The Humans – by Matt Haig

23 07 2017

Last year I read Reasons to stay alive, and can confidently say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. That book was non-fiction, but Matt Haig has mostly written fiction, which is also raved about and so I asked for The Humans for my birthday this year.

I’ve tried to explain the premise to a few people, and haven’t done very well so here goes nothing: One day, Andrew Martin manages to prove the Riemann Hypothesis and some aliens on another planet, believing that this is a threat to the cosmos, send one of their kind down to earth to destroy this man and anyone else he might have told. Cheery so far, right? So this alien goes down, Andrew is destroyed and the alien takes on the form of Andrew Martin, and seeks to determine what his wife and son know, and who else Andrew might have told, with the intent of destroying all who are aware so that this never gets out.

But in a way, that’s not the point of the book. This is a creature experiencing humans for the first time. He’s learnt about them in theory, but in practice there seems to be a lot more to them, and he’s keen to spend a bit longer working this out before completing his mission. It’s a reflection on us as creatures, which in some places makes you think, and in others is downright hilarious!

As is often the case with this sort of book, I ended up folding down a lot of page corners, and so some of my favourite quotes are below:

  • “It was comforting to know that even in the most remote corner of the universe the laws of sound and light obeyed themselves, although it has to be said they seemed a little more lacklustre here.”
  • “They placed me inside a small room that was, in perfect accord with all human rooms, a shrine to the rectangle.”
  • “Indeed, it is mathematics itself which is the bedrock of civilisation.”
  • “If God exists then what is He but a mathematician?”
  • “A prime number is strong. It does not depend on others.”
  • “I don’t have a name. Names are a symptom of a species which values the individual self above the collective good.”
  • “It was then that I realised the one thing worse than having a dog hate you is having a dog love you.”
  • “Listening to music, I realised, was simply the pleasure of counting without realising you were counting.”
  • “I was still ‘recovering’, you see. Recover. The most human of words, the implication being that healthy normal life is covering something.”
  • “Our beautiful, warless world, where I could be entranced by the purest mathematics for all eternity.”
  • “Overall, the sensation I was feeling was one of conscious decay. In short, I felt human.”
  • “Mornings were hard on Earth. You woke up tireder than when you went to sleep.”
  • “She knew one day her husband would die and yet she still dared to love him. That was an amazing thing.”
  • “Crossing [the road] at an angle that tried to balance the concealment of fear with rapid avoidance – that angle being, as it was everywhere in the universe, 48 degrees away from the straight line on which we had been travelling.”
  • “Whatever it is, you’re becoming a man of honour. And that’s rare for mathematicians.”
  • “The ‘pub’ was an invention of humans living in England, designed as a compensation for the fact that they were humans living in England. I rather liked the place.”
  • I wanted to put the whole preface down but realised that might be bordering on copyright infringement so I’ll let you find that for yourselves in a shop or library!

    There is also a chapter called “Advice for a human”, but given that that contains 97 points I’ll again leave that for you to discover yourself!

    (If it wasn’t clear from the above – I thought this book was brilliant and already have a list of people I want to lend it to!)