It's a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we're taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest.
Humankind makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. The instinct to cooperate rather than compete, trust rather than distrust, has an evolutionary basis going right back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too.
In this major book, internationally bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world's most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram's Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.
It is time for a new view of human nature.
Originally published in Dutch in 2019 as De Meeste Mensen Deugen.
Rutger Bregman, a historian and writer at The Correspondent, is one of Europe's most prominent young thinkers. His last book, Utopia for Realists, which was translated into thirty-two languages, was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in the Netherlands.
"An optimistic historian sifts through the past in his mission to prove that mankind might not be so bad [...] A superb read – brisk, accessible and full of great stories"
– Sunday Times
"This is the book we need right now [...] Entertaining, uplifting [...] If Bregman is right, this book might just make the world a kinder place"
"Here, we visit the blitz, Lord of the Flies – both the novel and a very different real-life version – a Siberian fox farm, an infamous New York murder and a host of discredited psychological studies [...] There's a great deal of reassuring human decency to be taken from this bold and thought-provoking book [...] It makes a welcome change to read such a sustained and enjoyable tribute to our better natures"
"Filled with compelling tales of human goodness [...] Bregman's book is a thrilling read and it represents a necessary correction"
– The Times
"Humankind displays [Bregman's] gift for synthesising libraries full of academic research into spellbinding reads. I whizzed through Humankind's 480 pages, engrossed"
– Financial Times
"The notion that we already have the capacity to radically improve the world is both an exhilarating and a daunting one"
– New Statesman
"Bregman argues convincingly that what we teach and report about ourselves, we become [...] Bold, entertaining and uplifting"
"Lively and illuminating [...] Even a few months ago, [the idea that most people behave well in most circumstances] might have seemed, as Bregman claims, "a radical idea". The coronavirus crisis has made it blindingly obvious"
– Irish Times
"This book must be read by as many people as possible – only when people change their view of human nature will they begin to believe in the possibility of building a better world"
– Grace Blakeley
"One of the most powerful books I have read for a long time, and a book I have absolutely no hesitation about saying everyone needs to read, and that it will change your life if you do so"
– Matthew Taylor, RSA
"Cynicism is a theory of everything, but, as Rutger Bregman brilliantly shows, an elective one. This necessary book widens the aperture of possibility for a better future, and radically"
– David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth
"This important book is almost preternatural in its timing and argument. Rutger Bregman is poetic in his rejection of a Hobbesian view of our true natures. The gigantic upheavals of 2020 have proved him right. Reading this during lockdown changed the way I think about our humanity. We are good"
– Dan Snow
"Rutger Bregman is out on his own, thinking for himself, using history to give the rest of us a chance to build a much better future than we can presently imagine"
– Timothy Snyder, Holocaust historian and author of On Tyranny
"A devastating demolition of the misanthrope's mantra. A beacon of hope for a frighted world"
– Professor Danny Dorling, author of Inequality and the 1%
"Bregman puts together a compelling argument that society has been built on a false premise [...] He has a Gladwellian gift for sifting through academic reports and finding anecdotal jewels [...] Bregman never loses sight of his central thesis, that at root humans are 'friendly, peaceful, and healthy' [...] There's a great deal of reassuring human decency to be taken from this bold and thought-provoking book and a wealth of evidence in support of the contention that the sense of who we are as a species has been deleteriously distorted [...] It makes a welcome change to read such a sustained and enjoyable tribute to our better natures."
– Andrew Anthony, The Guardian
"Rutger Bregman is out on his own, thinking for himself, using history to give the rest of us a chance to build a much better future than we can presently imagine."
– Timothy Snyder, #1 New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny and Bloodlands
"Humankind is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, one whose bold argument has potentially far-reaching implications for how we run our governments, workplaces, schools, and correctional facilities [...] Bregman is not naïve; he grounds his arguments in reassessments of historical events and in studies from the sciences and social sciences [...] [and] debunks a number of long-held beliefs [...] Bregman presents his findings in a chatty, engaging style that evokes Malcolm Gladwell."
– Barbara Spindel, Christian Science Monitor
"Rutger Bregman is one of my favorite thinkers. His latest book challenges our basic assumptions about human nature in a way that opens up a world of new possibilities. Humankind is simple, perceptive and powerful in the way that the best books and arguments are."
– Andrew Yang, former US Presidential candidate and New York Times bestselling author of The War on Normal People
"Fascinating [...] Convincing [...] After cogently laying out the problem, Bregman turns to solutions [...] He describes businesses without bosses, schools in which teachers assume that students want to learn, and local governments in which citizens exert genuine power wisely [...] A powerful argument in favor of human virtue."
– Kirkus (starred review)
"Rutger Bregman has written another great book. He looks at some off the famous sociological experiments of the twentieth century-those that claimed to show humans as self-interested, cowardly, and morally fickle – and discovers that they were engineered to produce exactly those results. There was a lot of prejudice and ideological manipulation going on to get us to think so badly of ourselves. Every revolution in human affairs – and we're in one right now! – comes in tandem with a new understanding of what we mean by the word 'human'. Bregman has succeeded in reawakening that conversation by articulating a kinder view of humanity (with better science behind it). This book gives us some real hope for the future."
