Historian Yuval Harari on the Books That Shaped Him

Photo: Jake Fabricius

Last Tuesday night, Nicolas Berggruen and Craig Calhoun, the Chairman and Director of the Berggruen Institute, hosted an intimate salon for Yuval Noah Harari, the bestselling Israeli historian who has earned praise from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama. Bill Gates has mentioned Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind as one of the books he would bring to a desert island.

We couldn’t resist asking Harari what books he’d take to a desert island. Here’s what he told us:

1. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World 

The best and most prophetic science fiction book of the 20th century, and also one of the most profound discussions of suffering and happiness that I know.”


2. Discourses of the Buddha

“A very profound collection of texts with a lot of influence on my thinking.”


3. Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics—Power and Sex Among Apes 

“It not only completely changed the way I understand chimpanzees, but above all, humans”


4. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel

“It was kind of an epiphany in my academic career. I realized that I could actually write such books.”

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.

RAVE (IRCAM 2021) https://github.com/acids-ircam/RAVE