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Publisher's Summary

Bloomsbury presents Humankind by Rutger Bregman, read by Rutger Bregman and Thomas Judd.

The Sunday Times best seller.

A Guardian, Times, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times summer listen.

It’s a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest.

Humankind makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. The instinct to cooperate rather than compete, trust rather than distrust, has an evolutionary basis going right back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too.

In this major book, internationally best-selling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world’s most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram’s Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.

It is time for a new view of human nature.

©2020 Rutger Bregman (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic Reviews

 

"Never dewy-eyed, wistful or naive, Rutger Bregman makes a wholly robust and convincing case for believing - despite so much apparent evidence to the contrary - that we are not the savage, irredeemably greedy, violent and rapacious species we can be led into thinking ourselves to be. Hugely, highly and happily recommended." (Stephen Fry)

 

"Rutger Bregman’s extraordinary new book is a revelation.... Humankind is masterful in its grasp of history, both ancient and modern." (Susan Cain, author of Quiet

 

"Cynicism is a theory of everything, but, as Rutger Bregman brilliantly shows, an elective one. This necessary book widens the aperture of possibility for a better future, and radically." (David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth)

What listeners say about Humankind

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Kindness is Proven and Affirmed

This book provided an evidence based explanation that we are ‘wired’ to be kind, friendly, helpful, caring and nice. All my life I’ve been labeled innocent and naive because of the trust I have for human goodness, this book affirms that my love and faith in all mankind actually puts me and all others like me at the top of the evolutionary tree.
Here’s to a kind and hopeful future!

8 people found this helpful

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A. Must Read

This is a highly readable (and listenable) book. It rings true to me and I urge anyone and everyone to read...or listen t it.

3 people found this helpful

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Insightful

Loved it, learnt alot. I found the positive perspective on humanity refreshing and the research to support it enlightening.

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  • Mr
  • 20-09-2020

All the world should read this!

Another revealing book by Rutger. Our world does not have to be the way it is. I hope this will inspire others to change. I know it has already changed me.

2 people found this helpful

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excellent

The world would be a better place if we are all aware if these insights. imagine what could be achieved.

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Refreshing view of humanity that feels right

I absolutely loved this book. Everything just made sense and I leave it with a more positive outlook on my life and the world around me. Thank goodness for this book, its what the world needs.

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Excellent

A wonderful hopeful history that is both thoughtful and practical. A must read for anyone who cares about the world and our place in it.

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Know thyself - never look back

This book is truly inspirational. Reinforced many of my beliefs and gave me some scaffolding to hold those beliefs up high. I will never again be shy to do good, I’ll be proud and loud. Thank you Rutger.

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Disappointed

I was hopeful but was disappointed by the lack of rigour that was applied to the research for this book. Some of the writers that the author references, such as Steven Pinker, Harari (Sapiens) and Taleb (Black Swan) all demonstrate far greater attention to the full range of arguments before reaching a conclusion. Bregman’s one-sided, selective use of stories had no sense of scientific endeavour. While selective research can be offset by brilliant writing, say Malcolm Gladwell (another author frequently cited by Bregman), Bregman’s gift as a writer doesn’t allow him to pull that off.
One example is his overly simplistic and poorly suited ‘example of communism’ being a family member passing the salt at the dinner table. The fact that no cash changes hands is supposed to equate to communism somehow being a viable political and economic system.
I found myself shaking my head in disagreement during most chapters. I persisted through to the end simply to ensure that it didn’t suddenly improve towards the end, with this review in mind. It didn’t.

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Interesting Read

Well written and narrated.
Interesting perspective.
Thought provoking. Insight into how humans behave in different circumstances.

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  • Myles Hocking
  • 08-09-2020

Misunderstanding the world

TL:DR; don't buy this book if you got a low score on the Gapminder test (Google it).

