Book Review – Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Humankind: A Hopeful HistoryHumankind: A Hopeful Historyby Rutger Bregman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book provides an alternative but highly optimistic take on human history and covers a number of research studies to hypotheseize that humans are inherently good by nature. The book is a rebuttal of Hobbesian theory that humans are by nature nasty, brutish and short and in turn supports the Rousseau’s view of human nature as intrinsically good. The hypothesis is explained through a number of stories covering reseacrh studies and some of these are really good.

I, in particular liked the story where author refuted the imaginary story from William Golding in Lord of the Flies and in fact traced a similar real life story of a group of school boys who were marooned on a remote island near New Zealand. I also liked the the story where 1959 interview of Bernard Russel made an impact on author’s beliefs. The quote from Bernard Russell is self illuminating… “When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed, but look only and solely at what are the facts.”

The author’s take on human settlement, advent of human conflicts and inherent inequality in society is pretty convincing but he might be cherry picking some of the things to suits his own narrative. This is definitely not a realist view of the world and with so much blood still being spilled in the name of religion, ideologies and race issues, it is hard to believe that humans are friendly and good natured. The book is pretty well written and does make you think differently about the commonly held societal beliefs but arguments are not convincing enough. In fact the studies covered in the book are conflicting in nature, there are researchers who themselves acted selfishly while conducting their experiments which were designed to prove the unselfish nature of humans. One thing that definitely came out from the book is the sorry state of research in social and psychological fields where shady results have been accepted in academia just because it would suit their own agenda which actually disapproves the moot point of this book. Instead of this optimistic view, it would be better to be a realist and believe that though humans might be good natured but social norms and peer pressure can turn an ordinary person into a demon. And this in human history has been widely evident in so many horrific events like invasions of Huns & Mongols, loot and plunder by Vikings, blood spilled during Islamic invasions, horrific exploitation of natives by Conquistadors, brutality of crusades and in recent time during Holocaust or Partition of Subcontinent.

But still it would be worthwhile to read this book as it shows that there is hope for humankind and I’m sure we as humans will get to that Utopia one day in a distant future.

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