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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

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Mary Madeira Park, BC, Canada 08-12-10
    Mary Madeira Park, BC, Canada 08-12-10 Member Since 2014
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    "Pinker is no thinker"

    If there is any justification to the dustjacket claim Pinker is one of the world's 100 most influential thinkers, it is based on his talk show appearances, not his standing among peers. His basic thesis is that recent scientific discoveries have proven social conservatives right about the need for military buildup, a get-tough approach to crime, strict parenting, etc. Affirmative action is a waste of time because it tries to change behaviour that is hard wired into our genes. America and the other countries most like it are the pinnacle of human evolution, because, well, evolution has produced them and therefore they must be a true expression of the unchangeable programming carried in our genes. No wonder Time put him on its cover.

    25 of 57 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. D. Portnoy Sarasota, FL USA 02-17-13
    J. D. Portnoy Sarasota, FL USA 02-17-13 Member Since 2013

    Bookman Old Style

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    "too much"

    I had to give up on this one, even though I am a believer in evolution and neuroscience. This book was too long and too pedantic, even for me. Human nature exists and is not totally changeable. It was evolved to fit the environment of millions of years ago, and sometimes causes great problems for everyone, everywhere today. We are not blank slates , basically beautiful and good savages, or predetermined vehicles of a benevolent power. Utopian schemes don't work because they don't take certain basic human instincts into account. We are imperfect creatures. If you want mind-numbing details on these fairly self-evident facts, dear reader, go to Mr. Pinker. I've gone out to lunch.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tino Orsini 04-27-11
    Tino Orsini 04-27-11 Member Since 2010

    hupafi

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    "Beating a dead horse."

    While the concept of this book is interesting the information becomes redundant. I was done after the second chapter.

    It's well read and written.

    2 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marc 11-07-14
    Marc 11-07-14
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    "Maybe Mr. Pinker should read his own book ..."
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    This is a tricky review, since neither topic nor text, reading-performance nor audio technique are "all bad" (or "good"). It has been a mixed experience.
    As for content: It's all old wine. Sure, this book is rather old (more than 10 years), so I should not have expected anything surprisingly fresh, still, it's just the same thoughts chewed over. On the other hand, the author makes some astounding claims that, even if you consider them naive, are worth thinking about.

    I chose the headline I set, because the author keeps contradicting himself. A simple example: He makes it very clear, that "genes" are not "on or off" values for specific functions or features, but have to be seen as tiny bits of a larger matrix, changing a singe gene may very well lead to hundreds, thousands or more of varying results. Yet, he also claims that some banal tests on "genetically altered food" are good enough to state, once and for all, that no harm can ever arise from such "gene-food".
    It is a well accepted rule in science, that you cannot prove a negative. You cannot prove that something does NOT exist (like God). Even if the author claims so, you just cannot prove that genetically altered food is harmless. You can only say "we haven't found any issues so far, but we haven't tested all possible billions and billions of combinations of genes".

    Nuff said, that's really just one thing - the author is convinced that he knows all and everything, that he is never mistaken and that everyone thinking otherwise is kind of stupid. He makes this point very clear and that makes BELIEVING him quite hard.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    Like I said some ideas or thoughts are worth considering. Pinker's ideas of "discrimination schemes" are "nice", but not necessarily reality-proof, for example.

    Unfortunately the author keeps reiterating on ideas over and over again. Once he said something that the reader/listener has to think about and "digest", the author says the same thing again with other words. And then he says something similar. Then he jumps to a different topic, forgets about the previous one - and returns, only to say the same again in new, different words. It is HARD to follow your ow thoughts and understandings if an author thinks he is so all-knowing that he can do the thinking for you!


    What three words best describe Victor Bevine’s voice?

    Three words? Ha!
    I did not find the performance of Mr. Bevine very helpful to follow the book. He starts chapters very slow, at a low tone, with very even intonation. Over the run of a chapter his voice gets louder and more dramatic, till he ends chapters with energy, faster pace and sometimes "breathless", only to fall back to a dramatic flatline at the next chapter's start.
    I am not sure Mr. Bevine really understood everything he read. Quite often his intonation made understanding the content unnecessarily difficult. A more "to-the-text" performance would have been nice.


    Did The Blank Slate inspire you to do anything?

    The content has been too well known and widely discussed to really inspire me to more than a good espresso.


    Any additional comments?

