The Book You Didn’t Know You Needed Right Now: Humankind by Rutger Bregman

by | Sep 2, 2020 | Book Club Series, Book Recommendations

This post is part of my Book Club Series where I share what I’m reading with you. I’m highlighting the “oh my god, you’ve got to read this!” books. These are the ones that I’ve been recommending to clients, friends, and anyone I’ve spoken to while reading the book. I have even been known to buy extra copies and given them to people. These books are great.

With this series, I hope to share resources that can help you with some of your challenges. Today’s post is about a book that helps with the challenge of “everything’s sh*t, what can we even do?” or in more polite terms “what do we do when motivation is low?”

Dark times

I’ve been feeling disheartened lately and was trying to figure out how I could reconnect to my curiosity and hopefulness. At home, with my family, in my closed off “stay at home Covid world”, things are ok. I generally feel good.
Then I look outside my little world and I keep seeing stories and examples that make me feel like I’m in a dystopian prequel.
Like The Running Man or The Hunger Games is just a few seasons away from being the actual next big reality TV hit – and we get to be the lucky contenders.

It’s like the darkness is Thanos, and it’s telling me
“I’m inevitable”

We are at a turning point. But which way are we going to turn?

Can we even turn?

Since its birth, management economics has taught us that people are dumb, need to be told what to do, and are inherently selfish. That without management control of carrots and sticks, they will always act in their own self interest. And a fair amount of philosophy and religion teach that too.

How delightful.

This view that we are born bad, and need to be managed and controlled, runs through almost all of societies thinking and approach to anything. And it sucks.

Plus, most of us believe, deep down, that the world is good. Or can be good. And that people are good and decent.

But are they really? Or is that just naive? Is it just wishful thinking?
Like, sure, it’s a lovely idea that people are nice, that strangers are good people. “It would be great if that were true, but… let’s be realistic here…”
(See how quickly we go back to disbelief?)

Yes, let’s get realistic here. What are the facts? What does evidence show us about humankind?

Fortunately, someone else did all the work (I love it when someone else does all the work)

That someone is Dutch historian, Rutger Bregman. The work is a book called “Humankind, A Hopeful History“. The Dutch title translates as “most people are decent”.

But why should you read Humankind?

Oh wow, I have so many things to say that writing this post has been a struggle. I’m planning a book club event for this book as it’s a source of such great conversation. I know that I have not done this book justice. I’m still absorbing it’s immensity, and it’s simplicity. Despite that, I’m already making different decisions, better decisions, with better results.

Immediate Impact

I was able to turn a high conflict situation into an exciting opportunity to move forward.
I was able to be a better trainer and reach out and connect even more with my students.
I was able to find patience for a highly sensitive personal situation, which I think is going to save the friendship.

For now, I’ve put some of my thoughts into three categories. If you want the bottom line, skip forward to the Most important reason to read it.


  • 10 Rules to live by. Want some guidance to help you contribute positively, when “the everything is sh*t, what can we even do?” Then these are great.
  • Immensely educational. You know all those scientific studies about human behaviour that have shocked us? Like the Stanford study on whether the general public would kill people because someone in authority told them to? Want to know what the studies really showed? Then read this book.
  • It takes apart the perspectives of “humans are selfish or sinners at heart” and the “we live with just a veneer of civilisation”. And provides lots of evidence that actually, humankind is decent and motivated by good intentions. We need to hear this right now.
  • Did you know that Homo sapiens outlasted Neanderthals, not out of violence, but because of our kindness? That it’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the kindest? I didn’t either. So much more info like this in the book.


  • There is so much opinion in the world today. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually see the facts so that we can make up our own minds?
  • Sensationalism – more than ever before, the content we consume is sensational. Shocking headlines, and snippets of info are what gets churned out all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a clear assessment?
  • Someone else has done the research! While I love thorough investigations, facts, and data, I prefer to apply than to research. And this has all the references for every source and statement for those who want it. Awesome.


  • It’s a radical idea that motivates AND is anchored in evidence. Isn’t that amazing? It’s strengthened something in me that makes it easier to hold on to hope. Boy did I read this at just the right time.
  • Appreciate great story telling. It’s a lovely read, and balanced, and investigates the nature of humanity. It’s well written and incredibly pleasant to read.
  • It demonstrates a key leadership skill: it points us in a direction that can helps us with our goals.
  • Genuine feel good. From the first pages, it lifted my spirits. Scratch that, from the title my spirits were lifted.
  • It’s by no means a happy clappy only see the bright side book. It feels like a genuine result of curiosity and questioning. I think you’d like it.

Most important reasons to read it

  • Give your inner belief in the good in human nature the anchor it needs to withstand all the terrible things you see in the news. Don’t rely just on faith, trust in the evidence.

What next?

While I love the Mr Rogers quote:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I ask myself, is that enough, to look for the helpers?

The problem solver in my asks how can we become some of the helpers? What can we do to make sure this turning point takes us to a better world?
Rutger Bregman has an answer for us: approach the world of people as if most people are decent.

If just a few more of us started from this perspective, it would change the world for the better.

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