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A Hopeful History
Translated by Erica Moore
Translated by Elizabeth Manton
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The “lively” (The New Yorker), “convincing” (Forbes), and “riveting pick-me-up we all need right now” (People) that proves humanity thrives in a crisis and that our innate kindness and cooperation have been the greatest factors in our long-term success as a species.
If there is one belief that has united the left and the right, psychologists and philosophers, ancient thinkers and modern ones, it is the tacit assumption that humans are bad. It's a notion that drives newspaper headlines and guides the laws that shape our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Pinker, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we're taught, are by nature selfish and governed primarily by self-interest.
But what if it isn't true? International bestseller Rutger Bregman provides new perspective on the past 200,000 years of human history, setting out to prove that we are hardwired for kindness, geared toward cooperation rather than competition, and more inclined to trust rather than distrust one another. In fact this instinct has a firm evolutionary basis going back to the beginning of Homo sapiens.
From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the solidarity in the aftermath of the Blitz, the hidden flaws in the Stanford prison experiment to the true story of twin brothers on opposite sides who helped Mandela end apartheid, Bregman shows us that believing in human generosity and collaboration isn't merely optimistic—it's realistic. Moreover, it has huge implications for how society functions. When we think the worst of people, it brings out the worst in our politics and economics. But if we believe in the reality of humanity's kindness and altruism, it will form the foundation for achieving true change in society, a case that Bregman makes convincingly with his signature wit, refreshing frankness, and memorable storytelling.
"The Sapiens of 2020." —The Guardian
"Humankind made me see humanity from a fresh perspective." —Yuval Noah Harari, author of the #1 bestseller Sapiens
Longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
One of the Washington Post's 50 Notable Nonfiction Works in 2020
A New Realism
This is a book about a radical idea.
An idea that’s long been known to make rulers nervous. An idea denied by religions and ideologies, ignored by the news media and erased from the annals of world history.
At the same time, it’s an idea that’s legitimised by virtually every branch of science. One that’s corroborated by evolution and confirmed by everyday life. An idea so intrinsic to human nature that it goes unnoticed and gets overlooked.
If only we had the courage to take it more seriously, it’s an idea that might just start a revolution. Turn society on its head. Because once you grasp what it really means, it’s nothing less than a mind-bending drug that ensures you’ll never look at the world the same again
So what is this radical idea?
That most people, deep down, are pretty decent.
I don’t know anyone who explains this idea better than Tom Postmes, professor of social psychology at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. For years, he’s been asking students the same question.
Imagine an airplane makes an emergency landing and breaks into three parts. As the cabin fills with smoke, everybody inside realises: We’ve got to get out of here. What happens?
On Planet A, the passengers turn to their neighbours to ask if they’re okay. Those needing assistance are helped out of the plane first. People are willing to give their lives, even for perfect strangers.
On Planet B, everyone’s left to fend for themselves. Panic breaks out. There’s lots of pushing and shoving. Children, the elderly, and people with disabilities get trampled underfoot.
Now the question: Which planet do we live on?
‘I would estimate about 97 per cent of people think we live on Planet B,’ says Professor Postmes. ‘The truth is, in almost every case, we live on Planet A.’1
Doesn’t matter who you ask. Left wing or right, rich or poor, uneducated or well read–all make the same error of judgement. ‘They don’t know. Not freshman or juniors or grad students, not professionals in most cases, not even emergency responders,’ Postmes laments. ‘And it’s not for a lack of research. We’ve had this information available to us since World War II.’
Even history’s most momentous disasters have played out on Planet A. Take the sinking of the Titanic. If you saw the movie, you probably think everybody was blinded by panic (except the string quartet). In fact, the evacuation was quite orderly. One eyewitness recalled that ‘there was no indication of panic or hysteria, no cries of fear, and no running to and fro’.2
Or take the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. As the Twin Towers burned, thousands of people descended the stairs calmly, even though they knew their lives were in danger. They stepped aside for firefighters and the injured. ‘And people would actually say: “No, no, you first,”’ one survivor later reported. ‘I couldn’t believe it, that at this point people would actually say “No, no, please take my place.” It was uncanny.’3
There is a persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish, aggressive and quick to panic. It’s what Dutch biologist Frans de Waal likes to call veneer theory: the notion that civilisation is nothing more than a thin veneer that will crack at the merest provocation.4 In actuality, the opposite is true. It’s when crisis hits–when the bombs fall or the floodwaters rise–that we humans become our best selves.
