Quaker Universalist Voice

Speaking truth in the global public square…

A Secular Daily-use Devotional Resource

A Book Review of Yuval Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018)

Focusing on the challenges of today, Yuval Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) is the newest book by the now famous writer, following his popular Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2016) and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017).

This new book, 21 Lessons, is extensive in scope and thoughtful for reflection.  It may not be scripture, but it can serve as a secular narrative worthy of daily reflection.   Compare its usefulness to the Bread for the Day 2019 in the Resources below.

The book is presented in clear, short texts for daily reflection on the current state of human reality and living a good life. Topics addressed include work, big data, equality, community, global civilization, nationalism, religion, immigration, terrorism, war, humility, God, secularism, ignorance, justice, truth, education, meaning, and, finally, meditation as a beneficial pastime (the only specific suggestion for resolving the present challenges presented).

The book’s title is not accurate.  There are not 21 lessons to be found in the book. There are, however, excellent statements of vistas, pressing issues, big subjects, themes, and topics that provide insights for reader assessment with personal experience and reflection for the future.

The book’s structure is artificially organized into 21 parts to correspond to the number of the current century.  The number 21 is of no account.  The book appears to be organized as a compilation of reflections, but with little overarching narrative.  This is beneficial for daily reading.  The reader is well rewarded in this devotional use of the book.  Look not for solutions, but be prepared for thoughtful comments on shared daily experience.

The author appears as an internationalist and cosmopolitan, if not quite a universalist.  The book is clearly globalist in ambition and perspective.

The author provides extensive chapter notes and an index.

Quakers: There is no reference to Quakers in this book. Quakers should recognize the challenge in the appearance of  the author’s hostility in the description and dismissal of the Christian story in the Quaker tradition.  This can be seen not as an obstacle, but as a clarifying aid to understanding reality.

The author is an equal opportunity critic of all current religions.  The religious stories that are offered to provide us with meaning and identity are all, in the author’s view, fictional.  But, he believes, humans need to believe in these stories for stability, motivation, and endurance through their traditions, despite their lack of credibility and weak foundations of these stories.  What the author fails to appreciate is the universal human pointing in the fog oto deeper reality through these stories in the several religious traditions.

The author’s only hint of an alternative, credible human story is something to the effect:

Focused on the Milky Way galaxy, the creator entity created the cosmos and carbon-based life-forms, including humans particularly. In addition, within recorded human history, the creator generated an offspring, to provide guidance for community living, a forecast of an early end of that cosmos, and a judgment process for each individual human. 

This approach may be helpful to Quaker parents in explaining the story in the Quaker tradition.

The author also provides periodic challenge to the Quaker embrace of spiritual reliance on experience for aiding clarification to linking faith understanding of reality with practice.  the author argues that this human challenge is particularly critical due to the newness of the issues to which experience offers little assistance (See p. 269).


  • If all religions and ideological stories are fictions as the author argues, how do Quaker parents teach Quaker children about the Quaker tradition?
  • If any of this author’s analysis of any human challenges is correct, what practical solutions can be prepared for each?
  • What should be the Quaker role in meeting these challenges?


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