Best Political Book by a Non-Parliamentarian
Stephen Lotinga, the Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said: “Great political writing offers us a lens through which we can examine our society and the world around us. This year’s shortlist of authors provides us with many profound insights into the tumultuous events of the last year, touching on important themes of gender, equality and the nature of power. I look forward to celebrating all of these important books at the House of Commons in December.”
As much as I admire Harari and enjoyed “21 Lessons,” I didn’t agree with everything in the book. I was glad to see the chapter on inequality, but I’m skeptical about his prediction that in the 21st century “data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset” separating rich people from everyone else...
But Harari is such a stimulating writer that even when I disagreed, I wanted to keep reading and thinking... If science is eventually able to give that dream to most people, and large numbers of people no longer need to work in order to feed and clothe everyone, what reason will we have to get up in the morning?
It’s no criticism to say that Harari hasn’t produced a satisfying answer yet. Neither has anyone else.
There is a new and frantic urgency in Harari’s writing, a tone that is quite different from the agreeable, leisured, scholarly tone of Sapiens, or from the cool speculative evaluation of humankind’s long-term future in Homo Deus, the book that followed it. We are running out of time, he says, to deal with the biggest challenge our species has ever confronted.... Harari’s book ranges across a huge territory: the nature of justice, the seductive appeal of identity politics, the failures of liberal democracies. It is erudite, illuminating, vivid. His lessons suggest new ways of thinking about current problems; they are less about answers than pleading with us to recognise and respond to the immediate threats they pose.
Ultimately, the smudges and slips of Sapiens are forgivable, because it’s a rollicking good read and I suspect it acts as a gateway drug to more academic accounts of human history. However, this book sees Harari enter that class of gurus who are assumed to be experts on everything. The 22nd lesson of this book is obvious: no single member of the tribe Homo Sapiens can know everything. If this new age needs new stories, then we have to let more people tell them.
This book’s natural habitat is the airport bookshop, its natural reader the ambitious businessman who has a four-hour flight ahead of him but has forgotten his charger. No doubt that sounds a bit sniffy. I suppose it is meant to, because 21 Lessons strikes me as almost completely worthless... Harari’s political observations are fantastically bland. He likes equality, he thinks we should be humble, he thinks we should reach across national boundaries, he thinks that sometimes democracy gets it wrong – oh, I can barely bring myself to write this stuff down