Yuval Noah Harari (Hebrew: יובל נח הררי [juˈval ˈnoaχ haˈʁaʁi]; born 24 February 1976) is an Israeli public intellectual, historian and a professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of the popular science bestsellers Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014), Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016), and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018). His writings examine free will, consciousness, intelligence, happiness and suffering.
Harari writes about the "cognitive revolution" occurring roughly 70,000 years ago when Homo sapiens supplanted the rival Neanderthals and other species of the genus Homo, developed language skills and structured societies, and ascended as apex predators, aided by the agricultural revolution and accelerated by the scientific method, which have allowed humans to approach near mastery over their environment. His books also examine the possible consequences of a futuristic biotechnological world in which intelligent biological organisms are surpassed by their own creations; he has said, "Homo sapiens as we know them will disappear in a century or so".
Yuval Noah Harari was born and raised in Kiryat Ata, Israel, one of three children born to Shlomo and Pnina Harari. His was a secular Jewish family with Eastern European and Lebanese roots. His father was a state-employed armaments engineer and his mother was an office administrator. Harari taught himself to read at age three. He studied at the Leo Beck Education Center in Haifa, in a class for intellectually gifted children from age eight. He deferred mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces to pursue university studies as part of the Atuda program, but was later exempted from completing his military service following his studies due to health issues. He began studying history and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at age 17.
Harari first specialized in medieval history and military history in his studies from 1993 to 1998 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He completed his PhD degree at Jesus College, Oxford, in 2002, under the supervision of Steven J. Gunn. From 2003 to 2005, he pursued postdoctoral studies in history as a Yad Hanadiv Fellow. While at Oxford, Harari first encountered the writings of Jared Diamond, whom he has acknowledged as an influence on his own writing. At a Berggruen Institute salon, Harari said that Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel “was kind of an epiphany in my academic career. I realized that I could actually write such books.”
Harari has published numerous books and articles, including Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100–1550; The Ultimate Experience: Battlefield Revelations and the Making of Modern War Culture, 1450–2000; The Concept of 'Decisive Battles' in World History; and Armchairs, Coffee and Authority: Eye-witnesses and Flesh-witnesses Speak about War, 1100–2000. He now specializes in world history and macro-historical processes.
His book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind was originally published in Hebrew in 2011 based on the 20 lectures of an undergraduate world history class he was teaching. It was then released in English in 2014 and has since been translated into some 45 additional languages. The book surveys the entire length of human history, from the evolution of Homo sapiens in the Stone Age up to the political and technological revolutions of the 21st century. The Hebrew edition became a bestseller in Israel, and generated much interest among the general public, turning Harari into a celebrity. Joseph Drew wrote that "Sapiens provides a wide-ranging and thought-provoking introduction for students of comparative civilization," considering it as a work that "highlights the importance and wide expanse of the social sciences."
Harari's follow-up book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, was published in 2016 and examines the possibilities for the future of Homo sapiens. The book's premise outlines that, in the future, humanity is likely to make a significant attempt to gain happiness, immortality and God-like powers. The book goes on to openly speculate various ways this ambition might be realised for Homo sapiens in the future based on the past and present. Among several possibilities for the future, Harari develops the term dataism for a philosophy or mindset that worships big data. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Siddhartha Mukherjee stated that although the book "fails to convince me entirely," he considers it "essential reading for those who think about the future."
His latest book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, published on 30 August 2018, focuses more on present-day concerns. A review in the New Statesman commented on what it called "risible moral dictums littered throughout the text", criticised Harari's writing style and stated that he was "trafficking in pointless asides and excruciating banalities." Another review in Kirkus praised the book as a "tour de force" and described it as a "highly instructive exploration of current affairs and the immediate future of human societies.”
The first volume of his graphic adaptation of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Sapiens: A Graphic History – The Birth of Humankind, co-authored with David Vandermeulen and Daniel Casanave, was published in November 2020 and launched at a livestream event organised by How to Academy and Penguin Books.