I'm giving Rutger bregman book humankind a fairly low mark because in my estimation he tackles some big, solid giants and comes up leaving my worldview largely untouched but slightly depressed.
His main adversary that he chooses is Steven Pinker whose recent tomes of "The Better Angels of our Nature" and "Evolution Now" have for hundred and hundreds of pages and dozens and dozens of well-researched the charts demonstrated that we are living in the most gilded time we are lucky beyond measure in the amount of knowledge we have our fingertips the amount of medical care and attention we can give it to ourselves and our loved ones and longevity we can enjoy. Absolutely lovely unparalleled on those. Bregman doesn't seem satisfied with this and what he wants to do is dig deep and subvert this understanding that Pinker took so long to establish: for example he delves into some of the prehistoric remains sites which Pinker uses to prove the point that, far from having some perfect Rousseau-freedom that we so thought we had, our past lives were very violent and often met with violent death.
Bregman to his credit researches Pinker's research and comes up with some different explanations for example a prehistoric tribe with a violent past had the skull of a small boy who had his head caved-in. It was assumed that this was an act of violence from another hominid however further research has shown that it was probably a large bird of prey that dropped him to create the skull fracture. Another Bregman research conversion shows the tribe that rather than killing themselves and each other, they were in fact killed by local cowboys who were trying to settle and didn't like the nomads. In both of these examples Bregman sat back happy, smiling, thinking "there I've just shown that Rousseau's free man was a lovely wonderful being and it's only civilization that has ruined it". Well as I see it and think those Pinker death rates have not changed one jot and whether it's being let go at 50 feet by a giant eagle or being shot over a competition for land I'd rather neither of those things happened for my child in this day and age and I'm glad of the civilisation we have thank you very much. So what is Bergman's point?
Tellingly he tells us that communism starts in the home from simple things that you might ask someone to "pass the pepper please" and they don't charge you for it... this was actually a sentence in his book I kid you not. Bregman for whatever reason isn't happy with the works of Pinker and other modern data enlightenment people and he doesn't want to think the world is largely on the right track and largely getting better by the decade (if not by the year, if not the month) but it is getting better in all manner of aspects whether that's longevity, gay rights, animal rights, violent deaths or international was. Instead Bregman seems to have a chip on his shoulder about how we got to where we are and it would rather see us form into some sort of communist kabal with each mini tribe being able to wander wherever it wants or live however it sees fit with everything working out equally and I've no idea how he thinks that kind of thing will work he doesn't bother suggesting anything himself either..
On a lighter note Bregman does seem to get it more right and the great comedian Bill Hicks is probably slightly wrong when he said "people in advertising and marketing industry were the scum of the earth and suck the devil's c**k" when actually it's your average journalist fits that role better. He goes through several instances including the Kitty Harris murder in New York and other 'bystander phenomenon' mistold and exacerbated by journalism. Control the pen and you control the people, and they need some good guys to run them out of town.
Other neurological, psychological tests that were carried out at Harvard and Yale and Stanford in those crazy 60's are studied and their errors and Bregman turns them on their heads and he demonstrates that actually there were a bit forced and forged and modern man is quite chilled in most settings.
Bergman thinks he's discovered a Holy Grail when he assembled analyses the facts within a war such as maybe 70 to 80% of soldiers never even fire the gun or shoot the arrow on purpose at their opponent because they're too horrified to actually kill a fellow man. Well again that great but "So what?!" that still leaves 10 to 20% with a fully loaded automatic weapon on both sides that prepared to do the bidding so what so what Bregman so what? Doesn't mean we're all kind Humans, does it?!
Bregman skips around trying to prove some point on instincts when he delves into William Golding's "Lord of the flies" and says post cataclysmic World War 2's people did come up with this idea that we're all savage and we're going to tear each other apart if we left on an island together. He again to his credit, researches a small set of boys who actually were left on an island called Atta in the Pacific it's a lovely heartwarming story of six Tongan public school boarding boys who were washed up, and they did stick together, and they did manage to stay friends for 18 months, and they were rescued all fine, and they even managed to fix a broken leg and stay healthy and fish and start fires on the island. Great, but he does drop a side note mentioning that the island was once inhabited for hundreds of years but that slavers took every single person off the island 200 years ago and therefore it was uninhabited when the boys arrived. So in a chapter where he tried to prove the naked essence of our goodness he also shows that horrific things did go on a couple of hundred years ago and luckily they no longer go on, as you'd understand after reading and accepting Pinker.
I could go on chapter of chapter telling in my "ok, so what's" but I listened, wincing all the way through because a chap with a heart of gold told me he found it very uplifting I'm very surprised having now read the book how this can be so. I find it a depressing attack on the current economy and good institutions of the world, the tearing down of the system seems to be what Bregman wants and and I can only hope that if you want more considered data-driven analysis of where we are and where we're going just go to the gapminder website or check out the aforementioned Pinker books.
Bregmans title is humankind and I think he wants to be thinking that humans are kind and he felt he needed to prove this to himself somehow but he has not been kind himself or to those who were the giants upon whose shoulders we stand to see farther and feel better and live longer than we ever done before.

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  • K Oliver
  • 12-01-2021

Powerful, important, but flawed & with a dark side

I don't think I've ever loved and hated a book so much at the same time.

--- The author's narration of the first chapter is excellent. The rest of the narration is patronising but otherwise good.

