BOOK REVIEW: Humankind

books, Reviews

I love this quote by Richard Curtis. It’s true that we only hear about the exceptional so when an unexceptional thing occurs in front of our eyes we don’t believe it.

I started writing this post when it was first published as I devoured it within a week, it was so compellingly written and its ideas different from anything I had read before about the history of humankind. I had to quickly get down my first thoughts about it upon completing reading – my initial thought being ‘who can I share this book with? I need someone to talk about these ideas with!’ For some reason, I didn’t publish that review (what a bad publisher I am!), but despite this review going up a few months after finishing it I felt like it was still a book I had to write about and share my views on because more people need to read this book – its the other side of the argument about humankind, the hopeful version of it, dismissing the modern western Hobbesian idea that humans are born selfish and shedding different, rarely shown, lights on our history.

So. Whats it about?

Humankind: A Hopeful History is a Non-fiction book written by Danish Historian, journalist and Author, Rutger Bregman. I had heard of Bregman when watching his TED talk on Poverty. I found his speech style compelling, some of his points interesting but his argument lacking on a couple of points. It was persuasive but by the end I found myself asking ‘but what about…?’ and ‘why wasn’t… considered?’ Nevertheless when I saw that this book was being published by Bloomsbury in the UK this June (2020) I was intrigued as the premise seemed to be what I was searching for in my next read- something to challenge ‘well known’ interpretations of the past and to be readable -not full of academia jargon like many history, or any ‘professional’ books, are. I’m pleased to say that it exceeded those expectations.

The book spans many different parts of human history. Beginning with the origins of civilisation, about how we became ‘civilised’ and stopped being hunter-gatherers and moves on to looking at modern day tribes, analysing WW2, and finding parts of the past not frequently reported on. The biggest of these being the ‘ Real Lord Of the Flies’, which is being made into a movie soon (you know a book must be good when a film is being made from just one short chapter!) For years, William Golding’s book has provided a blueprint into how we treat people, being used as evidence for our government and how children should be educated. As a non fiction book, there are no real ‘spoilers’, either Bregman convinces you or he doesn’t with his fresh take on history but it is interlaced with stories of its own kind that you might find surprising. The variety in topics covered in this book will mean it will appeal to a variety of readers; whether your’e interested in the history of science, psychology, true crime or literature, this book will give you a new hopeful side to the stories you might have already heard of and some you might not.

Bregman covers a variety of ideas thinking about how history is shaped, about how our current knowledge came to be, about the news and the implications of ‘fake news’ too. As a former journalist himself, it’s fascinating to see reporting and the news through the lens of someone who has worked in it and also seeing someones quest to find truth through all the speculation and coating of the past. It’s also interesting finding out more about how the past and our interpretations of it has shaped us as a species. I also found the research about placebos and nocebos particularly compelling (but youll have to read the book to find out more about that!)

‘Humankind’ & ‘Quiet’:

I read this book alongside Susan Cain’s bestseller ‘Quiet’, a book arguing that introversion and extroversion should be qualities respected equally. This book deserves its own post but it was fascinating reading these two side by side. Bregman focuses occasionally on ideas Cain focuses on in her book, particularly with thinking about psychological experiments and thinking about how we view an ideal self. Cain said of Humankind that ‘Bregman’s application of history leads to a new understanding of human nature.’ it ‘changes the conversation and lights the path to a brighter future. We need it now more than ever’. A statement I can absolutely agree with, in times of rapid change and uncertainty we need to be reminded that we actually might not be born with self centred wired brains, that at the end of the day, we might actually be a species that wants to help each other out. It just so happens that there are a select few who’d rather not, and some that are too easily swayed.

Overall, this book was compelling and thought-provoking, an essential in these times of uncertainty to know that hope isn’t futile. As the epigraph from Chekhov says ‘man will become better when you show him what he is like’ and this book shows us the other side of the coin when it comes to human nature, so read this to better understand what we, us humans, are truly like so that maybe we can be better towards each-other.

Reading in lockdown: 5 hopeful books

books, Reviews, Thoughts

Reading has long been a pastime to help us get through times of crisis, whether personally or globally. Reading is also a great thing to do now that we have a bit more time on our hands! Sometimes, when this all gets a bit too much, a more hopeful read is better to turn to, so these are my top five (they are not in any particular order because I can’t decide which is better!) Each one is a reminder of how wonderful the world can be, some are novels, others poetry but each are hopeful and mostly escapist.

  1. How to Stop Time By Matt Haig.

Matt Haig is renowned for his writings around mental health and positivity. This book is one of his few fictional works which centres around a man who ages much slower than the average human being so has seen considerably more of the past. Haig takes the reader compellingly from the time of witch burnings to Shakespeare to the present day. If you are struggling during these times you may wish also to check out Notes on a Nervous planet (for anxiety) or Reasons to stay alive (for depression). We are all finding our way through these uncertain and changing times in different ways, and some are coping better than others. But know that you are not alone if you are struggling. Scarlett Curtis’ book ‘Its not okay to feel blue and other lies’ also might be useful.

