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‘Human Kind’ by Rutger Bregman – A Review

A couple of years ago, I decided to change. I was a self-confessed pessimist. My default setting was scepticism leaning towards the cynical. In many ways, I think the decision was made for me: so many reports of disaster, so many nasty leaders winning elections and so many stories exploring the sinister side of the human experience making it onto my bookshelf.


I’m now a big fan of becoming – that who I am is in a constant state of change. It is a powerful solvent against hatred and prejudice, misogyny and misandry, elitism, and inferiority.

Enter Rutger Bregman’s Human Kind. It’s a masterpiece that carefully unpicks the straightjacket that we have bound our sense of goodness beneath. By revisiting damning psychological studies in light of new archival (or previously avoided!) evidence, by presenting untold but documented historical occurrences, by shifting the spotlight to shine on optimistic social and cultural monuments, the young Dutch thinker contends that humans (or what he playfully terms Homo Puppy) are actually a remarkably beautiful bunch.

Reading this book, I can’t stop drawing the connections between what Bregman champions and our nation’s very own Indigenous peoples.

Human Kind also reminds us why lockdowns feel the way they do and why Zoom could never replace the campus. As he writes:


‘This figure illustrates the skills that set humans apart. Chimpanzees and orangutans score on par with human two-year-olds on almost every cognitive test. But when it comes to learning, the toddlers win hands down. Most kids score 100 percent, most apes 0.

Human beings, it turns out, are ultrasocial learning machines. We’re born to learn, to bond, to play. Maybe it’s not so strange, then, that blushing is the only human expression that’s uniquely human. After all, blushing is quintessentially social – it’s people showing they care what others think, which fosters trust and enables cooperation.’

This is an easy-to-read, joyful panacea for the pessimistic plague that can leave us feeling wretched.

ZACHARY SHINKFIELD
English Teacher