--- The central point of the book is one that needs making, and it is made very well in the early chapters. The media we absorb negatively biases in our view of human nature. Powerful people have exploited this and made well-intentioned blunders based on the self-fulfilling assumption that humans are selfish. In truth, kindness and self-sacrifice are powerful human instincts which come out most strongly at times of crisis. This message is given through a mixture of engaging anecdotes and quasi-scientific evidence. The former are delivered movingly and with humour, and while Bregman's own bias compromises the latter, I am personally persuaded of his central thesis and will no doubt bore my friends with it for years to come.

--- The latter part of the book presents Bregman's assessment of how society should adapt to this revised understanding of human nature. This is mostly a recasting of the left wing, anti-authoritarian, world view. As a left wing anti-authoritarian, I agreed with most of it, but I found it much less interesting than the early chapters.

--- Now for what's wrong with the book: Bregman's belief that humans are good except for a few bad eggs leads him to condemn bullying only when it is Trump-style bullying of groups by individuals. Bullying of individuals by groups is far more common, but Bregman unconsciously views this as a positive thing. This is because, unless the bullying has a racial/homophobic/etc. component, he does not notice that he is describing bullying, and he assumes that the victims must have deserved it. He even finds a way to condone violence when he likes the perpertrators, e.g., because they are hunter-gatherers. He then approvingly writes of how female bonobos, who he views as the most human-like primate, will group together against annoying male bonobos, and may bite their penises off (the book is infused with such parodies of feminism, which have nothing to do with sincere feminism).

--- My second major issue with the book is closely linked to the first, Bregman presents an convincing explanation of how humans' great power of empathy, combined with our bias against people who are different or unknown, underlies much of the harm we do to one another. How ironic then that he gives plenty of good examples of this among people who are very different from him, but fails to give a single example among people with similar world view to him (and me). For example, he mentions that British communities with low immigration were more likely to vote for Brexit than those with relatively high immigration, which is true and relevant but misses the main point. The driving force was indeed empathy for the "similar" turning into antipathy for the other, but "similar" and "other" were defined primarily by life experience and world view, not nationality, and Remainers like myself had no moral high ground here. In fact, earlier in the book, I had mused on how much Bregman had unwittingly sounded like a Leaver while discussing the jaundiced view the powerful have of the masses....

--- I was able to enjoy the book despite these flaws largely because Bregman's biases are against people who are not like me. If he wants to do more than preach to the choir, he needs to do a much better job of challenging himself. I hope he does, because his message is one that the world needs to hear.

34 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-11-2020

Who is writing the reviews ?

Sorry - but this book is rambling and incoherent - written and read as if by a 10 year old. I really have to question the validity of the 5* rating that persuaded me to buy the book. Now I find I can’t return the book despite Amazon’s promises. What a scam. It makes me understand the backlash against big tech - completely lost the moral compass bearings in the pursuit of never ending ‘growth’ for the sake of shareholders.

30 people found this helpful

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  • Victor K
  • 14-08-2020

Not impressed

Weak arguments, unoriginal ideas, overused psychological studies like Zimbardo prison experiment and Milgram shocking experiments. Poor understanding of neuroscience eg says neanderthals should be smarter than us due to having larger brain volumes. But total brain volume doesn't determine intelligence. Using prefrontal cortex volume is a better measurement but author seems to be unaware of this basic research. One of many examples. Much better books out there. The idea that humans are nice to each other naturally is good but could argued in a much better way.

21 people found this helpful

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  • D J VICTOR
  • 31-05-2020

The author was wrong

The opening was very enjoyable
Rutger Bregman was reading his own text
He said the professional performer would be better - unfortunately he was wrong
- his slow, condescending style was unbearable - I gave up

20 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 16-10-2020

Cannot recommend enough!

I never write reviews but I absolutely loved this book! It presents a very well reasoned and thorough argument for having a much more positive (or “realistic”) view of humankind. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s completely changed my outlook on life and the way I view/deal with others. I read and listen to a lot of books and I can’t think of the last time one has had this sort of impact on me! Definitely give it a go if you’re on the fence!

12 people found this helpful

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  • Stacy Danika Alcantara-Garcia
  • 01-10-2020

Hope in humanity RESTORED

After listening to this book, it felt as if the dark clouds have parted and the warm sunshine streamed into my heart. Thank you, Rutger, for this uplifting book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Markle
  • 12-09-2020

Everyone should read this.

A welcoming change in perspective on the negative views we’re faced with day to day.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Betty Chatterjee
  • 03-09-2020

Potentially life changing

Having listened to it just once, I intend to listen to it again in order to digest the contents. Hobbes rather than Rousseau has probably influenced my outlook more than I realised.

IMO Studying and discussing this book with other people would be fruitful.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-08-2020

New realism, well told!

Full of great stories of human kindness and importantly to the sceptical of human unkindness. Recommended to anyone that feels the world is a scary awful place it isn't and if we turn off the news and listen to this book you'll be reminded of that

2 people found this helpful

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