We’ve all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, “What is the world coming to?” But we seldom ask, “How bad was the world in the past?” In this startling new book, the best-selling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.
Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the genocides in the Old Testament and crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals; the nonchalant treatment in popular culture of wife-beating, child abuse, and the extermination of native peoples. Now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified.
With the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps, Pinker presents some astonishing numbers. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then suddenly were targeted for abolition. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, battering, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse, cruelty to animals — all substantially down.How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? What led people to stop sacrificing children, stabbing each other at the dinner table, or burning cats and disemboweling criminals as forms of popular entertainment? Was it reading novels, cultivating table manners, fearing the police, or turning their energies to making money? Should the nuclear bomb get the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing World War III? Does rock and roll deserve the blame for the doubling of violence in the 1960s — and abortion deserve credit for the reversal in the 1990s?
Not exactly, Pinker argues. The key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence (such as revenge, sadism, and tribalism) and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.
With the panache and intellectual zeal that have made his earlier books international best sellers and literary classics, Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.
©2011 Steven Pinker (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Stephen Pinker meticulously presents convincing evidence that violence has progressively and systematically declined throughout human history. He carefully addresses multiple categories of human violence and illustrates his thesis with meticulously researched statistics. Pinker also puts forth explanations for the observed reduction in the violent nature of human society. This book is an antidote to the pessimism and sensationalism of the media. It is an uplifting look at how far our species has evolved. This is one of the best books I have read. It is hard work but well worth the effort.
I wanted to be uplifted by this book, but it had a weird effect of being quite depressing- the author spent a lot of time describing medieval torture and "justice" techniques (in order to prove things are getting better)...but it was so harrowing I couldn't listen to it. Ditto to the chapter on the treatment of animals, I listened for five minutes and then thought that I dont need those images cluttering up my mind. The reading is quite good, but a little on the monotone end. In general it was quite dull - long discussions (cogently argued) about how life was much tougher and more violent in the past - I found the argument convincing, but a bit of an overkill. I think I was hampered by the slightly monotone delivery of the reader, as much as by the confronting nature of some of the material.
My feeling is that this is a book you should buy and read in print. That way you could skim over the harrowing bits (if you are squeamish) and really concentrate your attention on the bits of information or argument that were useful to you. I do NOT recommend you buy this to listen to while driving, when you may not have the option of making it stop before you become distressed - or drive off the road.
Yes, as there is so much to learn about ourselves as humans and the result is so hopeful.
There were so many, almost every study described was an enlightenment.
His voice and diction.
Civilization comes to middle-age and maturity.
Pinker's analysis of the state of violence in society is thorough. Every time I had a "but what about such-and-such!" moment, he would counter my protest at some point in the book, leaving me, for the most part, satisfied with the completeness of his analysis. His tone is convincing but not biased; often I felt as though I was not sure which "side" he was on as he earnestly tried to report the facts and flaws of each argument and analysis. He takes you on a journey through the history of human violence and leads you gracefully to some possible answers to a very important question (perhaps the most important question); why has violence declined and how can we keep it low or even lower? After reading the book, I was left with a feeling of hope and optimism that has stuck with me as well as a better understanding of what policies I can support to help reduce violence in my community.
Say something about yourself!
I enjoyed this listen, but must say it was a bit long. It covers a wide range of topics, so some parts are not as interesting to everyone as others. In my case, discussions on how the various parts of the brain function were of cursory interest.
This book changed my thinking about Mankind in some ways. Maybe we are actually getting "better" after all. However, as the author points out, most of the genocide in the 20th century can be attributed to three men - Mao, Stalin and Hitler.
There are some very entertaining intervals among the heaps of statistics dished out. I almost had to pull my car over when I was listening to a lengthy citation of proper manners in Medieval Europe. We've obviously come a long way since then.
This book shows just how far we have come. In general we are far better off than in "the good old days" that so many long to return to. It also shows why we have good reason to be optimistic. All this is done by presenting the facts in easily understood language. The occasional in depth scientific explanation is worth enduring to better understand the arguments.
The performance by Arthur Morey was excellent.
Good Question-it is long but after it was over I was convinced.
I enjoyed all the war and historical information.. I received a lot of important information that I may have learned many years ago. The perspective he presented it in was informative.
I have an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a Master's Degree in Professional Writing from Maharishi University of Management, am author of THE RELUCTANT VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK, and am an avid reader/listener.
Warning: the first section of this book is so gory that it will probably leave you with a lingering horror. The value of wading through it is that it graphically, immediately, assures you all the way to your gut that life is better now. This is, in fact, one reason for reading this book, because it "proves" that violence is indeed decreasing.
In quality, this is one of the most well-researched books I've ever read, and I loved it at times for the fact that it brought up issues from angles I had not considered. I gave it four stars however only because I believe it is not a book for all readers. As much as I love research, it is at times too dense to hold the attention. But I certainly admire the writer for what to me seemed like brilliant writing for a non-fiction book.
Steven Pinker deeply understands his subject matter and is brilliant in conveying it. Fascinating to realize that the world is becoming a less and less violent place - just the opposite of what is shown on tv news..
