Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

HUMANKIND: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman book review

  • Written by  Chris Fitch
  • Published in Books
HUMANKIND: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman book review
30 Jul
2020
by Rutger Bregmen • Bloomsbury • £14.00 (hardback)

‘Catastrophes bring out the best in people,’ writes Rutger Bregman. ‘I know of no other sociological finding that’s backed by so much solid evidence that’s so blithely ignored.’ Bregman may be specifically discussing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, but the bigger picture, he argues, is clear: people are ‘pretty decent’. Following previous success with Utopia for Realists, his new book Humankind is dedicated to discussing this ‘radical idea’ in depth.

Specifically, this means booting out ideas such as ‘veneer theory’ – the idea that civilisation is a thin veneer keeping humans from descending into barbarism – in favour of a positive view of Homo sapiens as a compassionate, empathetic, generous species. Rejecting the theories of Thomas Hobbes, who believed humanity was protected from inherent wickedness by civilised society, and instead listening to fellow philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who suggested that life was far better when humans existed as free-wheeling nomads, before the invention of agriculture and civilisation introduced conflict and disease. ‘Civilisation has become synonymous with peace and progress, and wilderness with war and decline,’ writes Bregman. ‘In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.’ Only in the past two hundred years – the final fifteen minutes of the day, as he puts it – has civilised society begun delivering on the promise of a better life for all.

There’s bountiful debunking at play, from the famous Stanford Prison and Shock Machine experiments, to the brutality of Lord of the Flies and the downfall of Easter Island. Even war can’t escape Bregman’s critique, as he argues that humans simply aren’t wired to kill, and would prefer to deliberately fire over their opponents’ heads (as was apparently observed during the First World War). This book is certainly an optimistic shot in the arm during a year in which societies have been tested like never before, where that thin veneer could easily fall away. The fact it hasn’t means, perhaps, humans are far better than we give ourselves credit for.

Get Geographical delivered to your door!
signup buttonGeographical has been in print since 1935, during which time we have reported on many thousands of global issues, allowing readers to look past the boundaries and borders of their world. Our monthly print magazine costs £9.50 for three months, or £38 for a year. We hope you will conisder joining us. 

Julysub 2020

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Films

The Ocean Film Festival World Tour 2020 brings the water…

Films

2020 has, for many of us, been a dramatic year.…

Films

One woman’s determined plot to tackle multi-national industry through activism…

Films

Acclaimed documentarian Ron Howard brings an intimate depiction of the…

Books

September’s top non-fiction reads

Books

• by Andri Snær Magnason • Serpent’s Tail

Books

August’s top non-fiction reads

Books

By Dawn Bébe and Juliet Coombe • £25 (hardback)

Books

by David Farrier • Fourth Estate • £11.96 (hardback) 

Books

by Jini Reddy • Bloomsbury • £11.89 (hardback)

Books

by James Boyce • Icon Books • £12.99 (hardback)

Books

 by Peter Wilson • £38.99 (hardback)