– Brian Eno
"International bestseller Rutger Bregman provides a fresh, new and engaging perspective on human history and where we can go as a society and species if we change our belief from 'all humans are inherently bad' to 'all humans are innately kind.' Humankind: A Hopeful History takes readers through historical accounts proving that we are in fact hardwired for kindness and is a read that will lift your spirits at a much-needed time in today's climate."
"This stunning book will change how you see the world and your fellow humans. Humankind is mind-expanding and, more important, heart-expanding. We have never needed its message more than now."
– Johann Hari, New York Times bestselling author of Lost Connections and Chasing the Scream
"Humankind is an in-depth overview of what is wrong with the idea is that we humans are by nature bad and unreliable. In vivid descriptions and stories, Rutger Bregman takes us back to the questionable experiments that fed this idea and offers us a more optimistic view of mankind."
– Frans de Waal, New York Times bestselling author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? and Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves
"In a world of sophisticated pessimism, Humankind is a refreshing change [...] Twenty-first-century readers are short on prophets, especially the optimistic kind, and will give Bregman a cheerful hearing."
– The Economist
"Why are most of us willing to sacrifice our wellbeing to protect vulnerable people we've never met? The most coherent, well-proven answer can be found in Humankind [...] Bregman's book summarizes a mountain of new discoveries in a wide range of fields that debunk what we thought we knew about humanity [...] It takes you on his personal journey, from believing (and teaching) many of society's shibboleths about inherent evil to systematically tearing each one apart with evidence."
– Chris Taylor, Mashable
"Compelling [...] Humankind is an amazing book – thoughtful, engaging, optimistic, and true [...] It shows us how much where we start our thinking about human nature influences where we finish, even when where we start is dead wrong. Put aside your newspaper for a little while and read this book."
– Barry Schwartz, author of the national bestseller The Paradox of Choice
"An extraordinarily powerful declaration of faith in the innate goodness and natural decency of human beings. Never dewy-eyed, wistful or naïve, Rutger Bregman makes a wholly robust and convincing case for believing – despite so much apparent evidence to the contrary – that we are not the savage, irredeemably greedy, violent and rapacious species we can be led into thinking ourselves to be. Hugely, highly and happily recommended."
– Stephen Fry, author of Mythos and The Ode Less Travelled
"I know of no more powerful or carefully documented rejoinder to Machiavelli's observation that 'men never do anything good except out of necessity' than Rutger Bregman's book. His reassessment of human nature is as faithful to the actual evidence as it is uplifting."
– Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, one of Discover Magazine's 50 Most Important Women in Science and author of Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
"Bregman's previous work made a strong case for utopian policies like universal basic income. Humankind provides the philosophical and historical backbone to give us the confidence that such bold policies – underpinned by cooperation, not competition – are the right kinds of policies. Why? Because people are inherently good and altruistic. Understanding this fundamental point creates the spirit and the tools to collaborate, be kind, and trust each other to create a better society. The positive and uplifting message in Humankind is essential if we are ever going to create a better form of capitalism where the many, not the few, can flourish."
– Mariana Mazzucato, author of The Entrepreneurial State and member of the U.N. Committee for Development Policy
"Rutger Bregman's new book, Humankind, has made me feel optimism in a time of pessimism. It's an exceptional read. Humans are good."
– Matt Haig, author of the international bestseller Reasons to Stay Alive
"Beautifully written, well documented, myth-busting [...] Bregman brings psychological research and history together to present a remarkably positive, realistic view of the human animal. We are much better, much kinder, than most of us think we are, and when we realize that we become better yet [...] [It's] now number one on my list of what everyone should read. Read it and buy copies for all of your most cynical friends."
– Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn: Why Releasing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life
"The topic is vital, the sweep immense, and the storytelling is spellbinding. This is a fabulous book."
– Tim Harford, author of the international bestseller The Undercover Economist
"Bregman puts a positive spin on human behavior in this intriguing survey of politics, literature, psychology, sociology, and philosophy. To prove his hypothesis that humankind is basically good, he reevaluates some of the most entrenched cultural narratives suggesting otherwise [...] This intelligent and reassuring chronicle disproves much received wisdom about the dark side of human nature. Readers looking for solace in uncertain times will find it here."
– Publishers Weekly
"Fascinating [...] I enjoyed Humankind immensely. It's entertaining, uplifting, and very likely to reach the broad audience it courts [...] This book might just make the world a kinder place."
– Tristram Fane Saunders, Daily Telegraph
"Bregman's book is an intervention in a centuries-old argument about the moral nature of human beings [...] Humankind is filled with compelling tales of human goodness. The book will challenge what you thought you knew [...] Bregman's book is a thrilling read and it represents a necessary correction to the idea that we are all barely disguised savages."
