February 15, 2020 at 10:43 am (By Amba) ()

This subtle skewering of Yuval Harari, by Ian Parker in The New Yorker, is making me laugh out loud and congratulate myself on my instincts in avoiding reading Sapiens, which had felt guiltily like shirking a cultural duty.

“Sapiens” feels like a study-guide summary of an immense, unwritten text—or, less congenially, like a ride on a tour bus that never stops for a poke around the ruins. (“As in Rome, so also in ancient China: most generals and philosophers did not think it their duty to develop new weapons.”) Harari did not invent Big History, but he updated it with hints of self-help and futurology, as well as a high-altitude, almost nihilistic composure about human suffering. He attached the time frame of aeons to the time frame of punditry—of now, and soon. . . .

He spends part of almost every appearance denying that he is a guru. But, when speaking at conferences where C.E.O.s meet public intellectuals, or visiting Mark Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto house, or the Élysée Palace, in Paris, he’ll put a long finger to his chin and quietly answer questions about Neanderthals, self-driving cars, and the series finale of “Game of Thrones.” 

Is it possible that I’ll never ever have to choke down this book-length TED-talk smoothie? Ahhhhhh.

UPDATE: I have to hand it to him, though: Harari is a tireless advocate for animal welfare, and he considers industrial agriculture possibly “the greatest crime in history.” That’s the book of his (not yet written) I’ll read.

1 Comment

  1. Tom Strong said,

    M took a Coursera class led by him before he was famous. I watched an episode or two with her and found him very charming – sternly professorial in a Jordan Peterson sort of way, but with an actual sense of humor. And it was actually quite interesting, if admittedly TED talky. To this day we still invoke his catch-phrase of “fictive narratives,” in a half-joking kind of way.

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