The best books in 2017

The best books I read in 2017 were:

  •  Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley
  • The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford
  • Smerteministeriet by Dubravka Ugrešić

Sapiens

It’s been long time since I wrote something about a book I have read. I feel it is a high time for that, especially because Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, written by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, is in my opinion a must read for everyone who is interested in the history  and the progress of humankind.

Harari takes his reader on a journey almost to the beginning of time or 13.5 billion years ago, when the Big Bang occurred. However, his focus is on Homo sapiens, a peculiar species of great apes that existed around 150,000 years.

Reading this book is so interesting, everything is so fast-paced and extremely informative, that it feels like binge-watching a quality TV-series. Harari is very entertaining, a great educator and a guy with a lot of humor.

He divides human history in three distinct eras or revolutions: The Cognitive Revolution (about 70,000 years ago), The Agricultural Revolution (12,000 years ago) and The Scientific Revolution (500 years ago).

The book is chock-full with interesting information, assertions and  proclamations, such as:

  • “[…] myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers” (27),
  • “Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens” (51),
  • “Domesticated chickens and cattle may well be an evolutionary success story, but they are also among the most miserable creatures that ever lived” (104f),
  • “The discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution” (109),
  • “[Capitalism] is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do” (391).

I like how Harari treats all ideologies, such as national socialism, fascism, communism and all other -isms, but also economic systems as capitalism to be almost  some kind of of religion (see for instance page 260 where he calls various forms of humanisms downright humanist religions).  Furthermore he concludes rightfully that before the Scientific Revolution the largest part of humankind didn’t believe in progress. It all changed with capitalism.

I warmly recommend Sapiens and regard it as a very import educational literature, and a good starting point for all those who are interested in history (that is, a history of humankind). This book gives a holistic, yet detail-rich insight into the mind of a peculiar species that reigns on a little blue planet we call the Earth.

On interview with Nihad Hasanović

I’ve just finished reading one of the most intriguing and thought provoking interviews I have read in a really long time. The subject in question is “An Interview with Nihad Hasanović” done by Jasmin Čaušević.

I rarely write about other people’s online writings, and probably never about interviews, but this interview simply brought so much joy and pleasure while reading, and sort of optimism into the future and mankind itself, that I simply had to write at least a word or two about it.

So who’s Nihad Hasanović? According to the interviewer’s website, he’s a “Bosnian writer, one of the most interesting and intriguing young writers in the space of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian language”.

As the interview progressed, which consists of five parts, I found Nihad Hasanović a very interesting person with strong opinions and vivid thoughts on life, literature, philosophy and society pretty much identical to my own ideas.

“[Danilo] Kiš was very important also because he encouraged me to think of literature not just as belonging to a particular nationality, nation, ethnicity, but as belonging to humankind.”
This is simply joy to my ears, a wonderful, albeit still somewhat utopian, idea, but nevertheless it’s great to see that the idea of cosmopolitanism is still alive even in these turbulent times of globalization and all those nationalistic, local reactions to it.

The writer is really full of “sugar puffs” (guldkorn) as they say it in Danish; Mr. Hasanović has very interesting, progressive and firm thoughts on literature, language, politics, science, moral and religion. He’s a great opponent to religion and its influence in society: “In a very cunning way religion have usurped the moral and empirical experience that humanity has accumulated over the course of history and pre-history.”
In religion he sees evil deed rather than a good one. He mentions the Catholic Church, its Inquisition and all the atrocities and genocide committed in Latin America in its name.

He sees “the suppression of freedom to interpret the Qur’an” and attacks on those who bring humor and satire that involve Islam as a very serious problem along with Muslim slave-traders in history. Furthermore he mentions Serbian Orthodox Church which had a huge role in shaping Serbian nationalism and chauvinism that later started a dissolution of Yugoslavia and all those bloody wars in the 1990’s: “Serbian Church has its hands soaked to an incomparably greater extent with the blood of the last war.”

Anyway, there are many additional interesting themes and areas covered in this lengthy interview such as influence of Latin writers, importance of learning a foreign language, criticism of post-modernism, Bosnian and South Slavic literature, religion, lack of scientific presence in literature, politics and much more.

As I mentioned before, I was overjoyed while reading the interview. I felt almost like reading a good book I didn’t want to end. I will most definitely look forward to read more about and of this very interesting Bosnian writer and thinker, and I can only thank Jasmin Čaušević for this great interview which should be read by anyone interested in literature, Bosnian and the Balkans affairs, religion and the criticism, science, language, philosophy, moral and just plain humanity and common sense.

Links to the interview: part I, part II, part III, part IV and part V.

A free chapter (in Bosnian) of Hasanović’s new book “O roštilju i raznim smetnjama” (Concerning barbeques and various interludes) can be read at publisher’s website – pdf.

What We Believe But Cannot Prove

“What We Believe But Cannot Prove” is an interesting book which brings a lot of thoughtful and wise answers to its question by some of the leading scientists, thinkers and writers. You will find contributions of Ian McEwan, Richard Dawkins, Tor Nørretranders, Leonard Susskind etc.

Some examples of contributors’ beliefs:

  • Douglas Rushkoff: “… I believe that evolution has purpose and direction.”
  • Stephen Petranek: “I believe that life is common throughout the universe and that we will find another Earthlike planet within a decade.”
  • Ian McEwan: “… no part of my consciousness will survive my death.”
  • David Buss: “I believe in true love.”
  • Bruce Sterling: “We’re in for climatic mayhem.”
  • Charles Simonyi: “I believe we are writing software the wrong way.”
  • Christine Finn: “I believe that modern humans greatly underutilize their cognitive capabilities.”
  • Alun Anderson: “I believe that cockroaches are conscious.”
  • Alison Gopnik: “I believe, but cannot prove, that babies and young children are actually more conscious, more vividly aware of their external world and internal life, than adults are.”

The first of two favorite contributions comes from Daniel Goleman who wrote: “I believe but cannot prove that today’s children ar unintended victims of economic and technological progress.” Later on he reasons that increasing mobility means fewer children live in the same neighborhood and thus no longer have surrogate parenting from close relatives. “Middle-class childhood has become overly organized, a tight schedule of dance and piano lessons and soccer games, with children shuttled from one adult-run activity to another, making for less free time in which they can play together on their own, in their own way.” Wonderfully put!

The second favorite contribution comes from Kai Krause, who believes that everything is about “the anticipation of the moment and the memory of the moment, but not the moment”. He talks about the pleasure of waiting for something to happen, “the can’t wait moments of elation, of hoping for something, someone, some event to happen”. He asks us to make sure we have new points on the horizon and that we relive our memories. “Make plans and take pictures.”