On 29 August 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore over New Orleans. The levees and flood walls that were supposed to protect the city failed. In the wake of the storm, 80 per cent of area homes flooded and at least 1,836 people lost their lives. It was one of the most devastating natural disasters in US history.
That whole week newspapers were filled with accounts of rapes and shootings across New Orleans. There were terrifying reports of roving gangs, lootings and of a sniper taking aim at rescue helicopters. Inside the Superdome, which served as the city’s largest storm shelter, some 25,000 people were packed in together, with no electricity and no water. Two infants’ throats had been slit, journalists reported, and a seven-year-old had been raped and murdered.5
The chief of police said the city was slipping into anarchy, and the governor of Louisiana feared the same. ‘What angers me the most,’ she said, ‘is that disasters like this often bring out the worst in people.’6
This conclusion went viral. In the British newspaper the Guardian, acclaimed historian Timothy Garton Ash articulated what so many were thinking: ‘Remove the elementary staples of organised, civilised life–food, shelter, drinkable water, minimal personal security–and we go back within hours to a Hobbesian state of nature, a war of all against all. […] A few become temporary angels, most revert to being apes.’
There it was again, in all its glory: veneer theory. New Orleans, according to Garton Ash, had opened a small hole in ‘the thin crust we lay across the seething magma of nature, including human nature’.7
It wasn’t until months later, when the journalists cleared out, the floodwaters drained away and the columnists moved on to their next opinion, that researchers uncovered what had really happened in New Orleans.
What sounded like gunfire had actually been a popping relief valve on a gas tank. In the Superdome, six people had died: four of natural causes, one from an overdose and one by suicide. The police chief was forced to concede that he couldn’t point to a single officially reported rape or murder. True, there had been looting, but mostly by groups that had teamed up to survive, in some cases even banding with police.8
Researchers from the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware concluded that ‘the overwhelming majority of the emergent activity was prosocial in nature’.9 A veritable armada of boats from as far away as Texas came to save people from the rising waters. Hundreds of civilians formed rescue squads, like the self-styled Robin Hood Looters–a group of eleven friends who went around looking for food, clothing and medicine and then handing it out to those in need.10
Katrina, in short, didn’t see New Orleans overrun with self-interest and anarchy. Rather, the city was inundated with courage and charity.
The hurricane confirmed the science on how human beings respond to disasters. Contrary to what we normally see in the movies, the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware has established that in nearly seven hundred field studies since 1963, there’s never total mayhem. It’s never every man for himself. Crime–murder, burglary, rape–usually drops. People don’t go into shock, they stay calm and spring into action. ‘Whatever the extent of the looting,’ a disaster researcher points out, ‘it always pales in significance to the widespread altruism that leads to free and massive giving and sharing of goods and services.’11
Catastrophes bring out the best in people. I know of no other sociological finding that’s backed by so much solid evidence that’s so blithely ignored. The picture we’re fed by the media is consistently the opposite of what happens when disaster strikes.
Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, all those persistent rumours were costing lives.
Unwilling to venture into the city unprotected, emergency responders were slow to mobilise. The National Guard was called in, and at the height of the operation some 72,000 troops were in place. ‘These troops know how to shoot and kill,’ said the governor, ‘and I expect they will.’12
And so they did. On Danziger Bridge on the city’s east side, police opened fire on six innocent, unarmed black residents, killing a seventeen-year-old boy and a mentally disabled man of forty (five of the officers involved were later sentenced to lengthy prison terms).13
True, the disaster in New Orleans was an extreme case. But the dynamic during disasters is almost always the same: adversity strikes and there’s a wave of spontaneous cooperation in response, then the authorities panic and unleash a second disaster.
‘My own impression,’ writes Rebecca Solnit, whose book A Paradise Built in Hell (2009) gives a masterful account of Katrina’s aftermath, ‘is that elite panic comes from powerful people who see all humanity in their own image.’14 Dictators and despots, governors and generals–they all too often resort to brute force to prevent scenarios that exist only in their own heads, on the assumption that the average Joe is ruled by self-interest, just like them.
In the summer of 1999, at a small school in the Belgian town of Bornem, nine children came down with a mysterious illness. They’d come to school that morning with no symptoms; after lunch they were all ill. Headaches. Vomiting. Palpitations. Casting about for an explanation, the only thing the teachers could think of was the Coca-Cola the nine had drunk during break.