In his effort to be thorough and completely examine and explain his subject, Pinker is, at times, overly long, and that contributes to the overall length book. Never tedious, Pinker is exactingly and exhaustively thorough.
"A Magnum Opus in every sense!"
For such a long book, it never gets boring. I was fascinated from start to finish. Pinker has certainly done his research, and the book is packed with references to current research. His analysis of human violence is comprehensive, covering history, philosophy, neuropsychology, evolutionary biology, genetics, social theory, religious beliefs, child rearing practices, theories on the origins of war, demographic correlates of violence and much more on the demons and angels of our nature.
Contrary to what we might think, he argues convincingly that we are getting more humane. No more do we burn cats (or heretics) alive for entertainment. No more do we torture people to death, or subject children to cruel and unusual punishments and even though our weapons of war are deadlier than ever, every life lost - even our enemies, becomes a source of regret.
The book holds several surprises: that literature may be a cause of our greater tolerance of others, that empathy has a dark side in favouritism, that "mirror neurones" do not necessarily make us more humane, that the Flynn effect (increasing IQ) may also be contributing to our capacity for compassion, that the era of "Flower Power" bucked the downward trend with a sharp increase in crime and violence.
We will never be without violence, but for anyone who despairs at the modern world, there is much hope to be found here. It would seem that the angels of empathy, reason, self-control, prudence, fairness, ethical norms, and human rights are slowly winning out against the demons of instrumental violence, sadism, revenge, rage and ideology.
This is such a great book!
"Reasons to be happy"
Such a wonderful, positive, book. History is not just one damn thing after another; with SP as your guide you can see it as a systematic journey from us being animals to us being (more or less) civilised. Pinker is such an academic that he never gets round to throwing his hat in the air and crowing about how great it is that there are actually reasons to be optimistic and to hope (against the pounding of the 24/7 TV news) that human moral thinking is developing alongside our visible technologies. Still, he does admit that it is p o s s i b l e we are not going to hell in a hand basket, as I previously thought. Bravo Steven!
For such a big book and a complex subject it is never boring. I have both read the book and listened to it and I recommend it to anyone. Its optimistic premise basically is we are all becoming nicer, It is impossible to sumarise his arguments are cogent and very believable. I know he is right. I grew up in Dublin and i am 45 but in my short life I have seen the realization of civil rights, women,s rights, gay right, children's right and even animal rights.
This book gives a history of our journey to them. it is wonderful.
"Truly a masterpiece"
I'm a great fan of Steven Pinker, so I started with a favourable opinion. This one doesn't quite match up to The Blank Slate, but comes close. The subject matter - that the human race is getting progressive less violent - is counter-intuitive, but Pinker's case is made relentlessly, logically and empirically. I was completely convinced. It's dauntingly long and I don't think I would have got through the book, but listening to it worked really well.
"Fascinating, surprising and at times horrific."
It's definitely up there with the best. Very thought provoking, and life-affirming.
This was a non-fiction publication, and thus there were no characters.
This was a non-fiction publication, and thus there were no characters.
It gives one hope that we're actually making progress as a race.
Not for the faint hearted - some grim details, and it takes effort, but that effort is very well rewarded.
"Why we should be happy we're alive today!"
This book is an in-depth assessment of violence, and presents the evidence for the decline in violence, and despite that, makes for a really positive, uplifting read!
Although the narrator is sometimes a little 'one-note', it is due to the fact that this is an unabridged version offering every list (for example, of wars) that the book has. There are some amusing parts to the book which I think the narrator covers well.
It's annoying not being able to highlight facts or parts which I found especially interesting, but it's really good to be able to be absorbed in something so complex, challenging and satisfying without having to carry around a book which weighs more than I do.
I'm so glad we no longer set cats on fire for entertainment, relish public torture like crucifixion, or believe that children must be beaten until they bleed daily. This book has cheered me up every day to think of how far we have come!
It is human nature to believe the past was better. This book is highly educational and provides oddles of evidence that the present is better than the past and there is hope for the future!
"This book should be required reading for as all."
One of the most interesting and fascinating books I have ever read.
This book challenges the nostalgic view of past events and the unfolding of human history, in scientific and rigorous way. life now is better than it's ever been and ideas about some lost golden age are fantasy and nothing more.
The book is superbly written and the narration is excellent.
This is one of the best audio books I've read so far.
Promised persuasion but beaten round the head with specious, agenda-laden, cherry-picked factoids - that was bad enough. What was worse though, was that I simply cannot buy into one of his primary theses: that capitalism is a zero-sum game. Sorry, no can do.
Being guided by the principle that 'less is more' may have helped - there is an interesting book to be written on this subject; and paring down the personal/political agenda.
The revisionist, US-centric trot through the 1960s was both a hoot, and alarming.
It was so boring couldnt finirsh it
He went on and on i lile history but not the book
Keeping to one topic
I made a mistake haveing the book i love listening to audible i have a few books eveary month my fault chooseing that book not yours
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