Celebrated historian, philosopher, and public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari has dedicated his career to examining some of humanity’s biggest questions – delving into the nature of free will, intelligence, consciousness, happiness, and suffering. The author of ‘Big History’ bestsellers Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, his books have sold over 40 million copies in 65 languages and been credited with revolutionizing the non-fiction market.

Born in Israel in 1976, Harari was studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford when he first encountered the writings of Jared Diamond, an American intellectual whose best-known, broad-strokes popular science book Guns, Germs, and Steel was a key influence:

“It made me realize that you can ask the biggest questions about history and try to give them scientific answers. But in order to do so, you have to give up the most cherished tools of historians. I was taught that if you’re going to study something, you must understand it deeply and be familiar with primary sources. But if you write a history of the whole world you can’t do this. That’s the trade-off.”

The book is one of twelve Harari included in his reading list, “A Haphazard Guided Tour of Humanity on the Brink.” Featuring work by Aldous Huxley, Daniel Kahneman, and Steven Pinker, Harari’s collection offers wide-ranging insight into the most important global challenges facing the world today. Explore his recommendations below, and complement with Brian Eno’s Reading List for Rebuilding Civilization.


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (also rec’d by Janelle Monáe, John LennonMarianne Faithfull, Richey Edwards & Susan Sontag)

“The most prophetic book of the 20th century. Written in the days of Hitler and Stalin, it envisages a future dystopian world ruled by consumerism and biotechnology, in which happiness is the supreme value. Today many people would easily mistake it for a utopia. If you have time for just one book, this would be my top choice.” -YNH

Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal

“Humans are animals. That’s the first thing to know about us. This book will change your views of all apes, including Homo sapiens.” -YNH

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (also rec’d by Garry Kasparov)

“Do you want to understand how humans think? Read this book. It is one of the best starting points for exploring the tangled web of the human mind.” -YNH

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

“A book of big questions, and big answers. It turned me from a historian of medieval warfare into a student of humankind.” -YNH

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

“Five times in the history of the world much of life went extinct. The last time it happened was 65 million years ago, when an asteroid hit planet earth, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs, and about 75% percent of all other species. Now it is happening for the sixth time. But this time, the cause isn’t an asteroid from outer space. This time the cause is us, humankind. We are now the single most important agent of change in the global ecology, and we are in the process of rewriting the most basic rules of the game of life.” -YNH

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neal

“In this fascinating and deeply disturbing book O’Neil explains how authority is shifting from humans to Big Data algorithms, which decide whether to give you a loan, offer you a job, or even lock you in jail.” -YNH

Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouk

“Humans have different pasts, and perhaps different futures too. Originally, we are all Africans. To understand the world of 21st century, Africa is perhaps still the best place to start. Whenever we talk about algorithms, climate change or globalization, a good question to bear in mind is ‘what does this mean for Congo?'” -YNH

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

“China is the new economic giant of the world. Officially China is still a communist country. But do communist ideals really explain the behavior of either the Chinese government or the ordinary Chinese citizen? Unlike many other books about contemporary China that focus on the economic story alone, Evan Osnos tries to uncover the soul of the new China. One of the most hilarious parts of the book tells how Osnos – an American – joins a Chinese group tour of classical Europe. Looking at Rome and Paris through the eyes of a Chinese tourist may be one of the best introductions to the new global order of the 21st century.” -YNH

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

“I picked it up with a heavy heart, dreading it would be a sensationalist lightweight playing up to Western fears and biases. It turned out to be a deep, well-balanced and thought-provoking account with a genuine feel for Middle Eastern realities.” -YNH

Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America by Ioan Grillo

“A gripping narrative of Latin America’s new crime wars. It challenges our basic concepts of politics, economics and even religion, recounting how criminality mutates into warfare, how drug cartels mutate into multinational corporations, and how gangsters mutate into politicians and even into religious prophets.” -YNH

The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder

“A brilliant and disturbing analysis of the rise of authoritarianism in Russia, Europe and the USA in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the political crisis currently engulfing the world.” -YNH

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

“Pinker extols the amazing achievements of modernity, and demonstrates that humankind has never been so peaceful, healthy and prosperous. There is of course much to argue about, but that’s what makes this book so interesting.” -YNH

(via Yuval Noah Harari)

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