It didn’t take long for journalists to get wind of the story. Over at Coca-Cola headquarters, the phones started ringing. That same evening the company issued a press release stating that millions of bottles were being recalled from Belgian store shelves. ‘We are searching frantically and hope to have a definitive answer in the next few days,’ said a spokeswoman.15
But it was too late. The symptoms had spread through Belgium and jumped the border into France. Pale, limp kids were being rushed off in ambulances. Within days, suspicion had spread to all Coca-Cola products. Fanta, Sprite, Nestea, Aquarius… they all seemed a danger to children. The ‘Coca-Cola Incident’ was one of the worst financial blows in the company’s 107-year history, forcing it to recall seventeen million cases of soft drinks in Belgium and destroy its warehoused stock.16 In the end, the cost was more than 200 million dollars.17
Then something odd happened. A few weeks later, the toxicologists issued their lab report. What had they found after running their tests on the cans of Coke? Nothing. No pesticides. No pathogens. No toxic metals. Nada. And their tests on the blood and urine samples from hundreds of patients? Zilch. The scientists were unable to find a single chemical cause for the severe symptoms which by that time had been documented in more than a thousand boys and girls.
‘Those kids really were sick, there’s no doubt about that,’ said one of the researchers. ‘But not from drinking a Coke.’18
The Coca-Cola incident speaks to an age-old philosophical question.
What is truth?
Some things are true whether you believe in them or not. Water boils at 100°C. Smoking kills. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on 22 November 1963.
Other things have the potential to be true, if we believe in them. Our belief becomes what sociologists dub a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you predict a bank will go bust and that convinces lots of people to close their accounts, then, sure enough, the bank will go bust.
Or take the placebo effect. If your doctor gives you a fake pill and says it will cure what ails you, chances are you will feel better. The more dramatic the placebo, the bigger that chance. Injection, on the whole, is more effective than pills, and in the old days even bloodletting could do the trick–not because medieval medicine was so advanced, but because people felt a procedure that drastic was bound to have an impact.
And the ultimate placebo? Surgery! Don a white coat, administer an anaesthetic, and then kick back and pour yourself a cup of coffee. When the patient revives tell them the operation was a success. A broad review carried out by the British Medical Journal comparing actual surgical procedures with sham surgery (for conditions like back pain and heartburn) revealed that placebos also helped in three-quarters of all cases, and in half were just as effective as the real thing.19
But it also works the other way around.
Take a fake pill thinking it will make you sick, and chances are it will. Warn your patients a drug has serious side effects, and it probably will. For obvious reasons, the nocebo effect, as it’s called, hasn’t been widely tested, given the touchy ethics of convincing healthy people they’re ill. Nevertheless, all the evidence suggests nocebos can be very powerful.
That’s also what Belgian health officials concluded in the summer of 1999. Possibly there really was something wrong with one or two of the Cokes those kids in Bornem drank. Who’s to say? But beyond that, the scientists were unequivocal: the hundreds of other children across the country had been infected with a ‘mass psychogenic illness’. In plain English: they imagined it.
Which is not to say the victims were pretending. More than a thousand Belgian kids were genuinely nauseated, feverish and dizzy. If you believe something enough, it can become real. If there’s one lesson to be drawn from the nocebo effect, it’s that ideas are never merely ideas. We are what we believe. We find what we go looking for. And what we predict, comes to pass.
Maybe you see where I’m going with this: our grim view of humanity is also a nocebo.
If we believe most people can’t be trusted, that’s how we’ll treat each other, to everyone’s detriment. Few ideas have as much power to shape the world as our view of other people. Because ultimately, you get what you expect to get. If we want to tackle the greatest challenges of our times–from the climate crisis to our growing distrust of one another–then I think the place we need to start is our view of human nature.
To be clear: this book is not a sermon on the fundamental goodness of people. Obviously, we’re not angels. We’re complex creatures, with a good side and a not-so-good side. The question is which side we turn to.
My argument is simply this: that we–by nature, as children, on an uninhabited island, when war breaks out, when crisis hits–have a powerful preference for our good side. I will present the considerable scientific evidence showing just how realistic a more positive view of human nature is. At the same time, I’m convinced it could be more of a reality if we’d start to believe it.
Floating around the Internet is a parable of unknown origin. It contains what I believe is a simple but profound truth:
An old man says to his grandson: ‘There’s a fight going on inside me. It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil–angry, greedy, jealous, arrogant, and cowardly. The other is good–peaceful, loving, modest, generous, honest, and trustworthy. These two wolves are also fighting within you, and inside every other person too.’
