Book Review: Humans (Stanton 2020)

By | November 3, 2021

Title: Humans

Author: Brandon Stanton

Year: 2020

Difficulty: Picture book

TLDR: Recommended. Humans delivers a masterclass in empathy.

I don’t think I have ever cried during the first minute of reading a book. But, Humans had me crying after the first two pages. The power, emotion, and authenticity of the first two stories was so much that I had to stop (lest make a scene in the COVID-19 vaccination clinic I started reading it in).

Initially I wanted to pick out an share my 3 or 4 favorite stories, but after quickly filling that quota by page 20 and realising I still had 300 pages to go… I thought trying to extrapolate the commonalities amongst the stories would be a better approach (it also felt ‘cheap’ to try and rank order each persons life story). So without further ado, hear are my main takeaways:

Takeaway 1: How to be happy

  • The happiest people seem to be the ones that give the most to others.
  • The ability to share the ups and downs of life with those you love seems fundamental to being happy.
  • Happy people, regardless of their circumstance, seem to be happy because they choose to be. Prompting the question, is happiness a choice?

Takeaway 2: What is the relationship between self-serving bias and religion?

What is the difference between religious and non-religious people in terms of how they value positive and negative events (i.e. prospect theory) and how they attribute them to internal versus external factors (i.e. self serving bias)? Do religious people attribute more success to external factors (i.e. ‘god’) and failure to internal factors (i.e. themselves) then non-religious people? Or, is it the other way around? What are the implications of these differences at the individual and societal level?

Takeaway 3: The uncultivated are incompetent measures of cultivation

I’ve never read a picture book before, and never really thought they would be of any value… picture books are for kids right? Wrong. An old saying from my professor springs to mind “the uncultivated are incompetent measures of cultivation”. After being thoroughly shocked by the dissonance between how much I enjoyed Humans and how worthless I thought it would be when I first saw it… I am certain this applies to me. Making me wonder, what other things would I love to read but am also oblivious too? And how do I fix this? There are no doubt a multitude of answers, but I think for now I will try focusing on lowering my ‘reading opportunity cost’ by allocating more time to reading as well as lowering my aversion to risk when choosing books.

Takeaway 4: Stay away from gambling and addictive substances

To re-interpret a very self-aware drug addict, this is ironic because… although we spend our lives trying to stimulate certain chemical releases in the brain… it doesn’t mean we should go straight for the chemicals!