Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HUMANKIND: A HOPEFUL HISTORY by Rutger Bregman (@BloomsburyBooks) #RutgerBregman #NetGalley A bright and well-argued book full of hopeful content

Hi all:

I’m sharing the review of a book that I found perfect for these uncertain times.

Humankind. A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

‘If you only read one book this year, make it this one’ CATHY RENTZENBRINK

‘This book must be read by as many people as possible – only when people change their view of human nature will they begin to believe in the possibility of building a better world’ GRACE BLAKELEY

‘It’d be no surprise if it proved to be the Sapiens of 2020′ GUARDIAN

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 bestselling 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.

Author Rutger Bregman

About the author:

Rutger Bregman is one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers. The 27-year-old historian and author has published four books on history, philosophy, and economics. His History of Progress was awarded the Belgian Liberales prize for best nonfiction book of 2013. The Dutch edition of Utopia for Realists became a national bestseller and sparked a basic income movement that soon made international headlines. Bregman has twice been nominated for the prestigious European Press Prize for his journalism work at The Correspondent. His work has been featured in The Washington Post and on the BBC.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I know I write long reviews, so I wanted to give a heads up to those who prefer a brief one. I loved this book. Why? I picked up this book based on NetGalley’s recommendations as good read for these current times when things feel quite tough and most people feel quite negative. And they were right. It’s difficult to read this book and not feel more optimistic by the end of it, even if you might not be absolutely convinced by all of the author’s arguments. It is engaging, easy to read, compelling, it includes a large variety of studies from many disciplines (criminology, sociology, anthropology, history, economics, ethnology, biology, literature…), and I think most readers will be familiar and/or intrigued by many of the topics he touches on.  And it does look at all of those with new eyes. It also collects a large number of positive examples of human behaviour, so, if you need an injection of optimism, I recommend it. There is a detailed index, and plenty of notes, but as I said, it is a book written for the general public rather than for academicians or experts, and no specialist knowledge in any of the fields it touches on is necessary to enjoy it.

In the acknowledgements, the author explains how the book came to be. Dutch philosopher Rob Wijnberg told him he had a project. He wanted to launch a new kind of publication “with no news, no advertising and no cynicism”. That became De Correspondent and Bregman explains that the book is the result of working there for seven years, and of many of the conversations he had with readers over these years. This explains, perhaps, why the book is so varied. Anybody who has done research (academic, for work reasons, for a specific project, or out of personal interest) knows that once you start pursuing something, it’s easy to get side-tracked by bits of interesting information and go down the rabbit hole following those, because sometimes those discoveries feel more interesting than the original story, or simply because new things keep coming to light, and, well, you just need to know more.

This book is roughly divided into two main halves. One where the author, after explaining his thesis about the nature of human beings (I’ll only tell you he calls us ‘Homo Puppy’. I’ll let you read the rest yourselves), he explores a large number of studies and arguments proposing that human beings are naturally egotistical, violent, aggressive…  and challenges many of those. Bombings during the war, psychology experiments (the Stanford prison experiment by Zimbardo, the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority involving electroshocks …), friendly foxes, Neanderthals, educational experiments, studies of old civilizations and ancestral bones, Easter Island, William Goldwing’s Lord of the Flies, Hobbes and Rousseau’s philosophical ideas among other, all are discussed and analysed. I was familiar with many of the studies, and even with some of the criticisms, later reappraisals and evidence against them, but not with all, and I have learned plenty and been inspired to dig deeper into some of the stories.  Although he supports all of his claims and interpretations with notes, he does it in an engaging way, and the result is an accessible and clever page-turner.

In the second half, Bregman shares examples of people and communities who have done things differently with impressive results.  I was aware of some, like the way Norway runs its prisons, but others made me pause (in particular, the reference to Jos de Blok, who runs a home healthcare organisation without heavy top-down management and allows the groups of workers to organise and manage themselves), and  I particularly enjoyed part 5, ‘The Other Cheek’.  The author acknowledges that, of course, the instances he discusses are not perhaps as well-accepted and regarded as he thinks they deserve, and one example does not change everything, but he does maintain that an optimistic attitude can bring a positive change, and I hope he is right.

