The Humans

The Humans

by Matt Haig

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

The Humans by Matt Haig

The bestselling, award-winning author of The Radleys is back with his funniest, most devastating dark comedy yet, a “silly, sad, suspenseful, and soulful” (Philadelphia Inquirer) novel that’s “full of heart” (Entertainment Weekly).

When an extra-terrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor is eager to complete the gruesome task assigned him and hurry home to his own utopian planet, where everyone is omniscient and immortal.

He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, their capacity for murder and war, and is equally baffled by the concepts of love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this strange species than he had thought. Disguised as Martin, he drinks wine, reads poetry, develops an ear for rock music, and a taste for peanut butter. Slowly, unexpectedly, he forges bonds with Martin’s family. He begins to see hope and beauty in the humans’ imperfection, and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Praised by The New York Times as a “novelist of great seriousness and talent,” author Matt Haig delivers an unlikely story about human nature and the joy found in the messiness of life on Earth. The Humans is a funny, compulsively readable tale that playfully and movingly explores the ultimate subject—ourselves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476730592
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/12/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 49,287
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Matt Haig is the bestselling author of several children’s books and novels, including The Radleys, winner of the ALA Alex Award. An alumnus of Hull University and Leeds, his work has been translated into twenty-nine languages. He lives in York with his wife, UK novelist Andrea Semple, and their two children.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Humans includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

On our unnamed alien hero’s home world, Vonnadoria, mathematics has transformed his people, giving them the ability to create a utopian society where knowledge is limitless and immortality attainable. But when Cambridge professor Andrew Martin cracks the Riemann hypothesis, opening a door to the same technology that the alien’s planet possesses, the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who had seen the proof. He struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Martin’s research. But as he takes up the role of Professor Martin in order to blend in with the humans, he begins to see a kind of hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections, and he questions his marching orders. Mathematics or not, he becomes increasingly convinced that Martin’s family deserves to live, forcing him to confront the possibility of forgoing everything he has ever known and become a human.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In the preface, our narrator explains his purpose and asks his people back home to set aside prejudice in the name of understanding. How is this plea to his fictional reader also directed at us, the actual readers? What prejudices must we set aside to understand our alien hero?

2. Our hero’s entrance into human life is . . . rocky, at best. How did his initial impressions of human life—noses, clothes, rain, and Cosmopolitan—shape the rest of his journey? Which of his first disconcerting realizations did you find the most surprising?

3. Starting with the possibility that the purpose of humanity is to “pursue the enlightenment of orgasm,” our hero is constantly seeking the solution to the meaning of human life. What does he eventually conclude, and why? Why does human life provide such a particular problem for a mathematical consciousness?

4. Our narrator muses, “Of course, when viewed afresh, all worlds are strange, but this one must have been strangest of all.” Our narrator’s distinction between things that are simply new, but somewhat logical, and those that are utterly bewildering is one of the novel’s strongest themes. What are the pieces of our world that make the most sense to our narrator, and why?

5. In his life as a human, one of the first bonds the narrator makes will prove to be one of the strongest—with the dog Newton. How does his relationship with Newton ease him into human society? What does that say about humans’ relationships to animals?

6. The Vonnadorians believe that by destroying proof of the Riemann hypothesis, they are saving the cosmos from the ravages of humanity. Do you think humanity would be capable of coexisting peacefully with other space-traveling cultures? Why or why not?

7. The Vonnadorians’ attitude toward the humans is one of scorn and condescension. Different cultures in science fiction stories or movies have different approaches to societies that are less technologically sophisticated than they are—domination or suppression, noninterference, or support are the three main options. Which do you think is right? Why?

8. In his communications with his home world, our narrator is persistently reminded not to think of the humans as individuals but as a collective. Why is this so important to the hosts? What is so dangerous about thinking of humans as individuals? What does this emphasis say about Vonnadorian culture?

9. Throughout the novel, our narrator encounters many different definitions of love. Which of these definitions spoke to you the most? Why? Why is love such a difficult, particularly human, puzzle?

10. The Vonnadorians understand the world through mathematics—think of our narrator’s quest to be strong, “like a prime.” What is the equivalent to mathematics in our own world? Is there one? Why or why not?

