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.
Road warrior, love listening ~ love learning
I have made the mistake of writing this review a considerable period of time from completing the listen. The audible had considerable information to share and was entertaining at times, however I couldn't help anticipating the completion and moving on. I believe this is a listen that one is able to spend a considerable amount of time and listens to in order to garner all that it has to offer. It is more of an encyclopedia listen than an engaging, cliff hanging experience. I am considerably wiser and garnered a number of stories that will suit fine for wine party discussion. I will refer back to this at times for pieces I have missed or was unable to digest at that time. The book may benefit from an abridged version. If you like a little pain with your pay-off, then enjoy.
Appreciated the historical perspective. The statistical analysis was a bit heavy. Would recommend to those who have the time to devote to this controversial view of the decline of violence. I learned!
Relax, have a homebrew
This was an j treating review if human behavior. Our baseline acceptance of violence has plummeted, to our great benefit. Sometimes too many descriptions of past evils, but I suppose that is part of the point.
The length of this book may appear daunting, but the content and accessibility of that content is excellent. The rate of reduced violence over human history is remarkable, and the author does a tremendous job of exploring the correlation and causality of the forces driving down violence. I recognize that not everyone will choose to read this book, however I strongly recommend it to everyone none the less.
This book puts into perspective, with undeniable evidence, how the modern era is essentially the most peaceful era in all of human existence and how it came to be this way. Anyone who considers themselves as an activist for human rights will not only gain insight into what the fight is all about, but also empowerment in knowing that all efforts are not in vain, not in the least bit!
As lengthy as it is, the book stays consistently interesting and accessible to the Everyman. While there are large portions of the book that make references to scholarly material, there are no points in wish it leaves the reader behind and in the dark, and instead holds a helpful hand throughout its entirety.
Eye opening. Life changing. Perspective shifting. Philosophically vindicating. Worth every penny and every minute spent. Even more useful with multiple reads! Surely a classic in the pantheon of essential non-fiction.
I love to read about other people's lives for ideas and inspiration
This book spends a lot of time describing the gruesome methods people once used to torture and kill each other and lists uncommonly known wars and genocides, very thoroughly detailed with numbers of casualties. All this has the aim to show that things are better now, by comparison. For all the gore, it is not easy to listen to this book before falling asleep or while eating. There is not a lot of in-depth detail to explain why things have improved. It is presented as, with the increase in human intelligence, barbaric acts fall out of fashion. One example is the Salem witch trials. People became smarter and the idea that a witch was responsible for a natural phenomenon was seen as ludicrous and so the witch trials end.
For me, the most interesting part of the book was the explanation of how people go along with ideas to not rock the boat and even get approval, even when they are complicit in acts they would not do alone. Genocide is explained this way - where one population goes along with the annihilation of another, even though they do not agree that it is right. Many smaller experiments are presented to show this on smaller scales - like the shock experiment where the shocker is encouraged to press buttons of increasing voltage to shock another person who is screaming.
This book puts the news reports of school massacres, suicide bombings, drone strikes and massive military spending into a new light, by showing how far we have come.
I would like the massive amount of data re: deaths due to war, torture, capital punishment to be more animated, as a way to shake things up. Maybe use a different voice for this? it just droned on and on.
Men's testosterone levels decrease when they marry and when they have children.
In a world where people seem more and more likely to never let their children play outside by themselves or make their own way to school, in a world where people seem less and less likely to take responsibility for any part of their lives and not want to sign their names to requests they make, all this may just "seem" to be the way it is. The numbers in this book certainly show that things are only getting better, that we are more tolerant of others and more respectful of human and animal rights. Steven Pinker points out that, if 9/11 had happened in the more distance past, it would have triggered immediate retaliation and civic unrest, when in fact, the immediate response was almost completely non-violent.
Great data, shows why gun control advocates are nothing more than alarmist. The book suffers by trying to equate liberalism with intelligence and an evolved society.
This audiobook is wonderful! Not only is the book's content riveting, the performance of the reader, Arthur Morey, was superb as well. Listening to this book has given me a new perspective from which to view the progress of humanity towards a hopefully ever-brighter future.
On so levels, for so many reasons, you'll never think the same way again. Fair, unbiased, thought provoking and inspirational, you won't forget it...ever.
Always more than meets the eye.
The some of the main meanings of life
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I'm fascinated with the subject and with Steven Pinker's analysis, but I could not finish this book. The 36+ hour run time was intimidating, but I took a run at it. Pinker spent so much time describing the monsters we once were that I had to unplug from the book. It was becoming a depression trigger.
I have an abundance of respect for the author and his topic, but he could have been a wee bit more concise.
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