He also includes, with some reluctance, ten rules to live by at the end of the book, and I cannot fault them, although they are not easy to implement. I have already mentioned the acknowledgments section, the notes, and the index, that occupy around 19% of the e-book.

In sum, I enjoyed the book enormously, and I think most readers will get something positive out of it. I know not all reviewers are convinced by the author’s arguments, and that is to be expected, but I think no matter what conclusion you reach by the end of it, it offers plenty of food for thought. I definitely will be looking into some of the initiatives he talks about in more detail, and I will follow Bregman’s career with interest from now on. If you need a bright and well-argued book, full of hopeful content, don’t hesitate. Go for it.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, the author and the excellent translators, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and to stay safe and keep smiling!

Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog JUNGLENOMICS: NATURE’S SOLUTIONS TO THE WORLD ENVIRONMENT CRISIS: A NEW PARADIGM FOR THE 21ST CENTURY & BEYOND by Simon M Lamb (@Junglenomics). A complex book with an incredibly simple and sound suggestion #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you something quite unusual for me. You know I do read non-fiction books, but this one is quite out of my comfort zone, although it touches on a subject that worries most of us.

Junglenomics by Simon M. Lamb
Junglenomics by Simon M. Lamb

Junglenomics: Nature’s Solutions to the World Environment Crisis: a New Paradigm for the 21st Century & Beyond by Simon M Lamb

For all the occasional good news stories, the inescapable fact is that the natural world remains in a spiral of decline. If our children are not to inherit a world decimated by the industrial excesses of our generation, then clearly something fundamental has to change, but what? The good news, Simon Lamb argues, is that Nature itself provides a clear blueprint. It shows us how to reorganise the economic domain to protect and benignly coexist with natural environments, halt species decline and benefit the poorest. Junglenomics is the result of 25 years of research and insight. It provides a new vision of a future world rescued from decline, gained through an understanding of the profound forces at work in modern economies.

Author Simon Lamb
Author Simon Lamb

About the author:

Simon Lamb is a writer on evolution, economics and the environment. He is also a founder partner in a successful Fine Art business. He was born in London in 1951, and his early years were divided between London and Wendens Ambo, Essex, where the beautiful, as yet unspoiled countryside incubated a deep love for nature. He studied economics, maths, languages and art at Wellington College. Simon began his working career in finance in the family firm, but his passion for nature, countryside, and natural science convinced him to move first to North Wales, and later to Dorset, a much-loved childhood stamping ground. He has also been involved in farming for most of his working life. He and his wife Kristina have four children, Chris, Jamie, Antony, and Tom, and 3 grandchildren, Cameron, Sophie and Charlie.

Simon brings something different to this greatest issue of our time – a lifetime’s experience in business and investment markets, a close affinity with the natural world and the cycle of the seasons, an unswerving belief in Darwin and in the ubiquity of natural processes, and a passion for the subject that is absolute and unconditional. He has spent the better part of three decades searching for answers to perhaps the two most pressing questions of our age: why, despite our great intelligence do we, the human race, destroy the natural world? And how can we re-establish our presence within the ancient natural rhythms of life on Earth? In Junglenomics he presents convincing answers to the first, and strong, science-based, practical ways to achieve economic harmony with the natural world.

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this non-fiction book.

I must confess to feeling totally unequal to the task of reviewing this book. I did mention that to the author of the book, who insisted that it would be of interest to authors and to the general public, as well as to economist, and particularly to anybody interesting in preserving the environment and finding new (and workable) ways to do it.