11. The narrator’s evolving relationship to Martin’s family is one of the most powerful parts of the novel. How do Isobel and Gulliver help to redeem the human race in the narrator’s view? What unexpected pleasures and joys does being part of a family provide, and how does this help the narrator to understand humanity?

12. Isobel, and especially Gulliver, learn a lot from the new Andrew Martin. How does his outsider’s perspective help them see things in a new way and change their lives for the better?

13. The narrator thinks about kissing: “Like so many human things, it made no sense. Or maybe, if you tried it, the logic would unfold.” What does this say about the role of the emotional, the inexplicable, or the ineffable in human behavior? What about the relationship between emotional behavior and logical behavior?

14. The conversation the narrator has with the hosts at the end of the chapter “I Was a Wasn’t” provides perhaps the central analysis of why humans are so complicated in the novel. Reread that section and discuss. Do you agree that humans are alienated from their true selves? What does this explain (or not) about the human capacity for violence?

15. The narrator’s gradual understanding of humanity includes his appreciation for Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the music of Debussy and the Beach Boys, and peanut butter—but also includes his negotiation of humanity’s darker side, full of violence and shame. How are these two sides of humanity linked in the narrator’s mind? Can you have one without the other?

16. Why does the narrator choose to forgo immortality and mathematical perfection to become a human. Would you have done the same in his stead? Do you agree with his assertion that his world, his heaven, was ultimately empty?

17. The way that the narrator chooses to live his life as a human says a lot about what he values about humanity. What lessons do you take from his attitude toward his finite amount of time on Earth?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. One of the novel’s final chapters is entitled “Advice for a Human” and takes the form of a list the narrator writes for Gulliver. What advice would you give Gulliver? Write down ten to fifteen ideas to share with your group. Are the things you listed things you do in your own life or things you aspire to? How similar or dissimilar to “Advice for a Human” are your choices?

2. The theme of an alien as a fish out of water on Earth crops up throughout science fiction. Watch a classic film with you group that explores the same issue, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Brother from Another Planet, District 9, E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, and Starman. What does the film you chose say about humanity? How does it resonate, or not, with the themes of The Humans?

3. He’s got some strange ideas, but the narrator sure has it right when it comes to the good parts of being a human. Make some peanut butter sandwiches and tea, and pour some Australian wine to share with your group.