After a moment, the boy asks, ‘Which wolf will win?’
The old man smiles.
‘The one you feed.’
Over the last few years, whenever I told people about this book I’ve been working on, I was met with raised eyebrows. Expressions of disbelief. A German publisher flatly turned down my book proposal. Germans, she said, don’t believe in humanity’s innate goodness. A member of the Parisian intelligentsia assured me that the French need government’s firm hand. And when I toured the United States after the 2016 presidential election, everyone, everywhere, asked me if my head was screwed on straight.
Most people are decent? Had I ever turned on a television?
Not so long ago, a study by two American psychologists proved once again how stubbornly people can cling to the idea of our own selfish nature. The researchers presented test subjects with several situations featuring other people doing apparently nice things. So what did they find? Basically, that we are trained to see selfishness everywhere.
See someone helping an elderly person cross the street?
What a show-off.
See someone offering money to a homeless person?
Must want to feel better about herself.
Even after the researchers presented their subjects with hard data about strangers returning lost wallets, or the fact that the vast majority of the population doesn’t cheat or steal, most subjects did not view humanity in a more positive light. ‘Instead,’ write the psychologists, ‘they decide that seemingly selfless behaviors must be selfish after all.’20
Cynicism is a theory of everything. The cynic is always right.
Now, you may be thinking: wait a second, that’s not how I was raised. Where I come from we trusted each other, helped each other and left our doors unlocked. And you’re right, from up close, it’s easy to assume people are decent. People like our families and friends, our neighbours and our co-workers.
But when we zoom out to the rest of humanity, suspicion quickly takes over. Take the World Values Survey, a huge poll conducted since the 1980s by a network of social scientists in almost a hundred countries. One standard question is: ‘Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?’
The results are pretty disheartening. In nearly every country most people think most other people can’t be trusted. Even in established democracies like France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, the majority of the population shares this poor view of their fellow human beings.21
The question that has long fascinated me is why we take such a negative view of humanity. When our instinct is to trust those in our immediate communities, why does our attitude change when applied to people as a whole? Why do so many laws and regulations, so many companies and institutions start with the assumption that people can’t be trusted? Why, when the science consistently tells us we live on Planet A, do we persist in believing we’re on Planet B?
Is it a lack of education? Hardly. In this book I will introduce dozens of intellectuals who are staunch believers in our immorality. Political conviction? No again. Quite a few religions take it as a tenet of faith that humans are mired in sin. Many a capitalist presumes we’re all motivated by self-interest. Lots of environmentalists see humans as a destructive plague upon the earth. Thousands of opinions; one take on human nature.
This got me wondering. Why do we imagine humans are bad? What made us start believing in the wicked nature of our kind?
Imagine for a moment that a new drug comes on the market. It’s super-addictive, and in no time everyone’s hooked. Scientists investigate and soon conclude that the drug causes, I quote, ‘a misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, [and] desensitization’.22
Would we use this drug? Would our kids be allowed to try it? Would government legalise it? To all of the above: yes. Because what I’m talking about is already one of the biggest addictions of our times. A drug we use daily, that’s heavily subsidised and is distributed to our children on a massive scale.
That drug is the news.
I was raised to believe that the news is good for your development. That as an engaged citizen it’s your duty to read the paper and watch the evening news. That the more we follow the news, the better informed we are and the healthier our democracy. This is still the story many parents tell their kids, but scientists are reaching very different conclusions. The news, according to dozens of studies, is a mental health hazard.23
First to open up this field of research, back in the 1990s, was George Gerbner (1919–2005). He also coined a term to describe the phenomenon he found: mean world syndrome, whose clinical symptoms are cynicism, misanthropy and pessimism. People who follow the news are more likely to agree with statements such as ‘Most people care only about themselves.’ They more often believe that we as individuals are helpless to better the world. They are more likely to be stressed and depressed.
A few years ago, people in thirty different countries were asked a simple question: ‘Overall, do you think the world is getting better, staying the same, or getting worse?’ In every country, from Russia to Canada, from Mexico to Hungary, the vast majority of people answered that things are getting worse.24 The reality is exactly the opposite. Over the last several decades, extreme poverty, victims of war, child mortality, crime, famine, child labour, deaths in natural disasters and the number of plane crashes have all plummeted. We’re living in the richest, safest, healthiest era ever.