2. The Lord of The Rings By J. R. R. Tolkien

A book centred around companionship and unity, as well as myth, wizards, elves and hobbits, Tolkien wrote the book based on his friendships as well as with his love of medieval mythology.

“The World is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

3. The Poetry Pharmacy, William Sieghart

Poetry is often a source of solace during difficult times, and through these books Sieghart seeks to console the emotions with a suitable poem. Simply flick to the feeling of your choosing and have a read. Emilia Clarke is also currently doing readings of these poems on her instagram, along with other actors such as Stephen Fry and Andrew Scott which you can check out to get a taster, and when you buy the book all profits go to her charity ‘Same You’.

4. A Pair of Silver Wings By James Holland

Sometimes a reminder of a past crisis that people got through can bring hope for current ones. This is a really endearing book about friendship and love during the war as well as focusing on some mental health issues.

5. Silas Marner by George Eliot

This is quite a short novel based around someone who feels like an outsider in a new town slowly learning how to love life again. It’s a lovely read that demands its reader to look for hope in new, simple places.

Other honourable mentions:

‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown. This may not be overly hopeful but it is topical. There have been a few religious conspiracy theories around this time about this being about the revelations coming true. This book subtly deals with that through the issue of human overpopulation. It is a really thought provoking book, you can read my review here. It isn’t one for escapism out of the issues we are having today, but if you fancy diving deeper into the implications of scientific discovery and disease this is a compelling fictionalisation of it.

Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. This is one of my all time favourite books, it focuses around two characters mainly, Dr Victor Frankenstein and his creature, scrutinising what it means to be good or bad. Shelley brilliantly plays with the readers idea of what a monster is and how we define it. If you haven’t read it, it is a classic that is worth reading.

Poems you can read online:

Hope is the thing with feathers‘ by Emily Dickinson. A poem about hope as a bird coming and going that is always there even if you don’t notice it. This is a great poem for when hope is needed most.

This poem is interesting too although i’m not sure who the author is or where the source of this poem comes from.

Another book that sounds hopeful, as it is in the name, is Humankind: A hopeful history by Rutgar Bregman which is published tomorrow. I can’t wait to have a read and find out what it is like, apparently it’s a bit like ‘Sapiens’.

That was quite a lot more books than five but I hope at least one of them sparked your interest. This is a difficult time for people all over the world, but I hope you are well and finding ways to find some kind of normality. If there are any other books that have helped you to do so please let me know in the comments, I’d love to find more hopeful books to read!

  • If you are considering purchasing any books during lockdown and want to continue to support small hughstreet bookshops please consider buying them from Hive, an online retailer of books that supports small businesses.
  • For more on how books have helped in the past, this is a fascinating article from The Conversation about how books helped people keep calm during WW2.

BOOK REVIEW: Origin

books, Reviews
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I recently finished reading Origin by Dan Brown; I am a huge fan of his books anyway after having read Inferno, and this sequel does not disappoint – its just as thought provoking and fascinating as his past novels.

To sum up the novel, without spoilers, the novel is a thriller following the Harvard professor Robert Langdon going to see an ex students presentation about a new discovery he has made. He then finds himself running for his life along with Museum manager Ambra Vidal. It follows all the places they visit and all of the organisations, people and architecture in the book are real which is really interesting.

Brown also touches on some very controversial topics including the ongoing religion vs science debate and the impact technology has on todays society. It is incredibly thought provoking; it made me question and want to find out more about the topic and the way in which science and religion both have parts to play in todays society. It makes you ask questions about the relevancy of religion in the modern world, about the impact new scientific discoveries have on society and about the conflicts that can occur due to the differences in opinion people have over answering these questions.

Religion is presented almost like a comfort blanket in the novel by some characters (although the protagonist, Robert Langdon, remains a bystander throughout) as an idea that people go to when the world does not give them clear answers. For example what happens when we die – science cannot yet give a definite or ‘nice’ answer so perhaps religion is that blanket to turn to. Other characters depict a world in which science can cause more suffering for example issues with the lack of morality and emotion in computers or a lack of hope amongst society due to the less romantic answers to some questions Science is trying to answer. In this way, Brown presents a clear discussion of these themes allowing the reader to make up their own mind of what the answer should be. Science or Religion or maybe even both, side by side?

Overall I would 100 percent recommend this novel, it follows a very similar story arc as to many of his other novels but the topics are very relevant and fascinating – I couldn’t put the book down, I was so eager to find out what was going to happen next. It not only feels like you are reading a thrilling novel but also learning a lot from it too.

Have you read Origin, If so what did you think?

Have you got a favourite book? I would love to know your book recommendations – please leave a comment below!

