Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Encouraged by son to read this book, I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve been so thoroughly fascinated, challenged, made to feel worried, guilty, ashamed and then infuriated by my reading material, and often in the course of a page.

The sequel to his phenomenal Homo Sapiens, in Homo Deus, Harari writes about where humans were in history, what we’ve become and where we might be heading. Drawing on a range of discoveries and thoughts in fields as diverse as the sciences, economics, philosophy, psychology, politics, humanism, liberalism, religion etc. he posits a series of facts alongside possible scenarios and invites the reader to think – deeply. Going back into early history, when humans formed an agricultural and quite violent society, he takes us forward to where we are now, a species that values not just information, but our ability to access and share it. Whereas once upon a time power was contingent on having access to a range of organic and  the kind of resources that could develop strong (as in mighty) cultures, Harari argues that nowadays, alongside some traditional forms of power, knowledge is the key. He argues that historians study the past not to repeat it, but be liberated from it.

Some of the most thought-provoking and disturbing parts of the book, for me anyhow, were what he revealed about human’s relationships with animals. I felt sickened and deeply disturbed by what he reveals and I found it shored up some personal decisions. Likewise, I found his contention (based on research and scientific evidence) that humans are basically, like all sentient beings, simply a series of algorithms at once perplexing and basic, fascinating. It’s this idea, mainly (but not exclusively) that leads him to posit that the new religion of Dataism might be our future. After all, if all we are as humans is a series of sophisticated algorithms, like other creatures with which we share the planet but who we currently feel are less sophisticated than us, what’s to stop computers, those powerful processors of data/algorithms in one day governing us? Might we, as intelligence and consciousness are uncoupled, go the way of the Dodo and other animals we have helped to extinction?

It’s a scary yet real notion and one which this book puts out there, along with some other very credible ideas, for us in the here and now to contemplate. Whether we want to change what could be a catastrophic future for all the creatures who share this planet with us is, in the end, up to us. It’s a huge responsibility – are we up for the essential challenge?

Excellent brain food which I think will nonetheless give many some indigestion!

 

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Dust by Hugh Howey

18866705Riddle me this… why oh why have I taken so long to read the final instalment in this marvellous Silo trilogy, Dust? Why, after being utterly captivated by book 1, Wool, loving book 2, Shift, did it take me over three years to reach for this epic conclusion? Yeah, I don’t know either. Too many great books and not enough time, maybe? Finally, I made the time. What I do know is the wait was well worth it.

I don’t want to allow any spoilers to slip into this review except to say that in this final book, the world as the inhabitants of the various Silo’s know it is about to be torn apart. While the reader has been privy to internal politics and, in book 2, the over-arching or macro-politics and history that led to the silos and the hot-housing of humanity in the first place, in this final novel, the splintering of loyalties, of what’s always seemed to be the truth, of just who are allies and enemies, of how perceptions are created and distorted, reaches a climax.

The sense of imprisonment, of claustrophobia, not just within the dark confines of these enormous cement holdings, but psychically and emotionally, plunges towards the only possible shocking conclusion. Yearning for freedom and having it within your grasp, however, comes at a cost… are the inhabitants of the silos willing to pay the price and what charges might be extracted from them if they do?

Tense, utterly believable, with cracking dialogue and wonderful descriptions that make the reader feel as entrapped as those we read about, this is a terrific conclusion to a stunning trilogy. Only, I get the feeling it isn’t really a conclusion either… I certainly hope not.

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Book Reviw: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

You know you are in the hands of a masterful storyteller when you put a book down only because you have no choice – life drags you away aA Thousand Splendid Sunsnd it’s a physical and emotional wrench to let it go, even for a moment. When all you can think as you go about compulsory tasks are the story and the characters. While you are away, you wonder what they are doing, where the narrator is going to take them and you care about their fates deeply. Such is the effect of A Thousand Splendid Suns. The characters live beyond the pages – not merely at the end, but throughout the reading experience, so realistically and gorgeously have they been drawn.

Just as the sublime The Kite Runner told the tale of doomed male friendship, ATSS tells the story of two very different Afghani women: Mariam – shy, subservient, filled with self-doubt and yet, despite what life has meted out, is also honest and possessed of an innocence that is both her greatest strength and weakness. Then there is the beautiful, smart and kind Laila. Raised under very different roofs and with different expectations of their future, fate in the form of political and sectarian upheaval throws these women together and what happens before, during and after is heart-wrenchingly bitter-sweet.

Hosseini knows not only how to capture the reader’s imagination but our hearts as well. Told without sentimentality but nonetheless with an almost unbearable sweetness and pathos, ATSS unapologetically describes what the women of Afghanistan (and many men, children, families and thus communities) were forced to endure. The rampant misogyny, sexism and horrific abuses; terror, hope, the loss, the grind, the joy in the smallest and simplest of things; their constant sacrifices. Their resilience is formidable and humbling; their strength amazing – as is their capacity to forgive. By focussing primarily on Mariam and Laila (and those who play important roles in shaping who and what they become) Hosseini gives us a searing insight into not only the plight of those who are helpless pawns in a brutal battle for control of a weakened state, but Western prejudices, sense of entitlement and misunderstanding as well as revealing the ugliness and terrible beauty of a culture so few of us understand except through snatches from sensationalized news bulletins or from foreign correspondents with a brief to fill. That there are those resistant to as well as complicit in oppression, suffer because of willful ignorance and the brutality of others; the way in which religion and culture can impose horrific restraints when reduced to power struggles while at the same time gesturing to a proud nobility is evident in the novel. Inevitably, as is the case when religion, sex and gender become politicized, there are scapegoats who pay for the hubris and cruelty of others – for more than a lifetime. The damage inflicted can last for generations.

I didn’t want this book to end. My heart soared, it plummeted; I gasped, cried, held my breath and as I read felt physically pummeled then embraced, experiencing the 30 years the tale covers as a visceral thing that left me psychologically and imaginatively battered but richer in ways that count. But, I also felt ashamed. Ashamed for thoughts I may have harboured deep down, for prejudices I may not have even realized I held until this novel exposed them to me, and for that, I am grateful.

This is a beautiful, deeply moving book that I cannot recommend highly enough. It was a privilege to read and now to share.

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