So why don’t we realise this? It’s simple. Because the news is about the exceptional, and the more exceptional an event is–be it a terrorist attack, violent uprising, or natural disaster–the bigger its newsworthiness. You’ll never see a headline reading NUMBER OF PEOPLE LIVING IN EXTREME POVERTY DOWN BY 137,000 SINCE YESTERDAY, even though it could accurately have been reported every day over the last twenty-five years.25 Nor will you ever see a broadcast go live to a reporter on the ground who says, ‘I’m standing here in the middle of nowhere, where today there’s still no sign of war.’
A couple of years ago, a team of Dutch sociologists analysed how aeroplane crashes are reported in the media. Between 1991 and 2005, when the number of accidents consistently dropped, they found media attention for such accidents consistently grew. And as you might expect, people grew increasingly fearful to fly on these increasingly safe planes.26
In another study, a team of media researchers compiled a database of over four million news items on immigration, crime and terrorism in order to determine if there were any patterns. What they found is that in times when immigration or violence declines, newspapers give them more coverage. ‘Hence,’ they concluded, ‘there seems to be none or even a negative relationship between news and reality.’27
Of course, by ‘the news’ I don’t mean all journalism. Many forms of journalism help us better understand the world. But the news–by which I mean reporting on recent, incidental and sensational events–is most common. Eight in ten adults in western countries are daily news consumers. On average, we spend one hour a day getting our news fix. Added up over a lifetime, that’s three years.28
Why are we humans so susceptible to the doom and gloom of the news? Two reasons. The first is what psychologists call negativity bias: we’re more attuned to the bad than the good. Back in our hunting and gathering days, we were better off being frightened of a spider or a snake a hundred times too often than one time too few. Too much fear wouldn’t kill you; too little surely would.
Second, we’re also burdened with an availability bias. If we can easily recall examples of a given thing, we assume that thing is relatively common. The fact that we’re bombarded daily with horrific stories about aircraft disasters, child snatchers and beheadings–which tend to lodge in the memory–completely skews our view of the world. As the Lebanese statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb dryly notes, ‘We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press’.29
In this digital age, the news we’re being fed is only getting more extreme. In the old days, journalists didn’t know much about their individual readers. They wrote for the masses. But the people behind Facebook, Twitter and Google know you well. They know what shocks and horrifies you, they know what makes you click. They know how to grab your attention and hold it so they can serve you the most lucrative helping of personalised ads.
This modern media frenzy is nothing less than an assault on the mundane. Because, let’s be honest, the lives of most people are pretty predictable. Nice, but boring. So while we’d prefer having nice neighbours with boring lives (and thankfully most neighbours fit the bill), ‘boring’ won’t make you sit up and take notice. ‘Nice’ doesn’t sell ads. And so Silicon Valley keeps dishing us up ever more sensational clickbait, knowing full well, as a Swiss novelist once quipped, that ‘News is to the mind what sugar is to the body.’30
A few years ago I resolved to make a change. No more watching the news or scrolling through my phone at breakfast. From now on, I would reach for a good book. About history. Psychology. Philosophy.
Pretty soon, however, I noticed something familiar. Most books are also about the exceptional. The biggest history bestsellers are invariably about catastrophes and adversity, tyranny and oppression. About war, war, and, to spice things up a little, war. And if, for once, there is no war, then we’re in what historians call the interbellum: between wars.
In science, too, the view that humanity is bad has reigned for decades. Look up books on human nature and you’ll find titles like Demonic Males, The Selfish Gene and The Murderer Next Door. Biologists long assumed the gloomiest theory of evolution, where even if an animal appeared to do something kind, it was framed as selfish. Familial affection? Nepotism! Monkey splits a banana? Exploited by a freeloader!31 As one American biologist mocked, ‘What passes for co-operation turns out to be a mixture of opportunism and exploitation. […] Scratch an “altruist” and watch a “hypocrite” bleed.’32
And in economics? Much the same. Economists defined our species as the homo economicus: always intent on personal gain, like selfish, calculating robots. Upon this notion of human nature, economists built a cathedral of theories and models that wound up informing reams of legislation.
