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.
Pinker's take on the reduction of violence, backed up with a good statistical backing, is heartening. Understanding the history of violence lets us better interpret the new we receive about the world around us.
Thirty-six hours of fixed attention became a meditation that laid out the world I live in and who the liberal I am is. I am more ready than ever to live it.
Gotta say I have been trying to get through this book for some time, am glad I finished it. Has been tough going with all the horrific details of past practices. Don't know which is more amazing the attitudes of the past or the present. Despite the liberal bend it is pretty well balanced and an incredible history lesson of stuff you didn't learn in school. Agree with other reviewers this is most important trend regarding human kind that you never heard of! A must listen for anyone interested in history, sociology, criminal science, etc. Great narration!
Learned a lot but perhaps also too many anecdotes, so I should have had the abridge version.
The book had some good and interesting information, but it was way too long and had too many statistics.
I would have condensed it.
Basic, ok, adequate.
I had to break up the book by listening to about 3 hours and then switching books for a while before going back to it. Many times I considered not finishing it.
Steven Pinker provides great insights backed with data. The points are well structured and argued. The book is written in a very easy to understand language - no surprise that it comes from an expert in language. Arthur Morey's narration of the book makes the book come alive in the minds of the reader.
Because it was presented in a manner that made listening to the telling of events that still leave questions in my mind an enjoyable experience. The most interesting thing I learned is that though cataclysmic events in recent history are not comparable to those in early human history.
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.
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