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Utopia for Realists: Why Making the World a Better Place Isn't a Fantasy and How We Can Do It

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4.23  ·  Rating details ·  6,319 ratings  ·  746 reviews
From a universal basic income to a 15-hour workweek, from a world without borders to a world without poverty - it's time to return to utopian thinking.
Rutger Bregman takes us on a journey through history, beyond the traditional left-right divides, as he introduces ideas whose time has come. Utopia for Realists is one of those rare books that takes you by surprise and cha
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Paperback, 326 pages
Published March 9th 2017 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published September 14th 2014)
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Thomas The science in this book makes good sense, but it remains quite abstract. So working out some of the theories he lays down in practice would take some…moreThe science in this book makes good sense, but it remains quite abstract. So working out some of the theories he lays down in practice would take some translation and it wouldn't happen overnight.

It's all in the title, though. He lays out a number of 'utopian' ideals, things we could strive towards as society if we wanted to. These are ideals that may seem far-fetched now, but just as people used to think the idea of women's suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and the welfare state were far-fetched before they happened.(less)
Rutger Actually, yes! This has everything to do with the history of the book. The first version was published in 2014, in Dutch. In 2016, my (very small)…moreActually, yes! This has everything to do with the history of the book. The first version was published in 2014, in Dutch. In 2016, my (very small) Dutch publisher decided to translate it into English. This meant I had the chance to update the book - so I included a new chapter (the one on bankers and garbage collectors) and removed another one.

Then my Dutch publisher put the English edition on Amazon Create Space. We sold a few thousand copies, but the book wasn't a big success. I had already lost hope that the book would reach more readers, until my Dutch publisher proposed to contact a literary agent.

This was the week before the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016. Everything happened pretty quickly - two weeks later my book was sold to 10 countries. Now it's sold to 30 :)

So obviously, I had another chance to update the book. I included a new epilogue and (on the advice of my brilliant American and British editors) changed the order of the chapters, and added a few paragraphs here and there.

So there's the answer to your question - there are actually 3 versions of this book, and I much prefer the last one! (less)

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Mark
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a painful book to read during the first week of Trump's administration. I swear every time I finished a chapter, a new policy would be announced that completely moved the needle of social progress in the other direction. Solving poverty with a universal basic income? Nope, here's a Secretary of Labor who thinks the minimum wage is already too high. Reform the banking system so it's not one of the largest drivers of the economy? Let me introduce you to the newest Goldman Sachs exec to run a ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
”A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.”---Oscar Wilde.

Rutger Bregman, the Dutch historian, first came to my attention when recently he got into a tiff with Tucker Carlson. The footage and audio was leaked, and though I wasn’t surprised to hear Carlson get upset
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Adam  McPhee
Capitalist or communist, it all boils down to a pointless distinction between two types of poor, and to a major misconception that we almost managed to dispel some 40 years ago – the fallacy that a life without poverty is a privilege you have to work for, rather than a right we all deserve.


A breezy read with ideas that are backed up by genuinely interesting statistics and anecdotes.

Argues that we can better society and move towards utopia by implementing three ideas: a 15 hour workweek, a univer
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Yemi Adesanya
Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Radical ideas, at first glance, but all put forward in this book aren't unreasonable, neither are they unrealistic. They are logically presented and supported with facts and tons of research and history.

It is an enlightening read, and I wish politicians and policy makers would read books like this. If only to widen their imagination and deepen thoughts and debates on possible courses of action on the problem plaguing the world.

Highly recommended.
Pamela
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I respond to utopian thinking the way any other moderately-informed liberal does: "Well, wouldn't that be nice o_O" But the more I read of Bregman's book, the more my resistance melted away. Why aren't we setting our sights higher than adding a dollar to the minimum wage and opposing Trump's wall? Hell, you wanna address unemployment as a result of automation? Why not support a universal basic income and a shorter work week! You'd also take a couple of steps towards gender equality to boot! By t ...more
Bianca
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, non-fiction
The modern creed – or worse, the belief that there’s nothing left to believe in – makes us blind to the shortsightedness and injustice that still surround us every day. To give a few examples: Why have we been working harder and harder since the 1980s despite being richer than ever? Why are millions of people still living in poverty when we are more than rich enough to put an end to it once and for all? And why is more than 60% of your income depends on the country where you just happen to have ...more
Peter
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Really wanted to like this. I'm a big fan of The Correspondent's journalism, and believe that basic income is an important idea whose time might have come. It was certainly interesting to learn more about the history, and the few studies that have been undertaken. Also fascinating to learn more about the history and failings of GDP as a measure.

However the attempts to persuade seemed full of holes and contradictions. One minute the author is complaining about how technological progress has slowe
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Peter Mcloughlin
One of a spate of books to come out on the Basic Income idea to eliminate poverty and mitigate the coming automation economic crisis. I like the idea myself and the author marshalls studies to back up that a basic income would go a long way to reduce poverty. I am not sure that problem of a sense of purpose will be easier to tackle when robots start taking away large sectors of the labor force but it is better than letting people starve and the economy going to crap. the author also tackles the ...more
Cristina
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it.