    I was doubting if buying another old "book" with a narration that did not convince me in the sample audio was a good choice.
    Now I know I will not do that again. After all, READING the book myself would have been a lot better, being able to skip half of the pages for their repetitions ...

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James COLUMBUS, OH, United States 06-07-14
    James COLUMBUS, OH, United States 06-07-14 Member Since 2004

    Professor, Ohio State University

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    "Psychology 101 for the 1%"
    What did you like best about The Blank Slate? What did you like least?

    At times the rhetoric soared. I winced at all the self-promotion—he made most sense in his arguments when he reviewed others’ work and quoted some of the outrageous statements of postmodernists. He made a very strong case in this book for materialist realism.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Steven Pinker again?

    Possibly.


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

    Excellent delivery, although I played it at 1.25x.


    Was The Blank Slate worth the listening time?

    It was.


    Any additional comments?

    This is Pinker’s attempt to raise himself up by setting up straw men adapted from the writings of some of the great minds of the 20th Century in psychology and biology and by aligning himself with important intellectuals of a Nativist bent. He is not, however, a strong Nativist, which would be silly (as silly as his favorite linguist, Noam Chompsky, who thinks language grammar emerges from a genetically structured biological gizmo he calls, The LAD [Language Acquisition Devoce]). He praises E.O. Wilsom and Dan Dennett and and Richard Dawkins, who deserve his obescience, and who stand far above him in their translation of biology, cognition, and evolution as is possible. Nevertheless, the book contains, as I said, soaring rhetoric that is musical at times and makes as strong a case for a scientific approach to evaluating public policy as I have ever seen.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A. Tillery Alabama 09-17-12
    A. Tillery Alabama 09-17-12 Member Since 2014

    Alisha

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    "Thorough Analysis"

    As a student of Sociology, I often get bogged down by theories of social constructivism. It can be rather depressing. The book was quite long, as Pinker's usually are, but there was much to provoke thought even though I was not entirely sure where he was going with it much of the time until the end. I actually think that was a beneficial tactic because it allows the listener to ponder different aspects and use that information in forming an opinion as opposed to the author's viewpoint seeming to be the only right way to view the situation. So for those who have listened to his books and have wondered the same thing, hang in there. The last chapter brought it all home and made it so worth it.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Timothy 08-19-12
    Timothy 08-19-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Unique and fascinating look at genetics"
    What did you love best about The Blank Slate?

    Pinker cites a lot of research on various personality and character traits, many of which turn the nature/nurture discussion on its ear. I really have a better appreciation for how different some people around me are and how it may really be even more out of their control than I ever suspected. So much else is in here, I really wouldn't know where to start...


    What did you like best about this story?

    His presentation is very balanced...I think he took risks in presenting his information without bias


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It was hard to get out of the car.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pedro Uberlandia, Brazil 05-04-12
    Pedro Uberlandia, Brazil 05-04-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Superb research that is fun to read"
    Any additional comments?

    The ideas are so well presented that the book seems like an easy read. But some of the concepts are actually very hard to grasp. Some of the points are controversial, and some people will strongly disagree with them. But Pinker's discussion will help anyone understand clearly what the controversies are.

    I decided to get the audiobook and I keep getting more out of each listen.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    V.D. BEAVERCREEK, OH, United States 01-16-12
    V.D. BEAVERCREEK, OH, United States 01-16-12 Member Since 2013
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    "thorough and provocative"
    What did you love best about The Blank Slate?

    Steven Pinker is thorough as a scientist, and provocative as a writer. Amazing book, even if I would disagree with the author in a number of places.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Left Coast Rebel California 03-10-11
    Left Coast Rebel California 03-10-11 Member Since 2010
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    "obscures the social"

    This is a very interesting review of the relevant philosophic background to contemporary thought. And, very convincing regarding the existence of an evolutionarily based human nature. Pinker, however, because he focuses on the individual as rational agent, is dismissive of the function of society in forming thought. Thus, despite his attempts at political balance, the work is fundamentally conservative in nature. This becomes particularly evident in the final section on art, where the limits of his approach lead to over-reaching. He reduces art to nothing more than its commercial function, that is, how it appeals to consumers. At the same time he is disparaging of the intent of artists to transform the way people see their world, effectively ridiculing this as simply another form of self-promotion.
    Although clearly of good personal intents, that is, for example, he rejects older versions of the human nature idea that were used to support racism, by obscuring the formative function of society, this tends of suppress criticism of the social order per se. Good as far as it goes, but needs to be balanced by more socio-politically oriented theory as well.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
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