Views and opinions
Harari is interested in how Homo sapiens reached its current condition and in its future. His research focuses on macro-historical questions, such as "What is the relation between history and biology? What is the essential difference between Homo sapiens and other animals? Is there justice in history? Does history have a direction? Did people become happier as history unfolded?"
Harari regards dissatisfaction as the "deep root" of human reality, and as related to evolution.
In a 2017 article, Harari argued that through continuing technological progress and advances in the field of artificial intelligence, "by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable." He put forward the case that dealing with this new social class economically, socially and politically will be a central challenge for humanity in the coming decades.
Harari sees an existential threat in an arms race in artificial intelligence and bioengineering and he expressed the need for close co-operation between nations to solve threats like ecological collapse, nuclear war and technological disruption.
Harari has commented on the plight of animals, particularly domesticated animals since the agricultural revolution, and is a vegan. In a 2015 Guardian article under the title "Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history" he called "[t]he fate of industrially farmed animals [...] one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time."
Harari summed up his views on the world in a 2018 interview with Steve Paulson of Nautilus thus: "Things are better than ever before. Things are still quite bad. Things can get much worse. This adds up to a somewhat optimistic view because if you realize things are better than before, this means we can make them even better."
Harari wrote that although the idea of free will and the liberal values based upon it "emboldened people who had to fight against the Inquisition, the divine right of kings, the KGB and the KKK", it has become dangerous in a world of a data economy, where, he argues, in reality, there is no such thing, and governments and corporations are coming to know the individual better than they know themselves and "if governments and corporations succeed in hacking the human animal, the easiest people to manipulate will be those who believe in free will." Harari elaborates that "Humans certainly have a will – but it isn’t free. You cannot decide what desires you have... Every choice depends on a lot of biological, social and personal conditions that you cannot determine for yourself. I can choose what to eat, whom to marry and whom to vote for, but these choices are determined in part by my genes, my biochemistry, my gender, my family background, my national culture, etc – and I didn’t choose which genes or family to have."
Harari is gay and in 2002 met his husband Itzik Yahav, whom he calls "my internet of all things". Yahav is also Harari's personal manager. They married in a civil ceremony in Toronto, Canada.
Harari says Vipassana meditation, which he began whilst in Oxford in 2000, has "transformed my life". He practises for two hours every day (one hour at the start and end of his work day), every year undertakes a meditation retreat of 30 days or longer, in silence and with no books or social media, and is an assistant meditation teacher. He dedicated Homo Deus to "my teacher, S. N. Goenka, who lovingly taught me important things", and said "I could not have written this book without the focus, peace and insight gained from practising Vipassana for fifteen years." He also regards meditation as a way to research.
Harari is a vegan, and says this resulted from his research, including his view that the foundation of the dairy industry is breaking the bond between mother cow and calf. As of January 2019, Harari does not have a smartphone.
Harari lives in Karmei Yosef, a community settlement in central Israel.
Awards and recognition
Harari twice won the Polonsky Prize for "Creativity and Originality", in 2009 and 2012. In 2011, he won the Society for Military History's Moncado Award for outstanding articles in military history. In 2012, he was elected to the Young Israeli Academy of Sciences.
Sapiens was in the top 3 of The New York Times Best Seller list for 96 consecutive weeks. In 2018, Harari gave the first TED Talk as a digital avatar.
In 2017, Homo Deus won Handelsblatt's German Economic Book Award for the most thoughtful and influential economic book of the year.
In 2018 and 2020, Harari spoke at the World Economic Forum annual conference in Davos.