Thank you so much for reading 🙂

(This is all my own opinion, unless otherwise stated, about the book and the themes it entails. You may think completely different ideas about the themes or have different thoughts about the novel as a whole and I am happy to hear your opinions about them)

Book club: On My 2018 To Read List

Book Club

One of my resolutions was to read more. I have always loved reading but over the last couple of years schoolwork seems to have taken over and my passion for reading diminished a little. I am currently reading Origin by Dan Brown, an author whose books I have come to love, I’m about half way through and I’m hooked. Now it may be reading over schoolwork!

This is my  ‘to read’ list for the rest of the year…

Sense and sensibility – Jane Austin

I’ve been wanting to read one of Jane Austins novels for a while, I’ve seen the films and I really enjoyed Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austin apparently writes in a similar style. Its also one of those classics that I think will be really interesting to read.

Hidden Figures

The film was incredible, Looking at the women in Science who were behind making the Apollo mission possible but were never recognised at the time. Its supposed to be a really empowering read and a compelling look back into history.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine

This is currently one of the best sellers on Waterstones and looks like a thought provoking story line.

To kill a mocking bird

This is one of my friends favourite books and she’s been urging for me to read it for a while. Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties through one man’s struggle for justice.

The Da Vinci Code

I am currently reading Origin, which is Dan Browns newest book of the Robert Langdon series, and I read inferno last year but I have never read the earlier books so I really want to read the first book to see where it all started. A lot of people say this is the best one too so really looking forward to reading it later this year.

Wild

I really enjoyed the film and it was a really poignant story about a woman who backpacks across America to find herself. I had wanted to read it before watching the film but I never got round to it – better late than never… right?

The Road

I think I am going to be reading this in English next year along with A handmaids tale and its always good to be ahead 😉 haha

A pair of silver wings

My dad recommended this book to me – he claims it to be one of the best books he’s ever read so i’m looking forward to seeing if I find it as good as he claims it to be.

If you have any book recommendations please let me know! It is such a struggle to find a good book and I hope that my reading list may have helped you. For my other recommendations please see my ‘book club’ section xx

 

BOOK REVIEW: Inferno

books, Reviews

I finished reading Inferno whilst on holiday in Nice, France, it was an amazing book simply because it was so thought provoking. Without giving too much away Inferno is basically about a professor helping the WHO to find a potential ‘plaque’ Zobrist could have hidden. The book takes you on a journey around Florence, Venice and Istanbul so is very cultured. I really want to go to Italy now!

I’ve seen the film as well which is still really good but the book is so much better because the ending of the film is very different and the film leaves out many of the details from the book which would probably be too difficult to portray on film.

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The main issue this book is based around though is the taboo topic of the increase in human population. The book includes a graph of this increase and how overpopulation can lead to so many issues but how we don’t know how to face the issue in an ethical way.

In my opinion it is something we need to deal with soon because we as humans do have a massive impact on the environment. The more people there are the more cars there need to be on the roads, the more electricity we need to create, the more houses we need to build, the more land we need, the more food we need, the more water we need, the more trees we need to cut down, the more of everything we need.

I kind of think we are the reason for global warming; its not necessarily just the cars we are using and other ways we are producing co2 but we are heating the world. If you think about it every piece of technology we use produces heat as a by product, the more people there are the more people there are using these products. The more people there are the more we have to use intensive farming because there is not enough land for organic farming, the more people there are the more co2 we are producing because that is the product we breathe out along with all other animals, the more heat we are creating because we live so closely together; we could be essentially creating our own greenhouse effect like when penguins huddle together to create heat. Obviously I am no scientist and this is just my opinion.

Maybe we are just so naive to not notice or do anything about the fact that we are the biggest problem facing the world. But I really couldn’t think of any way that we would be able to deal with it anyway.

Have you read inferno? if so what did you think of it x

‘I am Malala’

Book Club, Lifestyle

A memoir of a truly inspirational woman.

‘I am Malala’ is truly an inspiring real-life story. After reading this recently i realised how bad these countries were, how because people were and still not educated, they did not know right from wrong so assumed the rules in pakistan were like any other country, that treating women this way was ‘normal’. so many people believe it is the beliefs that make terrorists but most muslims, like Malala, do not believe in the extremism and violence. In fact she campaigns for the opposite.

I believe that Education is so important for people to build careers and achieve their dreams no matter how big or small they might be. Malala is a true inspiration to everyone, for a young girl to have the courage to speak out for what she believes in even though she went against authority and knew there could be consequences.it also shows the power of the media, without the publicity anyone outside of the effected countries would know of the terror in Pakistan and surrounding countries. It is awful that Malala could almost have been killed for speaking out for her right for education and her memoir spreads the word. A truly inspirational woman.

There is also a film of the book ‘He name me Malala’ release in November last year (2015) which i would love to see. Malala still has ambitions and continues to campaign with the Malala fund.

Have you read it?

What do you think of education and feminism?

I would love to know your thoughts, lease leave comments below telling me your opinions.