has quite an affinity for cats. Publications include short stories in various anthologies and one-act plays. A.E. Santana’s work can be found at www.aesantana.com, on Twitter (@foxflur) and Facebook (facebook.com/authoraesantana)