Homo Sapiens A Brief History was more of a pop culture summary of humans so far. But the Homo Deus by Yuval Harari is a different beast. It is more interesting, although with the same sweeping generalisations. It feels closer, more insightful, also in parts because I read it without the 20:20 hindsight that accompanies the books on history. This one is about future. And not necessarily a glorious future that awaits humans. It’s about the future where algorithms are going to rule.
In the twenty-first century we might witness the creation of a massive new unworking class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society. This ‘useless class’ will not be merely unemployed – it will be unemployable.
The best books are the ones that are bite-size, the books that can be crunched through in one sitting. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is one such book. And it helps that Barnes has written it with some love. A few lines:
Because just as all political and historical change sooner or later disappoints, so does adulthood. So does life. Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
And Haruki Murakami turns the Greek tragedy upside down.
And the sense of tragedy – according to Aristotle – comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. Do you know what I’m getting at? People are driven into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues… Oedipus is drawn into tragedy not because of laziness or stupidity, but because of his courage and honesty.
From Waiting For The Barbarians.
My torturers were not interested in degrees of pain. They were interested only in demonstrating to me what it meant to live in a body, as a body, a body which can entertain notions of justice only as long as it is whole and well, which very soon forgets them when its head is gripped and a pipe is pushed down its gullet and pints of salt water are poured into it… They came to my cell to show me the meaning of humanity, and in the space of an hour they showed me a great deal
I first read Albert Camus in college. The Stranger aka The Outsider was one of those books that were sort of essential reading for anyone in college. Like the Catcher In The Rye. Or the Catch 22. It was heady stuff, appealing to anyone who had started to run into some of the perplexities of life but were not yet free of what they call the teenage spirit.
That was the only book I read until the last month when I picked up The Fall. Wow! What a book. If The Stranger was the food for a college student’s soul, The Fall is a book for the man in early 30s. The Plague was next and then a re-reading of The Stranger.
Also, realised that good books often tell readers different things depending on when you read them. For example what I made of The Stranger 10 years ago was somewhat different from how I processed it last month.
The Stranger was the first Camus book I read. And then I forgot about him, lost in grind of the daily life. Two days ago I decided to go back and picked The Fall.
It was late night, around 1am, when I downloaded the book on Kindle. It was time to sleep but I made a mistake of reading five pages. And then it turned into one-more-page-before-I-sleep. A few hours later, the first light of the morning was outside the window, the din from people living in the apartment block was rising, vehicles had started moving on the colony roads and the book was done.
The whole book is an overly dramatic monologue… but what a monologue it is. Absolute page turner! And with lines like these, it has to be:
“We are all exceptional cases. We all want to appeal against something! Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.”