Advisors' Corner

Book Reviews: Never Stop Learning & 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

This post discusses two books: Never stop Learning by Bradley Staats and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Find out what our Program Administrator (& bookworm), Sana Sohel, has to say about these! 

Never Stop Learning by Bradley Staats

“For most people, the only constant is change.” Truer words have not been spoken. Bradley Staats, author of “Never stop learning,” offers a convincing argument on how change is the only way to succeed and get ahead in the current economy. Technological automation is making jobs less routine and more cognitively challenging and increasing globalization means we are competing with workers around the world. Similarly, the internet and other communication technologies have radically increased the potential impact of individual knowledge. The relentless dynamism of these forces shaping our lives has created a new imperative: we must strive to become dynamic learners. In every industry and sector, dynamic learners outperform their peers and realize higher impact and fulfillment by learning continuously and by leveraging that learning to build yet more knowledge.

In addition, Staats identifies the drivers of change in employment as productivity, improvement, specialization, and globalization. The idea is clear: as individuals consider their career paths, they must recognize that staying relevant means outlearning not only those immediately around them but also from around the world. Moreover, Staats offers that to thrive in a “learning economy,” people must develop four separate but interdependent mindsets: focused, fast, frequent, and flexible. That is, select and then focus intently on what to learn, accelerate the process, be open-minded and sufficiently flex to new learning opportunities.

Dynamic learning must be a never-ending process rather than an ultimate destination. Like a garden, it must be nourished but also pruned, protected but also unrestrained.

So, readers, never stop learning, indeed, and never stop helping others to learn.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

“How do you live in an age of bewilderment, when the old stories have collapsed, and no new story has yet emerged to replace them?”

It is widely agreed that the title of Yuval Noah Harari’s book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” is a misnomer. It is also widely agreed that the book is worth reading.

Harari gained global acclaim with his first book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind,” which has since sold over 1 million copies. His success continued in 2015 with “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.” In “Sapiens” Harari explored the past, in “Homo Deus” he looked to the future, and finally, in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, Harari examines the present.

Harari presents his readers with “a probing and visionary investigation into today's most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future.” His 21 lessons question our ideas on 21 weighty matters, such as work, war, nationalism, religion, immigration, and education. Questions that the book touches on include: How should democracies contend with the quantum leaps in biotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI), just as “liberalism is losing credibility”? How should we regulate the ownership of data, which “will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset”? How will societies respond to AI, and the conceivable uselessness of workers? Should we fear another world war?

In an effort to reflect upon these questions, Harari employs “evolutionary psychology as self-help: the world is a scary, fast-changing place, so it’s no surprise our savannah-trained ape brains struggle to navigate through it.” However, does this approach offer a lesson? Not really.

In an interview, Harari reflected that his views are often based on assumptions, which he chooses not to examine. Although some critics argue that the “lessons” are too vague or hollow to provide meaningful guidance, it comes as no surprise that the book offers more of a thought circle for its readers. It encourages the consideration of values, meaning, and personal engagement in an ever-changing and uncertain world. Rarely, does it offer constructive instruction on piloting the tumultuous 21st century world.

If you are looking for a book to present analytical insight or act as a navigation tool for the challenges of the 21st century, this book definitely isn’t it. However, if you want a thought provoking exploration of the present world this would definitely be a good start!

Check out these books or find a new one from the SFU library and let us know what you think!