I am not an expert in Evolution, Economics, and/or Environmental Sciences, and this book’s approach uses and builds on elements and concepts of all three, so my opinion is far from a knowledgeable one when it comes to evaluating it. All my comments about this book are, as are all reviews, only an expressional as my personal point of view, and in this case I feel particularly unqualified to make an in-depth analysis, as I lack the knowledge required and cannot debate the nitty-gritty details to be able to either agree or disagree with the research. Don’t get me wrong, the basic idea is easy to grasp, but, as usual, the devil is in the detail.

Junglenomics proposes using Nature’s blueprint —the way ecosystems work— to solve the environmental disaster we’re quickly approaching. The author uses evolutionary theory to illustrate how we have got to where we are, explaining that all species are hungry for resources, and that is a normal evolutionary trait. The fact that Homo Sapiens is more successful at it than the rest of the species on our planet, means that we have exploited and accumulated Earth’s resources beyond the point where Nature itself can counteract our actions and re-establish the balance. Although ecosystems can adjust to increases in one bio product or species in different ways, our disruption of our environment has been so quick and drastic, especially in the last couple of centuries that our recent attempts at redress seem to be too-little/too-late.

The author goes on to analyse both, the situation and the attempts at redress, noticing that most have been piecemeal and lacked in a consistent application, for a variety of reasons, but most of all, because rather than appealing to the market (money makes the world go around, let’s not forget, and Lamb makes a good case for how money came to be what it is, a stand-in for our hunger for resources), and trying to find solutions that make sense from an economic point of view (something that will either produce money or reduce costs, or both), so far the focus has been on penalising and restricting practices that, until now, have resulted in great profit and advancement for the markets. Getting a lot of nations, not only developed ones, but also developing nations (that feel they are bearing the brunt of such policies without any of the benefits Western developed nations had had years to reap) to sign up to agreements is difficult, and enforcing them is near impossible, as we have all seen. Rather than accusations and counter-accusations (and the author discusses in detail the reasons for the difficult relationships between ecologists and economists, but also points at some positive recent trends), a combined effort based on a new perspective and understanding of the issues could be the way forward.

This is a book full of gems and information (some totally new to me, and other that I had only heard about in passing), and although what I’ve said might make it sound as if the text deals only in generalities, nothing is further from the truth. The author looks at all (or most) aspects of the question, from climate change (noticing that there is now an extreme focus on that to the detriment of the rest of the imbalances in the ecosystem equation), to waste management (not only factories but also human and animal), not forgetting the pollution of the seas, and the depletion of certain animal species, to name just a few. He highlights organisations, programmes, schemes, industries, and even countries (Costa Rica gets the gold star) that have found workable solutions to some of the problems, proposes specific ways to deal with issues such as funding (issuing bonds, and he mentions war bonds and the similarities with the situation we are in now), the need to find international organizations to monitor the implementation of such plans, and also, the importance of coordinating the efforts and working together at a supranational level.

I am not sure if I am a sceptical who tries hard to give new (and idealistic) proposals a chance, or I’m a dreamer trying hard to be a sceptical. In any case, as I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but write down many of my ideas and my objections/questions in relation the content, and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that most of them were tackled by the author, who has done much research and has tried to be as even-handed as possible, presenting always the two sides of any argument, and also dealing with the possible criticism and objections. Although his attitude is never complacent and he points out the facts, he does not point the finger of blame at individuals (while he praises those he feels are already applying a Junglenomic-like approach), and despite his realism, he remains optimistic and encouraging.

As I said, I don’t know enough about Economics or Environmental Sciences to offer an informed opinion as to how successful a model Junglenomics would be. It made me think, and at a completely untrained level, the suggestions make sense, although implementing them would be as complicated as the author already envisages. This is clearly a labour of love and much time and effort has gone into the creation of the book and the theoretical/philosophical/practical approach behind it.

