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.
Guns, Germs and Steel, Before the Dawn and even Das Kapital (no endorsement implied) for panoramic views of human history.
Big data meets big history with a surprisingly hopeful conclusion.
A good thing about the print edition is the pictures and charts. But the audio edition is excellent nonetheless.
Well, there aren't exactly characters in this book. But I think Yahweh (God) with his genocidal spree, and Lancelot with his killing spree, deserve to be mentioned.
His voice is very clear and sober. He sounds like an experienced scholar. It matches the style of the book very well.
I got some: there is no pattern in the temporal distribution of wars; every single form of human killing has systematically decreased (although we can't guarantee that for the future); economic relationships, democracy and information access were fundamental to decrease violence in the past and still are.
This book is really long, but it is worth every minute! Pinker explores many interesting topics to approach violence. As a scientist, he not only provides the evidence but also criticises his own conclusions. And, to top it all off, he provides great references for further reading.
This book loving depicts every horrible torture and sadistic punishment in the history of humanity. The author does mention how nice it is that we do not approve of these things today. However he then goes on to depict these horrors in great detail -- hour after hour. He is clearly fixated on all the ways we can torture people to death and takes great pains to describe every detail. He wastes little time in explaining how these tortures fell out of fashion. I finally just turned it off and deleted it. Only a sadist would like this book
The narrator was amazing. He happened to be the only thing that was fully credible and delivered on promises in this book though. The main issue with the book was that it wasn't what it said it was. It wasn't an exploration on why the world has gotten less violent, per se. Sure there were great pieces of information strewn about. But mostly, it was PEDESTRIAN and served as the author's soapbox for pushing political viewpoints.
No. If the author had stuck to writing the first section and the last section (promises; conclusions) the reader would have saved 28 hours of their lives and gotten the gist of the book. Unfortunately, just as you thought Pinker was going to change your mind and have you thinking with his vision, he smacks you in the face with some one sentence "definitive proof" statement that was a lightly veiled progressive talking point.
This book had real potential. Mr. Pinker researched it well, but it could have been done in a third of the pages/time and it was difficult to share his "logical" conclusions, because they were ANYTHING BUT LOGICAL.
One of the best narrators, well researched, but if you don't already subscribe to blanket progressive views of the world, it's more of the same cliche one liners and lecturing on how we need to be like the author (tolerant?). As a final note: this book, regardless of political content, IS an excellent resource guide to many interesting psychology based experiments.
Game developer and VFX industry vet.
Yes, this book is so in depth and well researched that reading it once simply wouldn't do it justice. To understand the author's thesis you must understand the evolutionary and modern influences on violence, and that is exactly what Pinker explains in this book.
The chapter on the uptick in violence caused by the cultural revolution of the 1960's was told in a way that painted a vivid and nuanced vision of the author's thesis on the subject and was my favorite single moment of the book.
If I had to pick another "scene" it would be the chapter on the neuroscience of violence and the picture it painted of the brains wiring for violence.
Your Brain in 36 Hours....
This is simply put my new favorite book on evolutionary psychology and human anthropology. If you are on chapter three or four and disagree with something or feel something is not explained, just keep reading because nothing is left out of this book. I'm going to listen to all of Pinker's other books just to see what else could possibly be left to learn and am fully expecting to be pleasantly surprised.
An educator and senior who listens to his books from his phone through his hearing aids.
Reading this book was like taking a graduate course in the historical psychological and sociological causes of violence.
The title clearly summarizes what the book is about. The science was the most interesting part of the book. The statistical analysis of wars, the difference in perspective between victims and perpetrators, the explanation of reduction in violence using the framework of the pacifist's dilemma etc. were very interesting. The historical narrative was hard to listen to because it is hard to come to terms with the violence that is a part of our past. I am glad that violence is coming down, but wish it would decline more rapidly. I hope listeners will better understand how to alter payoffs in order to create conditions that favor peace and do what they can, after listening to this book. Understanding, reason, enlightened thinking and empathy will hopefully reduce unnecessary suffering faster in the future.
The narration was very good making it easier to finish this long book.
Wish I'd noticed how long this tome was when I selected it. I loved the title and topic and I wanted to know more....but not that much more. I didn't get very far, so my review doesn't apply to content and presentation - just seemed daunting to me.
If you fear the human race is spiraling toward barbarism and self destruction, this book might be your first glimpse of humankind's dawning new age of peace. Pinker uses fascinating historical examples and brilliantly illustrates research and facts to state his case that we are living in the most peaceful time in the history of the world.
Pinker's pace is as perfect as his storytelling. Beginning with the most damning and detailed history of human violence you might ever read, from the oldest known fossil records of our ancestors to today, the author examines the breadth and depth of our violent potential. Pinker enlightens and entertains the reader with shocking and revealing discoveries in human behavior, using stories, statistics and experiments. Finally pushing his conclusion, that our future is a hopeful one, with a plausible and extraordinary set of examples and explanations for the world's gradual trend toward less violent behavior.
I found this riveting. It's beautifully narrated, exquisitely researched and builds an incredibly nuanced and well-argued thesis. It challenged many of my assumptions and changed my views across a number of topics. He somehow manages to do this whilst maintaining an element of levity and humility that makes the 38 hours a pleasure.
After finishing it I bought a copy of the book for a friend and my father joined Audible just to listen to this. I couldn't recommend this more.
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