I'm going to share some of the excerpts I liked.

1. Whether you look at the incidents of depression, burnout, drug abuse, high dropout rates, obesity, unhappy childhoods, low election turnout or social and political distrusts, the evidence points to the same culprit every time - inequality. But hold on -- what should it matter if some people are filthy rich if even those who are very poor are better off than the kings of centuries ago? A lot. Because it’s all about relative poverty. How
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Adrian Hon
A reasonably good summary of the history of universal basic income and the drive to a shorter working week, although if you've read a few long essays on those topics it's unlikely you'll learn much.

Unfortunately the book is spoiled by a few things. Firstly, while I get that it has a point of view that it's conveying (one that I agree with!), I could've done with more opposing arguments, if only to arm myself in future.

Secondly, one of the arguments is for open borders, which the author suggests
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Katia N
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was probably misguided as I thought this book would deal predominantly with the idea of a basic income. Specifically, i was intrested in the arguments pro and against it and, preferably, an analysis how it is possible to implement, the impact of automation and which steps might be taken right now. But this book is much broader in scope, and at the same time, pretty shallow. The book is more about the current state of the world with inequality, too much work for some and no for the others, the ...more
Nancy
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We have lost our vision, Rutger Bregman writes, mired in old paradigms and blind to the possibilities we should be imagining. We could be realizing the world predicted by 20th c thinkers.

Subtitled "How We Can Build The Ideal World," Utopia for Realists is an international best seller, first published in the Netherlands where it ignited a debate and inspired a movement.

Bregman begins by reminding us of how recently life was a "vale of tears," "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," as philoso
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Apemaskin
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read on Utopian thinking, and Basic Income with nice historical context.

The end quote sums up much of the thought, before an inspiring epilogue.

“Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.”

― Eduardo Galeano
Kevin
How far can a Western Social Democrat go? This book reaches (runs into?) its limits…

The Good:
--Top marks for accessibility; engaging writing-style especially for Western audiences, like that of David Graeber and Matt Taibbi.
--Dutch historian Bregman joins Development economist Ha-Joon Chang as leading Social Democrats; highlights from this book:

1) UBI, automation, reducing work, and bullshit jobs: the core of the book, with engaging historical narrative and case studies. Also, useful chapter br
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Hari Ramachandran
I loved this book for many reasons but the one thing that stood out was the fact that it made me alter my world view from pessimistic to hopeful, if not completely optimistic.
The author has proposed some radical ideas but has also provided a lot past research and evidence to support these ideas.
Conor
I ended up really liking this book. It explores a lot of ideas that we reflexively reject, likely because they go against common sense. Ideas like "just give poor people cash" seem not only politically infeasible, but unwise. And sadly, our politics is dictated by soundbites and conventional wisdom, and we wonder why we only dig ourselves deeper into wealth inequality and dissatisfaction with government at all levels.

This book explores concepts like universal basic income, open borders, and cash
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Justine
This book blew me AWAY!!

And I'm really not joking here. It changed my way of thinking: I didn't even know I was thinking this way until Rutger Bregman put his finger on the problem and showed me the way (okay, it sounds preachy told like this, but it's not!)

I wanted to read this book because I wanted to believe there is more to this world than just the actual situation. I live in France, and it's not that glorious, be it personal or national. When I stumbled upon Utopia for Realists, I told my
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Maru Kun
Feb 20, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Great clip here where Rutger Bregman points out that Fox New's Tucker Carlson is "a millionaire funded by billionaires" and as a result gets called a "moron" and told to "f**k off" by Carlson simply for stating the obvious.

Very entertaining and well worth a watch. Strangely Fox News decided not to broadcast the clip but it was leaked anyway.

Historian who confronted Davos billionaires leaks Tucker Carlson rant
Pequete
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookcrossing
A good read full of (not that much) utopian ideas. I had heard about universal income before and found it a bizarre idea, but Bregman provides information on several practical experiments that had me rethinking the whole thing. A shorter work week and changing the way we look at, and compensate different kinds of work are other ideas discussed in the book that already resonated with me before. The book seems well researched, with a long list of references that can be looked up by those who want ...more
Adam
The book of our times, a must read. A few counterintuitive examples (which I like and enjoy) that changed the way I think about work and finance.

n.b: if you take one thing from this book or review let it be this- 'Read the Epilogue'. It's good!

In an ideal world we'd have this utopia (obviously!) but due to the narrowmindedness of low-information voters and their politicians (whom they think are looking out for them! Ha!) it's highly doubtful we'll see UBI succeed, let alone implemented. If it w
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A.
Apr 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm always interested in alternative political and economic theories due to my overwhelming unhappiness with the current state of the world and my own life.
I really felt like this book put forth a lot of ideas in a coherent and meaningful way. You would think that the eradication of poverty is something people can all agree on, but unfortunately that is not the case. I found it interesting how often the book discussed the US even though the author is not American.
Reading this was so pleasant wh
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Rick Kastelein
Zoals veel anderen die de artikellen van Bregman regelmatig lezen, is dit boek helaas een tegenvaller. Dit boek is gewoon een uitgeprinte versie van zijn artikellen. Met grafieken erbij, een mooie inleiding, dat wel, en dan nog wat kleine stukjes die iets meer over het onderwerp zeggen dan de orginele artikellen. Helaas heb ik een groot control copie control paste gevoel bij dit boek, wat ik liever van te voren had willen weten, want Ik had andere verwachtingen van het boek.
Nietemin is wat er ge
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Radiantflux
33rd book for 2017.

