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 presents an abundance of data to support his thesis that human violence is declining over time. He presents historical evidence to show that things were much worse in Roman times and during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He shows that particularly since World War II and particularly in the west, we have, as a species, become less violent toward each other. Wile his May be true, we still have a log way to go.
One of my favorite books. Encouraging, with all the violence we see in the news and on TV, to realize that this is one of the least violent periods in history. Incredibly interesting historical facts and anecdotes. Good use of statistical proof without being overly tedious.
Pinker's point about the reduction in societies penchant for sadism is spot on. While generally progressive in tone he sites a few excesses of the left-leaning, humanitarian impulse, fair enough. But he's wrong about dodgeball. Dodgeball is for a**holes.
Fascinating, engaging, thought provoking, and hopeful book. Impressively researched. Intriguing thesis well presented and supported. A masterpiece!!
NA -- this is not a novel.
Morey's narration is excellent. His pacing and phrasing tie in perfectly with the subject matter. It felt like the author was speaking to me directly.
Pinker constructs a careful and thorough analysis of the trajectory of human violence and demonstrates conclusively how and why it has decreased.
Buy it !!
So much info, so interesting.
His depth is great. Though I'm not interested in psychology (chapter 9 or something focuses on this), the amount of novel and non-intuitive info he presents make it worth listening to.
I though the first few chapters were a bit repetitive, but overall I think the book is a great book. Full of insights. Love how Steven Pinker is able to communicate complex ideas in simple and concise language.
I liked how the book makes the case for the decline in human violence.
The story of violence.
It is in my top 10 favorites
This book has instructed me to realize the truth ... that the people of this world have evolved far beyond what we are led to believe by media and that mankind is, overall, today, more kind, wise, and caring than we have been taught to believe. My own personal life has become less fearful and my overall view on everything about life is far more optimistic
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
"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!
on scale and significance is on par with guns, germs and steel. highly recommended for all curious people
"Wow! very thought provoking"
long and heavy going at times but well worth it. a truly thought provoking book which is extremely interesting.
"Not read by a real person, surely"
The voice of the narrator sounds as though it was made up from the sounds of a real person's voice but it didn't work. It badly distracted from the enjoyment of the book. Having said that, I found the book quite disappointing too. Maybe it would be better on paper. It seems rather repetitive.
"Masterpiece, albeit somewhat bloated"
An excellent book on the decline of violence. I recommend it to everyone who tries to understand global society. My only complaints are
1. The needless use of obscure words
2. The length. The book could be squeezed down to half its length without much being lost.
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