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The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature | [Steven Pinker]

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits, denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts.
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Publisher's Summary

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits - a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century - denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts.

Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense.

NOTE: Some changes to the original text have been made with the author's approval.

©2003 Steven Pinker; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"[P]ersuasive and illuminating." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Carolyn Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 05-30-14
    Carolyn Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 05-30-14 Member Since 2012

    I am a bilingual high school teacher. I mostly read non-fiction, especially history, but I am also a sucker for science-fiction and fantasy novels.

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    "Excellent, as expected"

    I bought this as an audiobook so I would actually have time to read it - my husband read it several years ago and has been encouraging me to do so as well ever since, but although it's sitting on our bookshelf it never actually got read. Since I read Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature by listening to the audiobook (and loved it), I thought I'd try the same with The Blank Slate.

    I found reading this book to be a little like reading The Selfish Gene (which I did read in print), since, like that book, The Blank Slate was written to eliminate the residual shown-to-be-incorrect theories that were preventing good research from being done and/or being accepted in the author's field - in Dawkins' case, biology, and in Pinker's, social science. So, if you have some background in social science, this book won't contain too many surprises for you, but it is a great demonstration about just how much we know - even over a decade ago when the book was written - about nature versus nurture and how large a role nature plays.

    This is a very accessible book for anyone, since it doesn't talk down to the reader (a pet peeve of mine) but it does describe things well in plain language and doesn't use jargon without explaining it first. I'm having a baby in a little over a month and it was good to read this book because it reminds parents that they cannot shape much of their children's personalities (except by giving them genes) and that being a good parent is enough - don't let marketers or "experts" fool you into thinking you have to be supermom or superdad to have a happy, smart, well-adjusted kid. You can teach your kid skills, like reading, but you can't change innate things about them like how extroverted they are.

    Overall, I enjoyed the content and I found the narration easy to listen to. Five stars all around.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mustafa STANFORD, CA, United States 11-30-13
    Mustafa STANFORD, CA, United States 11-30-13 Member Since 2014
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    "An outstanding unbiased view into the human nature"
    Where does The Blank Slate rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    The best audiobook I've heard and probably the best book I've heard or read in a long time.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Detailed, insightful, quirky, fun, informative. It tackles a very science-heavy subject in such a nice manner that you're never bored. The writer and the narrator engage you throughout the content.


    What does Victor Bevine bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His narration was engaging, fun. He emphasized the right points correctly. His tone of narration set the tone for the book.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The last chapter of the book was excellent - an apt summary to all the significant ideas conveyed in the book.


    Any additional comments?

    Every once in a while you read a book that causes a paradigm shift inside you. It gives you a new clearer view about the world. This is one such book, and it does the job in such a convincing manner, that even though it presents views which might be contrary to your long-held beliefs, at the end it will leave you with a smile on your face and a sense of satisfaction rather than in a moral dilemma.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 04-08-12
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 04-08-12 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

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    "Five stars again for Pinker..."

    A monumental work debunking the still (unbelievably) widely held idea that the human mind is a blank slate shaped by culture. (The most simple thought shows that the blank slate theory begs the question: how can the mind come from culture, when, by simple reasoning, one can easily deduce that culture, in fact, MUST come from the mind--there was no free floating original "culture" waiting for the first mind to come into existence.) Pinker uses all the latest technology and scientific knowledge to make his points, and though this book does not have the usual Pinker pop culture winks and playful wit, it will still be easy enough for most laymen to understand and profit from.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James Union, Ontario, Canada 11-24-10
    James Union, Ontario, Canada 11-24-10 Member Since 2013
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    "One of the best books I've ever read (heard)"

    This book is fascinating. I can't imagine a person not being more enriched by taking the time to read and think about the arguments in this book.

    As definitely and clearly as i can state it: Get this book.

    5 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ray Glendale, AZ, United States 12-18-10
    Ray Glendale, AZ, United States 12-18-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Decent Read"

    The book is about the nurture versus nature debate, and Pinker is very straight forward with his presentation of facts. The bottom line is that the broad scientific consensus is that - as Pinker illustrates - we are not born as tabula rasa. The nurture side of the nature versus nurture debate is still widely supported by the popular media however, so those not inclined to critical thought will be put off by Pinker's approach. I only gave it three stars because Pinker leaves off the scientific discourse about half way through, and segues into a more personal narrative which seems designed to redeem himself to those he just offended. I wasn't bothered by this part of it, but found myself bored with its subjective nature.