Yet no one had researched whether homo economicus actually existed. That is, not until economist Joseph Henrich and his team took it up in 2000. Visiting fifteen communities in twelve countries on five continents, they tested farmers, nomads, and hunters and gatherers, all in search of this hominid that has guided economic theory for decades. To no avail. Each and every time, the results showed people were simply too decent. Too kind.33
After publishing this influential finding, Henrich continued his quest for the mythical being around which so many economists had spun their theories. Eventually he found him: homo economicus in the flesh. Although homo is not quite the right word. Homo economicus, it turns out, is not a human, but a chimpanzee. ‘The canonical predictions of the Homo economicus model have proved remarkably successful in predicting chimpanzee behaviour in simple experiments,’ Henrich noted dryly. ‘So, all theoretical work was not wasted, it was just applied to the wrong species.’34
- "Rutger Bregman is one of the most provocative thinkers of our time... This book demolishes the cynical view that humans are inherently nasty and selfish, and paints a portrait of human nature that's not only more uplifting---it's also more accurate... by taking us on a guided tour of the past, he reveals how we can build a world with more givers than takers in the future." —Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals
- "Some books challenge our ideas. But Humankind challenges the very premises on which those ideas are based. Its bold, sweeping argument will make you rethink what you believe about society, democracy, and human nature itself. In a sea of cynicism, this book is the sturdy, unsinkable lifeboat the world needs."—Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of When and A Whole New Mind
- "I greatly enjoyed reading Humankind. It made me see humanity from a fresh perspective and challenged me to rethink many long-held beliefs. I warmly recommend it to others, and I trust it will stir a lot of fruitful discussions."—Yuval Noah Harari, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sapiens and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
- “A lively social history... Bregman offers a compelling case for reshaping institutions and policies along genuinely humane lines.”—The New Yorker
- "Rutger Bregman's extraordinary new book is a revelation. Although Humankind is masterful in its grasp of history, both ancient and modern, the real achievement is Bregman's application of history to a new understanding of human nature. Humankind changes the conversation and lights the path to a brighter future. We need it now more than ever."—Susan Cain, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Quiet
- “As Bregman shows very convincingly in this book, we are not the selfish species we think we are and civilization is not a thin layer of veneer that will crack as soon as put to the test… The main message: it is time for a new realism based on believing the fact that humans are good.”—Jeroen Kraaijenbrink, Forbes
- "Bregman's argument is simple but radical: Most people are good, and we do ourselves a disservice by thinking the worst of others. Bregman argues that believing in human kindness is a foundation for lasting social change."—Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
- "Bregman puts together a compelling argument that society has been built on a false premise... He has a Gladwellian gift for sifting through academic reports and finding anecdotal jewels... Bregman never loses sight of his central thesis, that at root humans are 'friendly, peaceful, and healthy'... There's a great deal of reassuring human decency to be taken from this bold and thought-provoking book and a wealth of evidence in support of the contention that the sense of who we are as a species has been deleteriously distorted... It makes a welcome change to read such a sustained and enjoyable tribute to our better natures."—Andrew Anthony, The Guardian
- "Rutger Bregman is out on his own, thinking for himself, using history to give the rest of us a chance to build a much better future than we can presently imagine."—Timothy Snyder, #1 New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny and Bloodlands
- “Humankind is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, one whose bold argument has potentially far-reaching implications for how we run our governments, workplaces, schools, and correctional facilities… Bregman is not naive; he grounds his arguments in reassessments of historical events and in studies from the sciences and social sciences… [and] debunks a number of long-held beliefs… Bregman presents his findings in a chatty, engaging style that evokes Malcolm Gladwell.”—Barbara Spindel, Christian Science Monitor
- "Rutger Bregman is one of my favorite thinkers. His latest book challenges our basic assumptions about human nature in a way that opens up a world of new possibilities. Humankind is simple, perceptive and powerful in the way that the best books and arguments are."—Andrew Yang, former US Presidential candidate and New York Times bestselling author of The War on Normal People
- "Fascinating... Convincing... After cogently laying out the problem, Bregman turns to solutions... He describes businesses without bosses, schools in which teachers assume that students want to learn, and local governments in which citizens exert genuine power wisely... A powerful argument in favor of human virtue."—Kirkus (starred review)
- “International bestseller Rutger Bregman provides a fresh, new and engaging perspective on human history and where we can go as a society and species if we change our belief from "all humans are inherently bad" to "all humans are innately kind." Humankind: A Hopeful History takes readers through historical accounts proving that we are in fact hardwired for kindness and is a read that will lift your spirits at a much-needed time in today's climate.”—CNN
