While I like Steven Pinker's thesis and I agree that violence has gone down over time, I do not agree with a lot of his causation and some of his fact collection. The irony is that he put down Cultural Anthropology in chapter 1, yet this very thing could have saved him from fact errors. This Judeo Eurocentrism hurts his thesis, though it need not to. (His gaffe where he said "Muslim countries"... is an example of Judeo-Christian Ethnocentrcism. There are followers of Islam in the US and they aren't all violent.) Since I collected 20+ such errors, I will give a specific example of where looking outside of Western culture should have given him clues to real causations.
For example, he attributes the civil rights movements to the invention of the printing press, making works more available to the public. First off, Gutenberg did not invent the printing press anymore than Edison invented the light bulb or Bell wholly invented the telephone by himself--that is an easy fact to look up. Gutenberg invented adjustable brackets. Chinese invented the printing press and wood block printing, Koreans invented movable type (In the form of clay). Scholars in both countries for a long time were encouraged to learn to read and write. South Korean enjoyed a higher literacy rate than the US for longer at 99%. Yet, despite having both a printing press and a high literacy rate since the 1443 (which was when hangeul was invented), torture was still in place for a long time. And despite having a democracy, there are still some civil liberties that are currently not in place in South Korea. (which one would get from reading outside of the Western world. In which case, I would say the change in subsistence pattern and putting civil liberties into that of the state instead of the individual, would be the correct assumption--but such things take time because industrialization is a hard thing to handle and catch up with. Again, anthropology would help here.) I would propose instead of literacy rate or the printing press, it was freedom of speech that helped the civil rights movements in Britain, the United States, South Korea and Japan. This would account for the loss of civil liberties in such countries as North Korea in current times, despite the high literacy rate (99% literacy rate, BTW.), printing press and the potential for democracy. (Also accounts for Rome, Athens, Sparta and other city-states in Greece who were democratic and certainly literate with often extensive records.) It's the first amendment and something that at least *my* high school history classes covered extensively as one of the leading factors to civil change. It was the first civil liberty fought for. If one gets killed for speaking out, then the ability to speak to a larger audience becomes inconsequential and it won't reach anyone, especially if the government is regulating it. You can see this with the advent of using Twitter and Facebook to liberate Egypt and other parts of Africa--it's more the ability to speak out, organize and publish without the government looking over ones shoulder that causes civil change.
It's the little dropping of inaccurate facts that frustrated me--such as Witchcraft died because of the "Age of Reason" which is really unreasonable--it's Neolocal communities that do not have witchcraft beliefs. Many mobile forager groups do not have witchcraft beliefs and it is not to the degree that it was in Europe--with a little research he could have found that. (Éva Pócs' paper on witches, you find that out in undergraduate Anthropology class, Magic Witchcraft and Religion) In addition, early advances in science, like it or not were often tied to religion and following religion. Wallace, Darwin, Issac Newton and Linnaeus pursued science as a kind of devotion to Christianity. It's convenient for many people to skim over this in contemporary times since the division between religion and science became a strict line in around the 1930's. (I point this out, though I'm neither religious, nor a Christian.)
For these errors I knock off two stars because while his thesis is really good, it makes me cringe to hear so many inaccuracies. I hope that in the future, he reads outside of Europe--it's difficult, but not that hard given the way we are more and more connected to other countries and peoples--which I would attribute to the new civil liberties movements and the more liberal thinking minds of the younger generation. It's harder to say you hate all Z's if you happen to be acquainted with someone or someone of someone who is a Z and you didn't know it.
BTW, Japanese are perfectly civilized with picking up their soup bowls and drinking the broth while slurping (Move Tampopo.) And contrary to popular belief, there are civil rights movements for women and other groups. I find Japan very civilized with its manners and rules of conduct.
I should note I have the same issues with the Language Instinct... only examine outside of English and mostly Indo-European languages when it was convenient to support the thesis, rather than read and examine other languages completely outside of that scope and use it to fact check the base thesis.
The performance, however, is excellent, so I gave that 5 stars... giving this audiobook overall 4 stars.
The studies, themselves, were pretty good and interesting. However, the writing itself got a little repetitive, going over the points over and over again. I also disliked the spreading out of the lead story of each chapter, structurally.
The facts presented were a bit reductive. Both Habit and Culture are a bit more complex than presented. I guess for a layman, the book is good, but for someone looking to delve into the subject of habit as a psychological function then it falls short.
What the book actually does is explain habit to a layman and a bit about what makes them form, and so on. It's not self-help. It is not highly academic. In trying to make it simpler it does make a few minor factual errors. Culture is not a series of habits. And Habit is more complex than just culture. Separate things.
For that, I removed two stars. I liked the reading a lot though. It was very well done and pleasant to listen to.
It warms up after that. I personally, think one could dump most of the first part and still enjoy the book. There is a lot of exposition and no action, which would probably turn away today's readers who live in the computer age. (You may need the first part about the plantation and meeting the main protagonist... but skipping ahead after that doesn't lose much.) Most of the information is repeated later on and the plan isn't so important since it changes so often.
Beyond that, the characters are enjoyable and if you do manage to get through the first part, the world building gets tighter and the magic system starts getting used rather than being explained. The action definitely picks up with each part. I also like Sazed's discussion of religion and found him more vibrant as a character than any of the other characters. This is also not just a typical Medieval Fantasy since it seems to pull form various cultures, rather than the European one that people know through Tolkien, which makes it a bit more unique.
The weight of what each of the plot points could mean wasn't explored fully, which kind of made me more disappointed when they were turned away in favor of making a plot twist instead. For example, there were several good ideas to start, but instead of exploring the moral implications more deeply, the plot would turn it into a plot twist instead. I'm more of the type that likes to read the full weight of the idea and then get the plot twist from that, rather than a twisting of the original idea.
I also kind of saw the character deaths miles ahead... so it wasn't as shocking, but then I kind of like the shocking character deaths. So that may be a personal thing.
I am pickier than most others, so I think for the average reader they'd really like this book after skipping the first part.
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