In July 2019, Harari was widely criticised for allowing several omissions and amendments in the Russian edition of his third book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, using a softer tone when speaking about Russian authorities. Leonid Bershidsky in Moscow Times called it "caution — or, to call it by its proper name, cowardice", and Nettanel Slyomovics in Haaretz claimed that "he is sacrificing those same liberal ideas that he presumes to represent". In a response, Harari stated that he "was warned that due to these few examples Russian censorship will not allow distribution of a Russian translation of the book" and that he "therefore faced a dilemma," namely to "replace these few examples with other examples, and publish the book in Russia," or "change nothing, and publish nothing," and that he "preferred publishing, because Russia is a leading global power and it seemed important that the book’s ideas should reach readers in Russia, especially as the book is still very critical of the Putin regime – just without naming names."
Harari's popular writings are considered to belong to the Big History genre, with Ian Parker writing in New Yorker that "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." His work has been more negatively received in academic circles, with Christopher Robert Hallpike stating in a review of Sapiens that: "one has often had to point out how surprisingly little he seems to have read on quite a number of essential topics. It would be fair to say that whenever his facts are broadly correct they are not new, and whenever he tries to strike out on his own he often gets things wrong, sometimes seriously." Hallpike further states that: "we should not judge Sapiens as a serious contribution to knowledge but as 'infotainment', a publishing event to titillate its readers by a wild intellectual ride across the landscape of history, dotted with sensational displays of speculation, and ending with blood-curdling predictions about human destiny. By these criteria, it is a most successful book."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, following former United States President Donald Trump's cut to WHO funding, Harari announced that he and his husband would donate $1 million to the WHO through Sapienship, their social impact company.
- 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (London: Jonathan Cape, 2018), ISBN 1787330672
- Money: Vintage Minis (select excerpts from Sapiens and Homo Deus (London: Penguin Random House, 2018) ISBN 978-1784874025
- Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016), ISBN 978-1910701881
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (London: Harvill Secker, 2014) ISBN 978-006-231-609-7
- The Ultimate Experience: Battlefield Revelations and the Making of Modern War Culture, 1450–2000 (Houndmills: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008), ISBN 978-023-058-388-7
- Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100–1550 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2007), ISBN 978-184-383-292-8
- Renaissance Military Memoirs: War, History and Identity, 1450–1600 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2004), ISBN 978-184-383-064-1
- "The Military Role of the Frankish Turcopoles – a Reassessment", Mediterranean Historical Review 12 (1) (June 1997), pp. 75–116.
- "Inter-Frontal Cooperation in the Fourteenth Century and Edward III’s 1346 Campaign", War in History 6 (4) (September 1999), pp. 379–395
- "Strategy and Supply in Fourteenth-Century Western European Invasion Campaigns", The Journal of Military History 64 (2) (April 2000), pp. 297–334.
- "Eyewitnessing in Accounts of the First Crusade: The Gesta Francorum and Other Contemporary Narratives", Crusades 3 (August 2004), pp. 77–99
- "Martial Illusions: War and Disillusionment in Twentieth-Century and Renaissance Military Memoirs", The Journal of Military History 69 (1) (January 2005), pp. 43–72
- "Military Memoirs: A Historical Overview of the Genre from the Middle Ages to the Late Modern Era", War in History 14:3 (2007), pp. 289–309
- "The Concept of ‘Decisive Battles’ in World History", The Journal of World History 18 (3) (2007), 251–266
- "Knowledge, Power and the Medieval Soldier, 1096–1550", in In Laudem Hierosolymitani: Studies in Crusades and Medieval Culture in Honour of Benjamin Z. Kedar, ed. Iris Shagrir, Ronnie Ellenblum and Jonathan Riley-Smith, (Ashgate, 2007)
- "Combat Flow: Military, Political and Ethical Dimensions of Subjective Well-Being in War", Review of General Psychology (September 2008)
- Introduction to Peter Singer's Animal Liberation, The Bodley Head, 2015.
- "Armchairs, Coffee and Authority: Eye-witnesses and Flesh-witnesses Speak about War, 1100–2000", Journal of Military History 74:1 (gennaio, 2010), pp. 53–78.
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- ^ Les prédictions de Yuval Noah Harrari, L'arche magazine
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