There is a persistent myth that by their very nature humans are selfish, aggressive and quick to panic. It's what is known as veneer theory: the notion that civilisation is nothing more than a thin veneer that will crack the perest provocation. In actuality, the opposite is true. It's when crisis hits - when the bombs fall or the floodwaters rise- that we humans become our best selves.' Bregman then spends the next 400 pages making compelling cases against some of the most well known 'humans are bad' stories and psychological experiments over the last 100 years. From the British & German responses to the bombing blitzes of WW2 to the fate of the Easter Islander's and the Stanford Prison Experiment, we are taken on an investigative adventure to prove that in each of these cases, the results are either unjustified or mistaken. Humankind is a rollercoaster ride of hope, surprise and further questioning of human nature. It is not bulletproof and picking intellectual holes in Bregman's tapestry of 'new realism' is tempting but when you zoom out it is hard not to feel more confident that your own sense of 'the kindness of strangers' is part of a much bigger cultural and historical pattern. Ultimately I suspect that Humankind is particularly compelling for those with a relatively pain-free lived experience. For those who have suffered at the hands of others, the idea that we are programmed for good might be a lot harder to accept.
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