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
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.
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.
Ridley makes the very important point that the modern world is fundamentally built on trade and the specialization of labor. This idea can often be overlooked. Many people seem to think that we would be better off doing everything ourselves. Ridley shows that this is deeply misguided. However, I agree with William Easterly's review in that there are numerous rants throughout the book that don't really advance any idea and instead chafe otherwise sympathetic listeners. This book could've been a lot better. I was hoping this book would be a nice complement to Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature but it paled in comparison to Pinker's rigor and depth.
I find it better and more connivance for my lifestyle, very good for travelers.
The writer with his sharp observation and sense of humor. Finally a fresh and different point of view.
I like the observation about how we convert energy form solar energy to any other forms of energy.
Amazing History of Trade would sum up the book in ~3 words. But it is so much more. Ridley shows the many false starts of civilization and explains why trade is the key to creating wealth. Why were we stuck in the stone age for 50,000 years? Why did Sumer and other early civilizations fall. How did wealth lead to the substitution of human labor for animal labor in Japan? Why was the bureaucracy of the Ming Dynasty such a disaster? Why did England succeed so radically? This book answers all these and more. This is better than a degree in history. Instead of memorizing what happened, you learn why it happened.
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.
Excellent way to see the positive side of human progress in standard of living.
The book shows how true progress has been made by the human race. The caveman never had it better, and couldn't, even considering pollution and myths such as the gental caveman or modern increase of cancer rates.
Though climate change is not completely dismissed, some layman falsehoods are introduced at the end of the book after saying more than once that he would "get to climate change in a later chapter" of the book. He also dismisses "science" as the source of "most" improvements in standard of living. This is true socially. But then goes on to describe the process of science (hypothesis and experiment) as the way humans learn and improve technology all while saying that this is not science. His point is much more narrow in intension that what comes accross, which may be guessed to be: science in the academic environment rarely leads to improvements in standard of living. This he proves well and I agree with but doesn't explain well.
this book is a must-read. well-written, concise, and really puts things in perspective. intelligent and uplifting.
Like another reviewer I've listened to it twice because I love it that much. It's clear, rational, and really thought provoking.
I highly encourage people to entertain the ideas of this book especially as we listen to the news daily, read our daily blogs, and surf the web for ideas that give us positive hope rather than the widespread doom and gloom ever present in media today. Lots of references to studies that show research was conducted in this optimistic view of how we (humans) got to be so well off and how much better we have yet to become. I did not per say enjoy the tone quality of the author and at times the tone grated me...however the information was useful and viable in debating with naysayers in all circles.
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