Customer Reviews

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The Humans: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
While reading The Humans, I'm sure I'm not the only one who was reminded of the television series 3rd Rock from the Sun, and at one point, of the ST:TNG episode Encounter at Farpoint. There's a bit of The Doctor in our alien protagonist as well. But don't be fooled into thinking this novel is some sort of knock-off: the execution is fabulously unique. Matt Haig takes us on a brilliant and imaginative journey through the human experience, the best and the worst. With short, easy-to-devour chapters bearing titles such as Detached Nouns and Other Early Trials for the Language Learner and The Melancholy Beauty of the Setting Sun, I raced through this book. I could not wait to read more, but I didn't want to miss a thing. And may I just say, I am completely jealous that the Vonnadorians can consume books in capsule form! Seriously?! I can't rave about this book enough. It's thoughtful. Wise. Funny. Tender. Uplifting. Thrilling (there was an awesome unexpected twist!). I was hanging on every word, each moment for its own reason, all the way to the very end. The Humans swept me away; it is by far my new favorite read of 2013.  I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Awesome premise, poor execution. I loved the first several chapters but things just went way downhill after that -- plots and conversations seemed contrived and I never fully connected with the main character. The only thing "sci-fi" about this book is that the main character is an alien. I'm "glad" I only spent two bucks on the ebook (it was a flash sale) since the story turned out to be such a disappointment and I abandoned the book halfway through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The first couple of chapters were humorous, then the rest of the book became serious and just another story. Reading about prime numbers was boring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this funny and thought-provoking book and would highly recommend it. This book has a place on my all-time top 10 list.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Sometimes humerous, sometimes sad. I became invested in the 3 main charectors. So, if the ending had been better, I would have liked it much more.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Matt Haig is my new fav!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could have been a bit more daring but, then again, it's British. Can an alien be a better father, husband, dog owner and teacher than the man he replaces? Pathos, humor and hints of Douglas Addams. Enjoyed it, mostly, but wasn't seriously impressed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ceceWA More than 1 year ago
Loved this book and the narrator's view of humans. It was humorous, enlightening and engaging.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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carlosmock More than 1 year ago
The Humans by Matt Haig A Vannedorian is sent to earth to stop human advance. Professor Andrew Martin has solved The Riemann Hypothesis -- the theory of prime numbers -- and Vannadorians feel Humans are not ready for the technological advance. The Vannadorian kills and inhabits Andrew's body. His mission is to destroy all evidence that Andrew had solved the mathematical problem. However, the alien soon finds himself learning more about the professor, his family, and “the humans” than he ever expected. When he begins to fall for Andrew's own wife and son -- who have no idea he’s not the real Andrew -- the alien must choose between completing his mission and returning home or finding a new home right here on Earth. Narrated from the first person point of view, the book reads like a journal. In Vannadoria "No one dies. There is no pain. Everything is beautiful. The only religion is mathematics. There are no families. There are the hosts -- they give instructions -- and there is everyone else. The advancement of mathematics and the security of the universe are the two concerns. There is no hatred. There are no fathers and sons. There is no clear line between biology and technology. Everything is violet." p. 258 So how does an advanced species react to humans? Our alien falls in love. "That's what starts to happen, when you know it is possible for you to feel pain you have no control over. You become vulnerable. Because the possibility of pain is where love stems from." p. 159. "Love is what humans are all about but they don't understand it...Love is scary because it pulls you with an intense force, a supermassive black hole, which looks like nothing from the outside but from the inside challenges every reasonable thing you know. You lose yourself, like I lost myself, in the warmest of annihilations. it makes you do stupid things -- things that defy all logic. The opting for anguish over calm, for mortality over eternity, and for Earth over home." p. 187. This is a beautiful metaphor for what makes us humans. Hope is there for all of us because we love. Only an alien can validate our civilization -- especially in today's America where there is so much despair. The characters are alive and come out of the page. I fell in love with them -- and with the alien's dilemma. The prose is poetic. I truly loved the book and I recommend it highly!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fun, light book and an easy read that nevertheless captures some of the challenges and wonders of being human. Certainly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A weird litte book that startsslow but stick with it. It is worth it though maybe too sappy and sentimental for some. The story is told from an Alien's point of view but it is all about being human. I highly recomend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
an amazing book that really changed my perspective about the world and human race itself, i extremely enjoyed this book and have already recommended it to so many friends and peers. a must read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looking at human life from the point of view of an alien, sometimes hilarious, sometimes made me wince. Somewhat illogical ending but overall a good sweet story.
loritatarsmith More than 1 year ago
"The Humans" is an astonishing and unique novel on what it means to be human. The story is told in the first-person narrative through the eyes of an alien who, after first looking at people with scorn but gradually experiencing and witnessing positive attributes of people, chooses to join humanity. The plot is entirely character-driven. You don't have to be a sci-fi lover to love this book. The author, Matt Haig, plumbs the depths of human-ness, the good, the bad and the ugly, with a tremendous amount of insight and compassion. It earns a solid five out of five star rating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book as told through the eyes of an alien having a human experience. I frequently laughed out loud while reading it. While much of the book is very funny, it is not without depth, heart or longing, and the final chapters do turn a bit more somber and reflective. But, it is overall uplifting. I found myself talking to anyone who would listen about this book.
kydirtgirl68 More than 1 year ago
An Alien is sent to Earth to take the place of Andrew Martin a professor that has solved Riemann's hypothesis. It seems like no big thing to humans but to the aliens they know it is the first step in humans discovering their world and about them. The alien has to find the answer and destroy it. He knows all about humans how they have let war, disease and more ruin their lives. What he learns is there is so much more to these humans and what it is like to be one. The author has written this book in a way that gives it a spin unlike other books you may read. The alien who is a clone for Andrew Martin is detailing you what he is going through on his search. He has to act human to find where the professor has put the answer. You get to see what we would look and act like to an alien. He has several hard times as he doesn't understand us as you see from the start he provides a few laughs as he gets to understand what we are. He learns to bond with Andrew's teenage son and wife and in a way fixes personnel problems the professor has. This book isn't the usual alien book but one that you will either love or hate. I really enjoyed it as the author has a wonderful way with words.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It was funny, sad, inspirational, thought provoking, alien and human. It is on my favorites list. Thank you Mr. Haig.