Life is getting better at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people's lives as never before.
The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for 200 years.
Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization, which started more than 100,000 years ago, has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.
This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the 21st century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.
©2010 Matt Ridley (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers
Avid audiobook addict!
I found it thoroughly interesting and enjoyable. Unlike many scientists, this author is actually a pretty decent writer.
Beautifully written, accessible and lively account of the underlying factors that have governed human development, the factors that seek to undermine it and why we have cause for optimism about our future.
This is a wide-ranging book which uses economic, historical and biological evidence to cast doubt on the perpetual doom-mongers that dominate popular discourse.
A fundamental strength of this book is that it explains the mechanism underpinning growth, innovation and prosperity. Few people have a grasp of this mechanism and, so he argues, they underestimate its ability to improve our well-being and argue for policies which harm or undermine its operation.
This is not a simplistic ideological book of the Right. In fact, he is critical of some aspects of capitalism and envisions a future world that follows Marx's principle of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need'. An enlightening and thought-provoking book.
The only disappointment was the narration. There were some shockingly bad mis-pronouncations which seemed to suggest that the narrator knew nothing or cared little about what he was reading.
That book brought me to a revelation. He points out how mankind is unique in that we continuously build upon and leverage knowledge of past generations to in effect improve our standard of living. He also points out how great innovations most commonly come not from scientists but from entrepreneurs who look at existing processes or methods and revise, combine, etc to develop new tools and technologies. The revelation is this. Despite our very serious debt problems, I think that the next couple of decades will likely actually bring an unprecedented upswing in opportunity and prosperity (in particular in the US where business friction is actually the lowest). The internet is still quite new. When I started college, uvm still had card catalogs in the library! The effort required to find information was absurd. The access that people now have to information and accumulated wisdom of past generations is phenomenal. It’s an explosion. Information and knowledge are the fuel for innovation. There’s a lot of fuel and there’s a lot of innovation coming.
Like another reviewer I've listened to it twice because I love it that much. It's clear, rational, and really thought provoking.
Wow...what a mind! Ridley, darn his hide, has written the book I wanted to write! Observations and data abound about how life is simply BETTER for most sentient creatures than it has ever been on planet earth. While far from naive, Ridley understands that current abiities to TRADE and SPECIALIZE are the keys to prosperity. The sections on environmental policies and the astounding level of wrong headedness in the "green" movement are worth the price of the book. Counterintuitive, reasonable, rational, articulate...Ridley may change your mind about what it means to be alive in the 21st century. And about how "green" basic, but wrong, ideas like eating local, renewable resources, and biofuels are.
Book is filled with good observations, facts and contrarian views. But the sweeping generalizations of anything contradicting his view were tiresome. The narrator is ALWAYS smug in delivery which made it a tough listen, especially when little or no facts supported each generalization.
Generalizations are by far the minority of this book, but you are made to feel like an idiot if you don't think the same. (I actually stopped and checked to see if author narrated it thinking only he could be this smug)
Might be better to read in book form to avoid the tone.
a new passive take on climate change, capitalism, and the direction of change. well thoughtout and thorough.
Too much cherry picking and very unbalanced argument. His case would have been much stronger if he had been more fair to the other side instead of the constantly disparaging market regulation.
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