After quite a number months of hiatus, I’m finally back to my normal reading routine again.
So here are my book recommendations for April.
This month’s focus is on questioning assumptions. Most of the things that people think are true about how we live, what we do and how we interact with the technologies around us may not be entirely so.
I have two books for you if you’re the type who hates hearing things like ‘It’s just the way things are’ because from what you have observed, you know it isn’t so.
Check them out:
Book of the month: Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
Sapiens reads like a crash course in the history, sociology, and economics of humankind.
Harari first brings you back to the days when humans were insignificant just like any other animal on Earth. He covers the progression between the earliest of humankind and us.
As you go on, you are brought along to witness how the Agricultural revolution would transform foraging humans into domestic ones who would later come to develop the ideas of free markets, trade, money, capitalism, and imperialism.
A thirst for conquering more lands, rather than curious minds alone, would fuel the Scientific revolution in the west.
The book ends by briefly discussing recent technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Bionics and their impacts on humankind.
Overall, Harari does a good job of covering old grounds in a concise way.
What is most interesting about this book isn’t Harari’s ability to squeeze millions of years of history into less than 500 pages, however, but his questions of the long-held assumptions most of us – lay people and scientists included – have about humankind. For example:
- Most people believe the agricultural revolution made our lives better. What’s not to love about always having food nearby and not having to hunt? A lot, apparently. The agricultural revolution made us vulnerable. While foraging humans could move from one place to another quickly, agriculture made this impossible. You had to guard your lands. Diseases also became widespread and food sources limited to the types that were domesticated.
- Most people believe that humans evolved so that only one type existed at any one time. But what if it didn’t happen this way? Harari examines evidence of human co-existence, especially that of the Neanderthals and Sapiens (us) and paints a much more violent picture: Sapiens might not have evolved from Neanderthals. They might have evolved separately and killed their less cognitively able cousins.
- Most people put trust in the existence of money. They justify this based on money’s utility. Since it can be used everywhere and is recognized, it must exist. Harari shows us that it is only our imaginations and the stories that we all believe in that makes money useful. Without this, money really is just pieces of colored paper.
- Many people believe that capitalism and free markets were an inevitable path we had to take. Economists would have you believe that this is the most efficient path and no other path could have been possible. But is this true? Harari shows us that many paths were possible and could have been equally taken.
Sapiens is a book that pushes you to question everything you thought you knew about who you were and how things work in this world.
If you’re like me and you enjoy inviting a bit of cynicism about how things are ‘supposed to be’, I think you will like Sapiens.
Sapiens is my favorite book in April.
I give it a 5/5, but I think it will be a moderately difficult read for some because of the language use.
Complimentary Read: You are Not a Gadget, Jared Lanier
You are Not a Gadget is an out of the way read for most, but I highly recommend it if you want to understand how the internet came to be and how our basic assumptions about the role of the internet in our lives and how we fit into the technologies that have come to be since its advent are flawed.
Jared Lanier was one of the people who conceptualized the World Wide Web as we see it today. In You are Not a Gadget, Jared explores ways in which the human self is being fragmented and essentially devalued in light of how we interact with the internet and the platforms on it.
Most interestingly, Lanier brings up the conventional question of ‘Are we the masters of technology or have we given up the role to what we have built?’ in a way that invites deep questioning, viz:
- Is confining ourselves to the screen sizes and designs of smartphones, laptops and various technologies improving our creativity? Or is it actually limiting them by forcing us to fit into pre-conceived molds?
- In making computers more efficient, are we making humans obsolete only to make computers more powerful?
- Is more always better? Is 245,657 search results better than the answer from one expert?
- Are our profiles on Facebook and Instagram us? Or a doppelganger who looks like us, sounds like us, but isn’t us at all?
- Is technology really democratizing business, or is it making the race to the bottom easier?
The cynicism about the internet and its consequences discussed in You are Not a Gadget are ones we should spend more time thinking about.
You are Not a Gadget is one of my favorite books of all time.
This is a book I would recommend to people who want to understand the implications of the internet and how our interactions with it are shaping the value and essence of humankind.
I give it a 5/5 also. It’s an easy read, but you can get stuck here and there if you don’t have a good background in computer science and technology. But those are small bumps that you’ll get over quickly.