More a philosophical treatise than a history text, Bregman’s Humankind is a fascinating attempt to define a new realism: human beings are essentially decent and compassionate, and all attempts to show otherwise are cynical and false.
Did you know we are the only species that blushes? That the whites of our eyes are unique to humans? This is because we are an inherently social species. Far from being violent and selfish, human beings have existed and evolved primarily because we are social, and our intelligence is elevated because we learn from others. Not all is unicorns and rainbows, of course. The difficulty in knowing others from afar creates an evolutionary preference for those like us. Bregman admits that this is the biological basis of racism and xenophobia.
So what is the alternative? For one thing, we must seriously examine the old bromides about a solitary, nasty, and brutish human nature. Bregman provides an effective and highly readable deconstruction of the narratives around Lord of the Flies, the Stanford prison experiment, and the Milgram shock machine. For the rest, I’ll let you read further.
I’m not wholly convinced of his thesis at the end, but I admire Bregman’s attempt. It’s a refreshingly contrarian and positive view of the world. Had he tackled the role of capitalism in a more systematic manner, I would have given the book 5/5. Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend Humankind. You’ll be thinking about it long after you finish it.