Regarding the style of the book, it is not an easy book to read. It is a very ambitious text, and it seems to try to be all things to all people. It does contain some examples and anecdotes to try to make it accessible to all (and it has great quotes in all the chapters), but it also contains tonnes of footnotes, and detailed disquisitions on subjects that are quite specialized, sharing much in common with academic texts (there is an index at the end, and illustrations, charts and diagrams to explain some of the concepts). I kept thinking that a non-expert reader might benefit from more of the examples and stories (we like stories), while if the book is addressed at policy-makers and analysts (both Ecologists and Economists) they wouldn’t necessarily care for the basic explanations. Perhaps two versions, or two separate texts, might achieve both, to reach a wider audience and raise awareness, and to also get into the hands of the people likely to be able to influence policies and induce change. I am sure it would make for a very compelling documentary in the right hands. I’d recommend possible readers to check a sample of the book to decide if they think it would be a good fit for them.

At an anecdotal level, I observed that many of the studies mentioned come from the UK and the European Union (probably down to availability of studies and familiarity with the material, although it does reflect the true situation of the research as well); I wondered about the use of words such as “benign” (it might depend on one’s perspective or definition) and also about the fact that despite trying to be as inclusive and non-Eurocentric as possible, there are topics that are culture-sensitive (the issue of the kinds of animal products used in Chinese Medicine, which he discusses, although I couldn’t help but notice that he uses rabbits as an example of an animal most people would only eat in dire circumstances. I don’t eat any meat, but rabbit is regularly grown for food and eaten in Spain, and I’m sure in other countries as well). I’ve always wondered, when it comes to Ecology, if we can truly observe the ecosystem we’re a part of in any objective manner (we are, indeed, part of the problem, and we know about the observer’s paradox), but…

In summary, this is a book that requires a dedicated reader, keen on digging beyond the surface into the topic of how to save the environment, taking as an example the way ecosystems work (symbiotic relationships in particular) and using sound market strategies. I’ve learned a great deal from it, and I thought I’d leave you with the last quote from the book, a particularly relevant one when it comes to this topic:

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do. Edward Everett Hale

You only need to think of Greta Thunberg (that the author mentions as well).

Thanks to Rosie, her team, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and remember to keep on smiling!

Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview HUMAN ERRORS: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents (@nathanlents) Facts, anecdotes, some opinions, and a very engaging way of learning about the human body

Hi all:

I really enjoyed this book and found it very informative, but, believe it or not, I later realised that it was quite controversial. So, here it goes…

Book review Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, From Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan Lents

We like to think of ourselves as highly evolved creatures. But if we are evolution’s greatest creation, why are we so badly designed? We have retinas that face backward, the stump of a tail, and way too many bones in our wrists. We must find vitamins and nutrients in our diets that other animals simply make for themselves. Millions of us can’t reproduce successfully without help from modern science. We have nerves that take bizarre paths, muscles that attach to nothing, and lymph nodes that do more harm than good. And that’s just the beginning of the story.

As biologist Nathan H. Lents explains, our evolutionary history is a litany of mistakes, each more entertaining and enlightening than the last. As we will discover, by exploring human shortcomings, we can peer into our past, because each of our flaws tells a story about our species’ evolutionary history.

A rollicking, deeply informative tour of our four-billion-year-long evolutionary saga, Human Errors both celebrates our imperfections – for our mutations are, in their own way, a testament to our species’ greatness – and offers an unconventional accounting of the cost of our success.

Editorial Reviews


Anyone who has aged without perfect grace can attest to the laundry list of imperfections so thoroughly and engagingly considered in Human Errors. This is the best book I’ve read on how poorly designed our bodies are. I learned something new on every page — MICHAEL SHERMER, author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain An insightful and entertaining romp through the myriad ways in which the human body falls short of an engineering ideal – and the often surprising reasons why — IAN TATTERSALL, author of Masters of the Planet In Human Errors, Nathan Lents explores our biological imperfections with style, wit, and life-affirming insight. You’ll finish it with a new appreciation for those human failings that, in so many surprising ways, helped shape our remarkable species — DEBORAH BLUM, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

Author Nathan H. Lents
Author Nathan H. Lents

About the Author

Nathan H. Lents is a professor of biology at John Jay College at The City University of New York. He is the author of Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals. @nathanlents


