Early in March, the London-based worldwide publishing house Bloomsbury Publishing (best known for publishing the Harry Potter series and academic literature) contacted me and asked if I would like to read a proof copy of Rutger Bregman's new book "Humankind: A Hopeful History". Providing a new historical perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society. I was hooked and immediately told them to send over the copy. Let us dig a bit deeper in the following!
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
Human beings, we are taught, are by nature selfish, and governed by self-interest. That Western thought seems to be cemented in our minds and to be established over and over in history by thinkers reaching from Machiavelli to Hobbes and Freud to Dawkins. In his book, international-bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world's most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the cooperation seen in the aftermath of the Blitz, the hidden flaws in the Stanford Prison Experiment to the true story of the Kitty Genovese murder, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.
Review / Personal Comment
First of all, I need to admit that I did not read such an interesting, well-written book like the "Humankind: A Hopeful History" for a long time! I appreciate the author's style of writing that somehow makes you feel like you would sit together with Rutger Bregman and a glass of whisky on a patio travelling through human history and debating about the thereof resulting view on humankind. Before I could realise it, I read out the almost 450 pages during three sunny afternoons after work!
For me, the most surprising part of the book definitively was "Part 2 - After Auschwitz" in which one of the most famous studies of psychology like the Stanford prison experiment (Philip Zimbardo) and Milgram experiment (Stanley Milgram) are proven to be manipulated. Therefore they led to wrong conclusions that were used as the basis for numerous further psychology research and still enjoy great popularity. I never thought that renowned academics from most prestigious universities of the world would end up manipulating their - later "award-winning" - research to prove to be right with their initial assumptions. It was shocking to realise, that for centuries, nobody was questioning the findings and consequently was not interested in taking a look at the research's raw data in the archives.
The book challenged my assumptions of soldiers in war zones to be generally bloodthirsty, who can easily kill other humans in a face-to-face fight. Reading the different chapters, you will quickly realise how difficult it usually is to incite humans against each other. Now, I support Bregman's idea that "most people, deep down, are pretty decent" although it sounded dubious to me at first when I read the phrase on page one. After having read "Humankind", I view people and my surrounding in a far more positive, optimistic way - although it might be hard. At the same time, the news tries to poison us with their narrowed and "guided" reporting so we might think exactly the opposite. Especially reviewing the findings of research focused on WWI and WWII made me feel a bit differently about those chapters of history and facilitated to understand better why people did certain things back then.
The book makes me feel hopeful because now I know that there are people that bring old "default thinking" into question and disclose its origin with evidence. The feeling would be even stronger to see especially new generations to join that movement, trying to change that heavily biased thinking and possible behaviour resulting out of it.
All in all, I can highly recommend you that book if you are interested in a wide variety of topics like human history in general, psychology and related academic research, and the thinking of the good and evil in people. Well done Mr Bregman! You've got my full attention!
Originally intended to be published on June 2nd, I guess Bloomsbury decided to accelerate the release date on May 19th 2020 due to the book's topicality in relation to the COVID-19 health crisis that currently keeps the world busy. However, that is only my assumption, and the updated publishing date made me even more excited to have a read finally.
About Rutger Bregman:
Rutger Bregman is one of Europe's most prominent young historians. His previously published book "Utopia for Realists" was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller and has been translated from the Dutch into more than thirty languages. Bregman has twice been nominated for the prestigious European Press Prize for his work at De Correspondent, and his writing has also featured in the Washington Post and the Guardian. His TED talk, "Poverty isn't a lack of character; it's a lack of cash", has been viewed more than three million times. He was ranked number ten in the Big Issue's Top 100 Changemakers of 2020.
In 2019, Bregman went viral after calling out tax-shy billionaires at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then again when he confronted Fox News host Tucker Carlson. These videos have been viewed over twenty-four-million times.
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