Humankind: A Hopeful History

Humankind: A Hopeful History (Dutch: De Meeste Mensen Deugen: Een Nieuwe Geschiedenis van de Mens) is a 2019 non-fiction book by historian Rutger Bregman. It was published by Bloomsbury in May 2021.[3] It advocates for the decency of most people and proposes a new outlook on life in spite of prominent ideas deeming man egotistical and malevolent. It contains multi-disciplinary studies, historical events and scientific evidence to justify this optimistic view. It has been translated in over 30 languages.[4] In the United States, the paperback release was a New York Times Best Seller.[5]

Humankind: A Hopeful History
Cover for the English book
First edition of the English translation
AuthorRutger Bregman
Original titleDe Meeste Mensen Deugen: Een Nieuwe Geschiedenis van de Mens
  • Elizabeth Manton
  • Erica Moore
GenreNon-fiction, history
Publication date
September, 2019
Published in English
May 13, 2021
Media typeHardcover
  • Publieksprijs voor het Nederlandse Boek (2020)[1]
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for History & Biography (2020)[2]


Humankind argues that humans are fundamentally mostly decent, and that more recognition of this view would likely be beneficial to everyone, partly as it would reduce excessive cynicism. For example, if society was less adamant on the view that humans are naturally lazy, there would be less reason to oppose the widespread introduction of poverty mitigation measures like basic income. The book takes a multi-disciplinary approach, drawing from the findings of history, economics, psychology, biology, anthropology and archaeology. Bregman's arguments include the assertion that in the state of nature debate, Rousseau, rather than Hobbes, was more correct about humanity's essential goodness.

Civilian resilience after bombingEdit

Before the London Blitz and the Allied counterbombings over important German cities, it was thought aerial bombardments would sow panic and chaos among the population, breaking their will. World leaders had read Psychologie des foule (Mass psychology) by Gustave Le Bon, which argues extreme hardship would make people return to their uncivilized and selfish nature.

Contrary to their expectations, high command found no sign of mass panic after the bombings. Life went on and psychiatrists could later find no traumatic cases and even reported an increase in mental health, with alcoholic consumption and suicides going down. Civilians of both nations became more altruistic in dire times.[4]

The real "Lord of the Flies"Edit

In the second chapter of Humankind, Bregman describes the true story of a group of schoolboys from Tonga who were shipwrecked on the deserted island of ʻAta with few resources and no adult supervision. Bregman draws a parallel with the classic fiction novel Lord of the Flies; however, he highlights how much the real-life story does not turn out the same way as Lord of the Flies. Bregman was able to track down the captain of the fishing boat who rescued the boys in 1966; Peter Warner, son of Australian businessman Arthur Warner; and also one of the rescued individuals, Mano Totau. He interviewed Warner and got the full story of the boys' ordeal and their rescue, including the fact that Warner hired all of them as crew members for his fishing boat. In the case of the Tongan schoolboys, they immediately came up with a set of rules to govern their conduct and to ensure full cooperation. When one boy fell from a height and broke his leg, the others rushed to provide him with medical care; after they were rescued, medical professionals were impressed by the quality of the healed leg. An excerpt was later published by The Guardian in May 2020.[6]


Critics stated that it seems misleading to "offer the false choice of Rousseau and Hobbes when, clearly, humanity encompasses both".[7] The book follows Rousseau's idea, stating man was inherently virtuous prior to the corruption civilization brought.

In addition to praise, Humankind: Hopeful History has also received strong criticism. Various critics, for example, point to the book's lack of scientific content. In Medisch Contact, the doctor Dolf Algra points out, among other things, a careless reference to sources (the book contains no index and no list of sources) and the incompleteness of his source research.[8] Simon Burgers, lecturer in research skills and critical thinking at Haagse Hogeschool, points out that the argumentation in the book is characterized by circular reasoning and cherry picking.[9] The author Richard Engelfriet says that Bregman's contention that most people are good and that the belief that humans are inherently depraved permeates Western culture are both left-wing conspiracy theories.[10] The sociologist Kees van Oosten believes that the 10 precepts recommended by Bregman in his book play into the hands of evil rulers in the world: "That is why I think that his book is no good and is just opium for the people."[11] Steven Poole points out in The Guardian that Bregman fails to offer an explanation for the Holocaust, notably the actions of the Nazi leaders themselves.[12] David Livingstone Smith concludes in The Philosopher that although Bregman’s project is well-intentioned, it is poorly executed: "Shorn of its essentialism, its blurring of the difference between normative and descriptive claims, its huge inferential leaps and unwarranted assertions, Bregman’s project might have made a useful contribution to moral psychology. But as it stands, sadly, the book does not succeed."[13]


  1. ^ "Publieksprijs voor het Nederlandse Boek Winners". Goodreads (in Dutch). n.d. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  2. ^ "Best History & Biography 2020, Goodreads Choice Awards". Goodreads. n.d. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  3. ^ Bloomsbury (13 May 2021). "Humankind". Bloomsbury.
  4. ^ a b Bregman, R. (2019). De meeste mensen deugen: een nieuwe geschiedenis van de mens (Dutch Edition) (1st ed.). De Correspondent BV.
  5. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Books Best Sellers". The New York Times. December 19, 2021. Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  6. ^ Bregman, Rutger (9 May 2020). "The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months". The Guardian.
  7. ^ Anthony, A. (12 May 2020). "'Humankind: A Hopeful History' by Rutger Bregman: Review – a tribute to our better nature". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "Rutger Bregman en het simsalabimdenken". (in Dutch). Retrieved 2022-05-20.
  9. ^ De snijtafel - De meeste mensen deugen (#73.5), retrieved 2022-05-20
  10. ^ "Deugt dat boek van Rutger Bregman eigenlijk wel?". (in Dutch). 2020-03-03. Retrieved 2022-05-20.
  11. ^ "'De meeste mensen deugen' van Rutger Bregman is opium voor het volk - Joop - BNNVARA". Joop (in Dutch). Retrieved 2022-05-20.
  12. ^ "Humankind by Rutger Bregman review – why we are all deep-down decent". the Guardian. 2020-06-10. Retrieved 2022-05-20.
  13. ^ Smith, David Livingstone (2021-11-25). "Are We Decent Deep Down?". The Philosopher 1923. Retrieved 2022-05-20.

See alsoEdit