Israeli-born Harari, 45, received his doctorate from Oxford University. He is the author of bestsellers: Sapiens – A Short History of Mankind; Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow; 21 lessons for the 21st century; Sapiens – Graphic History, Volume I. Next week his next book, Sapiens – Graphic History Volume II, Pillars of Civilizations will be published. Harari lives with his husband near Tel Aviv and gives history lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Photograph: Jonas Holthaus/Laif/Camera Press
When were you happiest?
Now. My expectations are more tailored to reality than they were 20 or 10 years ago.
What is your biggest fear?
We will destroy humanity in such a way that we can not even comprehend what we have lost.
What are your earliest memories?
My earliest recollection of history is the First Lebanon War and the Falkland War. I was six years old then. I remember watching the sinking of the ship HMS Sheffield on TV, which made a big impression on me.
Which living person do you admire and why?
On a personal level, my friend who is a single mother raising two children in this Covid era is a real hero. From the historical persona, Mikhail Gorbachev, who, I think, saved the world from World War III.
A character trait that you do not like in yourself.
All properties have positive and negative potential, the main thing is to learn how to use it. For example, anger and justice are one and the same – get angry or seek justice.
What is the most valuable thing you own?
Describe yourself in three words.
I think I can not describe anyone in three words.
What would be your superpower?
I can see things as they really are.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I find it hard to smile, especially if I am asked. I’m a little tired of all the photos.
Can you pick any lost item to revive what would you choose?
I would save the coral reefs, they have not disappeared yet, though it seems that they will.
What is your worst habit?
I think I do not express enough gratitude to the people around me, however, I think they already know how I appreciate them.
What scares you in old age?
Loss of mental capacity.
A book that you have not read and are ashamed of.
None. I do not think you must read any book.
Who did you want to be when you were growing up?
Someone who is loved.
The worst thing that was ever told to you.
I spent years meditating to get rid of such things. I think I succeeded.
What is it that makes you happy and makes you feel guilty about it?
I do not feel guilty about pleasure.
What do you owe your parents?
Many thanks. They were always with me. Sometimes they did not know how to help me, or what to do, but they always did their best, even when I was young and I did a lot of stupid things in front of them.
What or who is the biggest love of your life?
My husband, Itzik. Although we are both from the same small town in Israel, we met each other 20 years ago on one of the dating sites. We got married in 2010 in Toronto.
Your worst job.
When I was 16, I used to work in a factory during the summer holidays, where industrial valves were made. I was a manufacturer of industrial valves which is much worse than a historian.
The biggest disappointment.
I still can not understand what life is. When I was young, I thought I would at least find someone who understood this. I am already 45 years old and there is a great chance that I will never meet such a person.
If you could change the past, what would you change?
I would have come out at the age of 16-17 and not – 21.
When was the last time you cried and why?
A few years ago, my dog died. We were vacationing in Greece, he had left us with a friend and was bitten by a snake. We went back, though we were late.
When was the last time you changed your mind about something very important?
This year, about Covid. With regard to key issues, I believe in the need for global cooperation, watching the world realize last year that it is much, much more difficult than I thought. Maybe even impossible.
When were you closest to death?
I was 13 years old when the bus almost took hit me. Also during the Gulf War in 1991, an Iraqi rocket landed near my house.
The most important lesson that life has taught you.
That everything changes, people are never satisfied and all identities are fiction.
What happens when we die?
I wrote quite a lot about it. I think consciousness is not a solid thing, but we have a feeling that it is the same as it was a minute ago, a day or a year ago, but in reality, it is not at all clear what connects this minute consciousness with the consciousness of the future. If we could understand this, we would also understand what happens when we die. Of course, I do not understand this, so I do not know.
Tell us the secret…
The people who run the world do not understand this.
Photo on main: Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer New Review