– James Marriott, The Times
"Bregman's assertion that you and I (and everyone else) is basically a good and moral being is the breakthrough thinking we've been looking for to activate and energize millions to live more sustainably, vote for climate action, and raise their voice for the future [...] Today, during this terrible pandemic which has a third of humanity in some sort of lockdown, the 'good people' premise is being proven [...] Despite the news reports of those breaking the rules, the vast majority of us (over 80 percent) are doing the right thing [...] This might prove to be the wake-up call we needed to our own goodness. For most, this pandemic has demanded the hardest change in how we live. But we've done it because it's the right thing to do. It's impossible to underestimate what this means for our collective sense of self. We're ready to stretch our do-gooder muscles."
– Solitaire Townsend, Forbes
"Invigorating [...] The book is crammed full of fascinating examples [...] a much needed reminder of the traditional virtues of modesty and the like, of sharing, and of co-operation rather than vicious competition [...] If books require the right zeitgeist to have a major impact, then Bregman's timing may prove brilliant [...] Bregman's book is something of a beacon at the moment, when many are looking for values to profess in our traumatised and altered society [...] [it] stands a very good chance of having a real impact on the feelings of the general public."
– Alexander McCall Smith, The Scotsman
"Interesting and urgent [...] Bregman attacks huge and highly sensitive questions with his usual brand of vim, vigor, and intellectual nuance [...] The historian is a sort of Dutch Sherlock Holmes, furiously prodding at the sacred cows of psychological research and laying out his counterarguments with the breathless pace of a thriller [...] Books like this one ask important and unsettling questions about the assumptions that underpin our approach to everything from schools to prisons, from police to politics."
– Ceri Radford, The Independent
"This latest book on society, history, and anthropology by Rutger Bregman has many quotable quotes on every page and is full of powerful aphorisms drawn from the history of political thought [...] The whole theme of Humankind is the demolition of what Bregman sees as the big lie that humans are fundamentally evil and self-interested [...] The thoroughness of his demolition job is impressive, as he sweeps aside example after example of the stories we tell ourselves in order to uphold the myth of our own wickedness [...] The book's deconstructions of some of the 'truths' we have been told about human nature are fascinating; as riveting as any thriller, and necessary, in trying to shift our politics onto new and more productive ground."
– Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman
"Lively and illuminating [...] Bregman argues convincingly that the dominant assumptions about behavior in modern capitalism are upside down [...] Under the pressure of the coronavirus, what we see are millions and millions of people risking their own lives to help others, not under threat of dismissal and not because of financial incentives, but because it's what comes naturally. If we 'revert' during a disaster, it is not to being apes or angels. It is to being merely, decently human."
– Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times
"Bregman argues convincingly that what we teach and report about ourselves, we become: telling ourselves incessantly that we are selfish, aggressive, and untrustworthy will make us more so. The counter-examples he provides are inspiring [...] Bold, entertaining, and uplifting, Humankind should be read less as a scholarly treatise on human nature and more as a call to consciousness and action."
– Owen Harman, The Spectator
"Brisk and entertaining [...] Meticulously sifting the evidence, Bregman finds that the most pessimistic views of human nature are not backed up by the facts [...] Humankind works as a much-needed corrective to excessive pessimism about human wickedness."
– Julina Baggini, The Prospect
"A beach read for brainiacs [...] Its hopeful message could not be better timed [...] As impressive as Bregman's arguments are, he's also a gifted storyteller [...] Picture an animated, multi-directional lecture by a charismatic professor, and you're at Humankind [...] It's a dazzling performance."
– Brett Josef Grubisic, Maclean's
"Rutger Bregman is one of the most provocative thinkers of our time [...] This book demolishes the cynical view that humans are inherently nasty and selfish, and paints a portrait of human nature that's not only more uplifting – it's also more accurate [...] by taking us on a guided tour of the past, he reveals how we can build a world with more givers than takers in the future."
– Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals
"Some books challenge our ideas. But Humankind challenges the very premises on which those ideas are based. Its bold, sweeping argument will make you rethink what you believe about society, democracy, and human nature itself. In a sea of cynicism, this book is the sturdy, unsinkable lifeboat the world needs."
– Daniel H. Pink, #1 New York Times bestselling author of When and A Whole New Mind
"Rutger Bregman's extraordinary new book is a revelation. Although Humankind is masterful in its grasp of history, both ancient and modern, the real achievement is Bregman's application of history to a new understanding of human nature. Humankind changes the conversation and lights the path to a brighter future. We need it now more than ever."
– Susan Cain, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Quiet
"Bregman's argument is simple but radical: Most people are good, and we do ourselves a disservice by thinking the worst of others. Bregman argues that believing in human kindness is a foundation for lasting social change."
– Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
"I greatly enjoyed reading Humankind. It made me see humanity from a fresh perspective and challenged me to rethink many long-held beliefs. I warmly recommend it to others, and I trust it will stir a lot of fruitful discussions."
– Yuval Noah Harari, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sapiens and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
"A lively social history [...] Bregman offers a compelling case for reshaping institutions and policies along genuinely humane lines."
– The New Yorker
"Bregman offers a fresh and optimistic perspective on humanity and our innate tendencies toward generosity and kindness. Backed by 200,000 years of human history, Humankind makes a convincing argument to seek out the best in others, rather than looking for the worst."
– Kat Sarfas, Barnesandnoble.com