Humankind: A Hopeful History

HumankindHumankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Website, Twitter)

Genre: nonfiction/ sociology

Setting: n/a

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 462 pp/time

Published by: Little, Brown (2 June 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It is hard for me to know how to review this book. I usually have a hard time reviewing nonfiction books anyway – “my favorite fact was…!” – but Humankind in particular is difficult. I am not sure how to put into words my thoughts on it or why it was one of my favorite books of 2020. But it was a book I read exactly when it was the book I needed to read. I found some parts a little too optimistic, but that might also have been my ingrained cynicism and generally dark personality giving me bad advice. I am not by nature a person who is cheerful and bubbly. Gross. 

However, the subtitle of this book is A Hopeful History, and it is a perfectly timely book for 2020, the year of the eternal garbage fire. Bregman’s premise is that humans are NOT, in fact, all terrible, and the point of his book is to show others that he is right and that the Hobbesian view of the world is inaccurate. Hobbes was the dude who said that the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Cheery. Despite almost universal belief to the contrary, Bregman lays out the studies which show that most people are basically decent, would help others in a crisis, don’t have depraved instincts, and so on. He tackles (in)famous examples of humans apparently gone feral and shows how what we thought we knew about them is most likely incorrect. 

Soldiers in wartime, for example, often never fire their guns at all, and when they do, they often shoot too high so as to miss hitting anyone on the other side. Most wartime casualties occur from a distance because of bombs and the like, not because of soldiers killing one another. 

Bregman also looked at a case from 1960s NYC in which a young woman was stabbed to death. Papers reported that her neighbors heard her cry for help but did nothing; the truth was that many of her neighbors came out to help and she died in the arms of a friend. He explains how the incorrect version of events was perpetuated and shows how it happens still in today’s mainstream media. That was a particularly interesting section. 

The discussion in Part 4 on pluralistic ignorance was especially good. Pluralistic ignorance is when individuals personally reject an idea but go along with it publicly because they incorrectly think most other people in their peer group agree with it. It is basically American society in a nutshell. Pluralistic ignorance explains a very great number of problems we seem to have, from adherence to religious faith to Republicanism to antiscience rhetoric. I keep saying if we teach logic and compassion at every level of education, we would be a much healthier society in a multitude of ways. 

Overall, this was exactly the book I needed to read to round out 2020. I will be glad when this awful year is over with, and I hope with the new year will come some better semblance of rationality in society.

All This I Will Give to You

43267676All This I Will Give to You* by Dolores Redondo (trans. Michael Meigs)

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Timothy Andres Pabon

Source: My own collection

Length: 18:10:00

Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Year: 2018

Manuel Ortigosa is a writer  living in Madrid. He is hard at work on his next novel, waiting for his husband Alvaro to return from a business trip to Barcelona, when he receives word from police that Alvaro has been killed in a car accident. In Galicia, the opposite side of the country from Barcelona. Manuel travels to the town in Galicia where Alvaro died and learns that his husband was the Marquis of an ancient aristocratic family and Galicia is their ancestral home. Alvaro had hidden all this from Manuel because it seems he felt that his family was toxic and he wanted to shield Manuel from them. Upon his death, however, Manuel learns that Alvaro had saved his family from deep debt, using his own considerable funds to pay back loans and renovate the family homes, which put them in Alvaro’s personal possession, and thus he bequeathed everything to Manuel. Manuel is trying to come to terms with the fact that his husband hid who he was from him for the 15 years of their marriage, deal with the family who is indeed toxic, and find out what truly happened to Alvaro because he hadn’t died in an accident – he was murdered. Manuel meets two allies – a recently retired cop and a childhood friend of Alvaro’s, now a priest and Alvaro’s confessor – who aid him in finding out the truth.

This was a nicely complex book and I enjoyed not only the mystery plot but the travel element as well. I’ve never been to Spain, so the descriptions of the settings were some of my favorite parts, irrespective of the rest of the story.

The characters were generally complex and multifaceted. Manuel, the cop, and the priest were the ones I thought were the most multidimensional and complex people, though many of the other secondary characters, such as the family’s nanny, also seemed to have rich personalities.

There were many points of conflict – between Manuel and his husband’s family, between more progressive ideals and traditional Catholic practices, between the newer social order and the ancient traditions of nobility. There were also rivalries and intrigues between the family members as well, dark secrets and infighting. Alvaro was right – his family is toxic and he did well to keep Manuel from them. It would be exhausting to have to deal with a family like that.

I listened to this on audio book, so I have no idea how to spell some of the names, like the name of the cop friend, or the name of Alvaro’s family home. In any case, I think I would have preferred to eyeball read this one. I had picked up the audio book because it was a daily deal on Audible, but I didn’t care for the narrator. He did all right but I didn’t think he did a great job differentiating between characters. I had a hard time telling when it was supposed to be Manuel speaking and the cop, for example. His reading of women’s voices was pretty awful, though at least he didn’t make them sound like vapid cows like some male narrators do.

I loved the last line of the book SO MUCH. It is one of my favorite last lines ever now.