The four stars I’ve given this book are, I’ll admit from the start, somewhat out of respect for this brilliant author rather than wholly deserved with this ‘sequel’ to his superb ‘Sapiens’. There are many passages which frankly should only get three stars. But then there’s other parts which as astonishing as almost all Harari’s first book was – what a pity it wasn’t all the same quality. It kinda gets an ‘average’ of four stars but really the lumpiness of quality is annoying and with any other writer would have hit the three star rate out of spite if nothing else (I’m not a forgiving reviewer).
The biggest fault of ‘Homo Deus’ is fairly obvious from reading the intentions in the blurb. A book looking at the future through analysing the past and current technological and moral trends is, honestly, doomed to failure. Harari does attempt to cover himself by stating the very same thing and saying that it is really about ‘opening the mind to the many possibilities of the future’. A series of articles in a magazine would have been a better vehicle for this I think. Not a book which is quite an epic read requiring many hours of dedication to get through. I felt a little cheated.
Harari would have been better off making this part of the original ‘Sapiens’ I think. Firstly, much of the opening material is simply lifted from the original book and smatterings of similar arguments and examples from it abound throughout ‘Homo Deus’. I appreciate this is for the benefit of those who haven’t read the first book but for those of us who have it’s irritating to go over the same ground again. We got it first time around.
Secondly, Harari’s weakest area is religion and while this is an important part of ‘Sapiens’ this second book spends a lot longer analysing and criticising religion. Alas, this only magnifies the errors the author makes and that’s a shame for me personally as I agree with a good deal of what he says. It’s annoying when you’re agreeing with someone and then cringe as they make the equivalent of an own goal or pratfall.
Thirdly, with so much conjecture about the future, as already said, it’s apt to feel a little pointless. Far better to extend the last few chapters of ‘Sapiens’ with the best material from ‘Homo Deus’. Harari could even restyle the book into three sections of ‘Past’, ‘Present’ and ‘Future’ (there you go, I give that idea for free!).
But having trashed the book, I need to put these criticisms into context. The book has weaker parts, yes, but even these are yards ahead of other books on the market. Religion is the author’s Achille’s heel but he still has a better handle on the subject than most theologians of any faith system. And while dabbling on possible futures is a bit of a silly game, Harari plays it like a world champion chess player. Some of his thoughts and conclusions are breathtaking and all but re-write your brain with new algorithms (a key idea in this book) with instant effects. The book borders on being life-changing. Page after page the tome flows seamlessly, enjoying similar light humour enjoyed in the previous volume and is just about as exciting to read as any non-fiction book can be.
‘Sapiens’, beyond a doubt, will sit on my desk shelf as a reference work to which i will turn again and again. ‘Homo Deus’ will not join it – but that doesn’t mean I won’t read it again. Indeed, I suspect I will go back to it, at least in part, very soon indeed, drawn like a moth to a flame. Harari’s thoughts and insights are, in equal measure, attractive, repulsive and challenging. They demand to be noticed, considered and held in brooding tension throughout our remaining years. However many years that turns out to be.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org