- "Rutger Bregman has written another great book. He looks at some off the famous sociological experiments of the twentieth century-those that claimed to show humans as self-interested, cowardly, and morally fickle-and discovers that they were engineered to produce exactly those results. There was a lot of prejudice and ideological manipulation going on to get us to think so badly of ourselves. Every revolution in human affairs---and we're in one right now!---comes in tandem with a new understanding of what we mean by the word 'human.' Bregman has succeeded in reawakening that conversation by articulating a kinder view of humanity (with better science behind it). This book gives us some real hope for the future."—Brian Eno
- “International bestseller Rutger Bregman provides a fresh, new and engaging perspective on human history and where we can go as a society and species if we change our belief from 'all humans are inherently bad' to 'all humans are innately kind.' Humankind: A Hopeful History takes readers through historical accounts proving that we are in fact hardwired for kindness and is a read that will lift your spirits at a much-needed time in today's climate.”—CNN
- "This stunning book will change how you see the world and your fellow humans. Humankind is mind-expanding and, more important, heart-expanding. We have never needed its message more than now."—Johann Hari, New York Times bestselling author of Lost Connections and Chasing the Scream
- "Cynicism is a theory of everything, but, as Rutger Bregman brilliantly shows, an elective one---so totalizing it clouds our picture of human life and constricts our capacity to imagine, and enact, better futures. This necessary book widens that aperture of possibility, and radically."—David Wallace-Wells, New York Times bestselling author of The Uninhabitable Earth
- "Humankind is an in-depth overview of what is wrong with the idea is that we humans are by nature bad and unreliable. In vivid descriptions and stories, Rutger Bregman takes us back to the questionable experiments that fed this idea and offers us a more optimistic view of mankind."—Frans de Waal, New York Times bestselling author of Are We SmartEnough to Know How Smart Animals Are? and Mama's Last Hug: AnimalEmotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves
- “In a world of sophisticated pessimism, Humankind is a refreshing change . . . Twenty-first-century readers are short on prophets, especially the optimistic kind, and will give Bregman a cheerful hearing.”—The Economist
- "Why are most of us willing to sacrifice our wellbeing to protect vulnerable people we've never met? The most coherent, well-proven answer can be found in Humankind... Bregman's book summarizes a mountain of new discoveries in a wide range of fields that debunk what we thought we knew about humanity... It takes you on his personal journey, from believing (and teaching) many of society's shibboleths about inherent evil to systematically tearing each one apart with evidence."—Chris Taylor, Mashable
- "Compelling... Humankind is an amazing book--thoughtful, engaging, optimistic, and true... It shows us how much where we start our thinking about human nature influences where we finish, even when where we start is dead wrong. Put aside your newspaper for a little while and read this book."—Barry Schwartz, author of the national bestseller The Paradox of Choice
- "An extraordinarily powerful declaration of faith in the innate goodness and natural decency of human beings. 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, author of Mythos and The Ode Less Travelled
- "I know of no more powerful or carefully documented rejoinder to Machiavelli's observation that 'men never do anything good except out of necessity' than Rutger Bregman's book. His reassessment of human nature is as faithful to the actual evidence as it is uplifting."—Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, one of Discover Magazine's 50 Most Important Women in Science and author of Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
- "Bregman's previous work made a strong case for utopian policies like universal basic income. Humankind provides the philosophical and historical backbone to give us the confidence that such bold policies---underpinned by cooperation, not competition---are the right kinds of policies. Why? Because people are inherently good and altruistic. Understanding this fundamental point creates the spirit and the tools to collaborate, be kind, and trust each other to create a better society. The positive and uplifting message in Humankind is essential if we are ever going to create a better form of capitalism where the many, not the few, can flourish."—Mariana Mazzucato, author of The Entrepreneurial State and member of the U.N. Committee for Development Policy
- "Rutger Bregman's new book, Humankind, has made me feel optimism in a time of pessimism. It's an exceptional read. Humans are good."—Matt Haig, author of the international bestseller Reasons to Stay Alive
- "Beautifully written, well documented, myth-busting... Bregman brings psychological research and history together to present a remarkably positive, realistic view of the human animal. We are much better, much kinder, than most of us think we are, and when we realize that we become better yet... [It's] now number one on my list of what everyone should read. Read it and buy copies for all of your most cynical friends."—Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn: Why Releasing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
- "The topic is vital, the sweep immense, and the storytelling is spellbinding. This is a fabulous book."—Tim Harford, author of the international bestseller The Undercover Economist