    4 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Harry Warren 01-07-15
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    "A Deep Read"

    This is a very interesting and well written book on an important topic, the malleability of human nature. Similar to "The Righteous Mind," which I also enjoyed immensely. The narration was also excellent.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tedd United States 06-24-14
    Tedd United States 06-24-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Magnificent"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Pinker skewers those who, either wittingly or willingly pervert science and art in order to prop up a belief system whose time has clearly come. More astonishing is the fact that he does so while giving far more time to the opposing viewpoint. Admittedly, this almost becomes tedious, but each chapter lets you off the hook with a healthy dose of real science. A must read for all natural and social scientists, philosophers and educators.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kevin 06-18-14
    Kevin 06-18-14 Member Since 2014

    Trying to support 1) the comparably smaller non-fiction selection and 2) the few here that are not misinformation. Got mind? Use it.

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    "One of my favorites: Science meets Societal issues"
    What did you love best about The Blank Slate?

    At this point, this is my favorite non-fiction read; absolute gem.

    Like any great science books, certain details and arguments presented are open for debate, but the ideas covered are relevant, fascinating, and well-argued.

    With Mr. Pinker's classic "How the Mind Works", I was hoping he would then take the next step and apply his expertise of cognitive science to history/social issues, and this book was the answer!

    NOTE: detailed book (23 hours after all), but not difficult to absorb like some science non-fictions.

    Read (well, listen), absorb, question, and explore further. This is non-fiction at it's best: powerful theories with clear and gripping narration.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Blank Slate?

    23 enlightening and entertaining hours, that's impressive by any standards.


    What does Victor Bevine bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Strong narration. My favorite is when I can escape into the story without thinking about the narrator, and this is a fine example.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim United States 04-01-14
    Tim United States 04-01-14 Member Since 2011

    Putting books on the back burner.

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    "Absorbing Like a Wet Paper Towel"

    There is something about Steven Pinker that I like. For the nonbelievers, his explanation of having a blank slate and the theory of human nature makes sense. I've been reading a lot of Dr. Pinker's books and lectures and most of his material relates to the human mind, violence, and our natural instincts and desires.

    As I read more of his work, I'm starting to believe that I am somewhat an atheist because a lot of his ideas are easy to absorb, like a wet paper towel. Even when I was in Sunday school, I didn't really drink the Kool Aid. I'm not saying that is neither bad or good, but for me, I always questioned.

    As for "The Blank Slate", so far this is my favorite book. It gives an overall view of the blank slate theory. Just enough to get your feet wet, but not overbearing with one topic and leave you with boredom.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Sugar Land, Texas 02-03-14
    Amazon Customer Sugar Land, Texas 02-03-14 Member Since 2013

    Peter Schaeffer

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    "Facinating and Genuinely Important Book"
    Where does The Blank Slate rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    The Blank Slate ranks very high. I learned more from this book than any other I have listened to.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    My favorite character would be the human mind itself, for this book is an exploration of the nature of the mind and hence the nature of being


    What about Victor Bevine’s performance did you like?

    The book was well narrated


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    The Ignoble Savage - The Modern Denial of Human Nature


    Any additional comments?

    This is a good book, and better yet an important book. It's important because it shows that American intellectual and political life is based on ideas that have no basis in fact. Like it or not, the holy trinity of the "Blank Slate", the "Noble Savage", and the "Ghost in the Machine" dominate (usually without question) public life in America. The fact that they are fictions, inevitably means that politicians (typically, but not always Democrats) promote policies that will inevitably fail. Of course, the failures will be ignored because no one ever dares to ask why the policies failed.

    The first two ideas (the "Blank Slate" and the "Noble Savage") are mainly the follies of the left. Indeed, any attack on them is treated as religious apostasy (and punished without mercy). The third idea (the "Ghost in the Machine") is perhaps more the passion of the right.

    Before I read this book, I expected a detailed review of the data supporting the influence of genes vs. the environment. Of course, Steven Pinker provides a great wealth of data demolishing the ideological fantasies of the left (and to some extent the right). However, that's not the main emphasis of the book. The book is mostly devoted to a very detailed exploration of moral philosophy. That's not a critique, just quite unexpected.

    Rather than delving into the factual data demolishing the holy trinity in great(er) detail, the author expends most of his effort into examining the moral and philosophical implications of human nature. Pinker is always plausible, but not always convincing, at least to this reader.

    Steven Pinker is clearly a conventional liberal, at least in moral, philosophical, and policy terms. However, his book is deeply subversive of conventional liberalism (at point Pinker is clearly well aware of). At some level that makes Pinker's interpretation of the world conservative. Pinker (to his credit) examines the deep historical origins of liberalism and conservatism. To simplify, liberals believe in the infinite perfectibility of man and conservatives believe that man in constrained by his tragic nature.

    Having reviewed the voluminous evidence, Pinker explicitly says that the conservative vision of human nature is correct and liberals are wrong. He even quotes E.O. Wilson

    “Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species”

    That said, Pinker is no Republican and there is no reason to think he has ever voted for one. However, to his enduring credit he has demolished the supposed logical foundations of much of contemporary liberalism.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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