My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I saw this book on offer, I could not resist. I studied Medicine and have been fascinated by Biology and the Natural Sciences for ages. I have also thought and often commented on our (mostly mine, but yes, most of the issues are general, not exclusive to me) flawed design, no matter how superior we feel to the rest of the species that share the planet with us. In a later chapter of the book, the author sums it up observing that if we participated in an Olympic Games-style contest that included all of the Earth’s species, we would not win at anything, apart from perhaps decathlon (or chess if it was included), as we are generalists. We might not be able to compete with the physical prowess shown by many other species (we are not the fastest, the strongest, the best hunters, the ones who jump higher or who can run for longer), but we can do many things to a reasonable level. And yes, we are pretty intelligent (however we choose to use our minds).

There is enough material to fill several books under the general title of this book, and Lents chooses pretty interesting ones (although I guess some will appeal to some readers more than others). He talks about pointless bones and anatomical errors, our diet (here he talks about our tendency to obesity and our need to eat a varied diet due to the fact that our bodies have lost the ability to synthesise a number of vitamins, amino acids… while other species do),junk in the genome (issues to do with our DNA), homo sterilis (we are not very good at reproducing as a species), why God invented doctors (about our immune system and autoimmune diseases, cancer…), a species of suckers (about cognitive biases. The title of the chapter refers to P.T. Barnum’s edict ‘a sucker born every minute’ although as the author notes, this is an underestimate), and he discusses the possible future of humanity in the epilogue. There is a fair amount of information contained in this book, and that includes some useful illustrations, and notes at the end (I read an ARC copy, but it is possible that the final version contains even more documentation and resources). It is an educational read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I listened to the book thanks to the text-to-speech facility, and it suits it well, as it has a very conversational tone and manages to impart lots of information without being overbearing or obscure.  I read some reviews suggesting that it was so packed with facts that it was better to read it in small bites. Personally, I read it in a few days and never got bored of it, but it might depend on the reader’s interest in the subject.

I was familiar with some of the content but I appreciated the author’s take and the way he organised the materials. Although I enjoyed the whole book, I was particularly interested in the chapters on genetics (the DNA analysis and the identification of specific genes have moved on remarkably since I completed my degree) and on cognitive biases. As a doctor, I also agreed with his comments about autoimmune diseases, the difficulties in their diagnosis, and how these illnesses can sometimes be confused with psychiatric illnesses (being a psychiatrist, I know only too well this can happen). Of course, as is to be expected from the topic, the book reflects on the development of the species and discusses natural selection and evolution, and I was fascinated by the reviews of people who took his arguments as personal attacks on their beliefs. I agree that some of his interpretations and his hypothesis of the reasons for some of these flaws can be debatable, but that does not apply to the facts, and I did not feel the book is intended as a provocation but as a source of information, and entertainment. As the writer notes, we remember better (and believe in) anecdotes and stories than we do dry data. (I am not an expert on the subject but was fascinated by the comments on his blog.)

I found the book fascinating, and as a writer, I thought it was full of information useful to people thinking of writing in a variety of genres, from science-fiction (thoughts about how other species might evolve crossed my mind as I read it), historical fiction (if we go back many years), and any books with a focus on human beings and science.  I would recommend checking a sample of the book to see if the writer’s style suits the reader. I highlighted many lines (and was surprised when I learned that female Bluefin tunas don’t reach sexual maturity until they are twenty years old and was pleased to learn about the important roll old female orcas play in their society) but I particularly like this one:

Scurvy is a dystopian novel written by the human body.

A great read for those who prefer non-fiction and fact-packed books, perfect for people with little time, as it can be picked up and savoured in bite-size instalments, and a book that might pique our interest in and lead to further research on some of the topics. Experts are unlikely to find new information here, but other readers will come out enlightened and with plenty to think about. I strongly recommend it.

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW, and smile!

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