- "Bregman puts a positive spin on human behavior in this intriguing survey of politics, literature, psychology, sociology, and philosophy. To prove his hypothesis that humankind is basically good, he reevaluates some of the most entrenched cultural narratives suggesting otherwise... This intelligent and reassuring chronicle disproves much received wisdom about the dark side of human nature. Readers looking for solace in uncertain times will find it here."—Publishers Weekly
- "Fascinating . . . I enjoyed Humankind immensely. It's entertaining, uplifting, and very likely to reach the broad audience it courts . . . This book might just make the world a kinder place."—Tristram Fane Saunders, Daily Telegraph
- "Bregman's book is an intervention in a centuries-old argument about the moral nature of human beings . . . Humankind is filled with compelling tales of human goodness. The book will challenge what you thought you knew . . . Bregman's book is a thrilling read and it represents a necessary correction to the idea that we are all barely disguised savages."—James Marriott, The Times
- "Bregman's assertion that you and I (and everyone else) is basically a good and moral being is the breakthrough thinking we've been looking for to activate and energize millions to live more sustainably, vote for climate action, and raise their voice for the future . . . Today, during this terrible pandemic which has a third of humanity in some sort of lockdown, the 'good people' premise is being proven . . . Despite the news reports of those breaking the rules, the vast majority of us (over 80 percent) are doing the right thing . . . This might prove to be the wake-up call we needed to our own goodness. For most, this pandemic has demanded the hardest change in how we live. But we've done it because it's the right thing to do. It's impossible to underestimate what this means for our collective sense of self. We're ready to stretch our do-gooder muscles."—Solitaire Townsend, Forbes
- "Invigorating... The book is crammed full of fascinating examples... a much needed reminder of the traditional virtues of modesty and the like, of sharing, and of co-operation rather than vicious competition... If books require the right zeitgeist to have a major impact, then Bregman's timing may prove brilliant... Bregman's book is something of a beacon at the moment, when many are looking for values to profess in our traumatised and altered society... [it] stands a very good chance of having a real impact on the feelings of the general public."—Alexander McCall Smith, The Scotsman
- “Interesting and urgent . . . Bregman attacks huge and highly sensitive questions with his usual brand of vim, vigor, and intellectual nuance . . . The historian is a sort of Dutch Sherlock Holmes, furiously prodding at the sacred cows of psychological research and laying out his counterarguments with the breathless pace of a thriller . . . Books like this one ask important and unsettling questions about the assumptions that underpin our approach to everything from schools to prisons, from police to politics.”—Ceri Radford, The Independent
- "Bregman offers a fresh and optimistic perspective on humanity and our innate tendencies toward generosity and kindness. Backed by 200,000 years of human history, Humankind makes a convincing argument to seek out the best in others, rather than looking for the worst."—Kat Sarfas, Barnesandnoble.com
- "This latest book on society, history, and anthropology by Rutger Bregman has many quotable quotes on every page and is full of powerful aphorisms drawn from the history of political thought . . . The whole theme of Humankind is the demolition of what Bregman sees as the big lie that humans are fundamentally evil and self-interested . . . The thoroughness of his demolition job is impressive, as he sweeps aside example after example of the stories we tell ourselves in order to uphold the myth of our own wickedness . . . The book's deconstructions of some of the 'truths' we have been told about human nature are fascinating; as riveting as any thriller, and necessary, in trying to shift our politics onto new and more productive ground."—Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman
- "Lively and illuminating . . . Bregman argues convincingly that the dominant assumptions about behavior in modern capitalism are upside down . . . Under the pressure of the coronavirus, what we see are millions and millions of people risking their own lives to help others, not under threat of dismissal and not because of financial incentives, but because it's what comes naturally. If we 'revert' during a disaster, it is not to being apes or angels. It is to being merely, decently human."—Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times
- "Bregman argues convincingly that what we teach and report about ourselves, we become: telling ourselves incessantly that we are selfish, aggressive, and untrustworthy will make us more so. The counter-examples he provides are inspiring . . . Bold, entertaining, and uplifting, Humankind should be read less as a scholarly treatise on human nature and more as a call to consciousness and action."—Owen Harman, The Spectator
- "Brisk and entertaining . . . Meticulously sifting the evidence, Bregman finds that the most pessimistic views of human nature are not backed up by the facts . . . Humankind works as a much-needed corrective to excessive pessimism about human wickedness.”—Julina Baggini, The Prospect
- "A beach read for brainiacs . . . Its hopeful message could not be better timed . . . As impressive as Bregman's arguments are, he's also a gifted storyteller . . . Picture an animated, multi-directional lecture by a charismatic professor, and you're at Humankind . . . It's a dazzling performance."—Brett Josef Grubisic, Maclean's
- On Sale
- Jun 2, 2020
- Page Count
- 480 pages
- Little, Brown and Company