With an engaging writing style, Bregman puts forward arguments for three big ideas to guide progressive politics into the future: A basic wage; less, more meaningful work overall; and open borders.

I found the arguments for a basic wage most compelling, with some interesting history (who ever knew that Nixon would have got a basic wage passed in 1968 if not for the damn Democrats!? One has to wonder what would have happened to the US and the rise of Trump had he been successfu
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Madamedupin
An easy read yet provocative and forceful in its arguments - my reactions ranged from Are you sure, That sounds too simple, to Hell yes!
The chapter on homelessness and Universal Basic Income is the one to have gained the most press attention. But I found the section on world developments, immigration and open borders the strongest (I particularly liked the citing of the
Book of Daniel as the first written record of a test with a control group).
Full of fascinating stories and strong ideas, with l
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Bart
Oct 14, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
Dit was een tegenvaller. Met regelmaat las ik Bregman's artikelen in De Correspondent. Gezien zijn ideeën me aanspraken en dit De Correspondents eerste uitgave was las ik dit boek.
Bregman vertelt wederom 'zijn verhaal'. Weer dezelfde voorbeelden, weer dezelfde 'ideeën'. Dat is niet erg maar in een boek verwacht ik een diverser geluid. Weerleg tegenargumenten om je standpunten kracht bij te zetten. Overtuig me met diepgang. Helaas blijft het boek vaak oppervlakkig, weinig doorgrondend en is het
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Tuncer Şengöz
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Stunning book on basic income, lesser working hours (and leisure), poverty and a world with no borders.

I underlines this paragraph: "Sadly, the underdog socialist has forgotten that the story of the left ought to be a narrative of hope and progress... The greatest sin of the academic left is that it has become fundamentally aristocratic, writing in bizarre jargon that makes simple matters dizzyingly complex. If you can't explain your ideal to a fairly intelligent twelve-year-old, after all, it'
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Mikko Saari
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reippaan radikaalia ajattelua. Hyvä kirja, tällaista isosti ajattelemista pitää tehdä. Ovathan nämä jutut vielä sen verran radikaaleja, ettei näistä ihan heti todellisuutta tule, mutta toisaalta nämä ovat myös ideoita, joiden aika voi hyvinkin olla tulossa – sen verran paljon monessa näistä on järkeä.

On hyvä lukea tällaista positiivista ajattelua, jossa nähdään maailman ongelmiin ratkaisuja. Näitä ratkaisuja saa pitää naiiveina, eikä tässä nyt ihan konkreettisia ratkaisuja tule – koska politiikk
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Mehrsa
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Makes a solid case for universal basic income using some recent studies as well as some misunderstood older studies. I think I would recommend Graeber or even Doughnut economics for the theory behind some of the concepts in here, but this is a quick read and a great primer on why we have too many bullshit jobs and why poverty is not a moral failing. I'd say read the others first and then come here, but this is a nice start too. Others to read: Scarcity, David Graeber, Picketty, etc...
tn
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4,5
Tom
Apr 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book came out in an interesting time of a paradigm shift in political perspectives. The general population is increasingly disillusioned by the trickle-down economics in the Reagan era, and pushed into the ideal of equality.

While the book presented many great statistics, evidences, and insights (compiled from many different sources), it presented a few weak arguments. And through the weak argument is where the author's intellectual elitism wafts out of the writing. The author considers hims
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Rutger Bregman is a Dutch historian, author and journalist. He studied at Utrecht University and the University of California, Los Angeles and is known for popularizing topics related to social and economic innovation measures and their history through, among others, universal basic income and shorter work weeks.

Rutger Bregman is a journalist at The Correspondent, and one of Europe's most prominen
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“Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It’s not about stupidity,” stresses” 15 likes
“The great milestones of civilization always have the whiff of utopia about them at first. According to renowned sociologist Albert Hirschman, utopias are initially attacked on three grounds: futility (it’s not possible), danger (the risks are too great), and perversity (it will degenerate into dystopia). But Hirschman also wrote that almost as soon as a utopia becomes a reality, it often comes to be seen as utterly commonplace. Not so very long ago, democracy still seemed a glorious utopia. Many a great mind, from the philosopher Plato (427–347 B.C.) to the statesman Edmund Burke (1729–97), warned that democracy was futile (the masses were too foolish to handle it), dangerous (majority rule would be akin to playing with fire), and perverse (the “general interest” would soon be corrupted by the interests of some crafty general or other). Compare this with the arguments against basic income. It’s supposedly futile because we can’t pay for it, dangerous because people would quit working, and perverse because ultimately a minority would end up having to toil harder to support the majority.” 14 likes
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