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.
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.
The book provides a historical context to balance headline news accounts that too often emphasize the negative and the sensational. I would like to think that humans might be becoming at least generally less lethal to one another and the book provides reasons to think so. I purchased hard copies for family members who I thought would enjoy the arguments for progress that the author presents.
Arthur Morey is likely a fine narrator, but I played the audio book at high speed because of the length of the book.
The best sellers page on this site makes me very sad.
I simply cannot recommend this book enough. Objective, intelligent, scientific, and human. With a cool and steady narrative hand, Pinker accomplishes what Dawkins, whose fire is often his flaw, cannot. Necessary reading for all humans.
Change your perceptions.
Pinker wove a powerful history together that shatters the perception that violence is increasing. He also carefully explores what factors lead to violence giving an optimistic view of what has and still can be accomplished to achieve peace. Although you have to commit to a book like this it will be rewarded. There are few new ideas out there and most books tend to add a little new research and reuse and repackage what we have already heard. This book is a bold, fresh, well written and read masterpiece that will not only present a new way of looking at the world, but will make it your new way of looking at the world.
The topic is quite interesting and this is a good book for someone who is a scholar of this subject. There are lots of statistics and research cited. I found it interesting to know that people track these stats. However, it was way more depth than I wanted to know. I would have appreciated an abridged version. I got the info I wanted to know from the preface and summary chapter at the end. I skipped through the book to listen to segments I had a special interest in. Turns out I knew more about this subject than I thought I did before I listened to this book.
Much of the information of this book is readily available via other sources. People who seriously study historical trends will probably not be shocked by Pinker's conclusions. That being said he has done a great job in gathering the information together in a single volume and presented it in original and dramatic style.
Our view of the world is based on the information we are given. If we are told, over and over again, that we live in a violent and terrible world, then we tend to believe it at face value. But to try and objectively determine how violent our world is, as shown in this book, is a big problem, but not an impossible one.
The decline of violence is one of the long historical trends in the history of man. But since humans live such pitifully short lives they are condemned not to see it or fully appreciate it.
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