Steven Pinker does use a lot of time to in almost all cases very thoroughly argue his points, most of them I think seem very solidly founded, and more than that, different theories and explanations are frequently discussed and I think given a quite fair observation.
This is all very laudable for a popular science book, which this of course ultimately is.
I admit, I frequently felt the wish to examine some of his sources, I do wish there maybe was a pdf with lists of references and such included, but to be fair, that is likely expecting too much (Many popular science podcasts will nowadays be meticulous about linking sources, so I may be spoiled there).
I do want to point to a couple of points that I found to leave me unconvinced or critical:
1. The problem of historic and prehistoric data:
This is more minor, because I felt that Steven Pinker was pointing out sufficiently, that there are problems with this, but as someone who has taken a good amount of courses in prehistory, I want to strongly stress that any observation of prehistoric violence is HIGHLY speculative.
We have a limited archeological record, one that only shows a fraction of the population of its day. We are limited in how accurately we can asses details about day to day life that transcend the pure material record.
As an example, Ötzi, a quite famous neolithic ice mummy is discussed, and Pinker goes with a single interpretation of his cause of death and reconstructed life, without, as I think, sufficiently making it clear that this theory is not without competitors. He portrays him as being a raider, frankly, we do not know that, neither whether it is true, nor whether it can be seen as unlikely.
And this also goes for preserved bodies found in bogs.
There is a lot of uncertainty in this area which, frankly, makes any quantifying of data on violence very unreliable.
Similarly, ethnographic parallels, using contemporary hunter gatherer cultures and similar to understand prehistoric cultures is a method with several flaws, some of which are thankflly addressed in the book.
2. Historic phenomena being discussed:
Sometimes the book will discuss certain historical practices to argue its claim without, I think, sufficiently providing a nuanced view on them.
I shall use the example of the with hunts and witch trials which Pinker mentions in his books. The height of witch trials falls in the same era as the Renaissance, and in this context, I think it might have been useful, for understanding the phenomenon, to look at how people tried to rationalize it. There is quite some interesting information on arguments about witchcraft, like the the question of whether it was "real", or whether it consisted of what we today would call hallucinations and similar psychological effects.
Pinker instead presents a rather simplistic model of "crazy superstition" - an also fails to mention the strongly ambivalent role the church played in it. More than one pope illegalized witch trials, unsurprisingly denouncing the idea of witches as scapegoats for famines and other natural disasters.
I do feel that it is at least a fair argument to point out that something like that at least gives the impression of deliberately using this portrayal to enhance the impression of historic inhumanity and irrationality.
This does not quite sit well with me.
3. The feminization hypothesis for the reduction in violence:
Steven Pinker does mention his believe in women / femininity / the emancipation of women being a causal factor in reducing violence.
I am rather critical here mostly because I feel that he gives much less alternative interpretations, facts, detailed arguments and data for this than for many other claims.
Steven Pinker often is very methodical about pointing out the danger of misinterpreting correlation as causation, he does not show the same rigor when it comes to this theory.
More than that, when he describes states basing social systems strongly on authority ranking - and then also using the same model for marriage and family relations, by his own logic,he would be forced to identify men as a pacifying force in part responsible for the lower rate of violence in women - while making the contrary claim.
I think that had he given more space to a nuanced view on this theory, he could at least have addressed inconsistencies like this or made a better case for it, but frankly I think he overall fails to make an argument for feminism, women's rights and similar being a cause of reduction of violence, instead of being a positive consequence of the factors responsible for providing us with better living standards on the whole.
His reasoning seems more ideological than factual here, and that is I think a problem in a scientist.
In conclusion, I still think this is a good book which provides interesting and useful information and is definitely worth your time, but I strongly advise a critical attitude.
Steven Pinker definitely seems to be correct in his overall thesis, but I feel much less convinced when it comes at some of his explanations for this trend.
Lastly, the narration is clear, easy to listen to and well suited for a scientific book, I would rate it as a great production.
Loved the book and narration. Steven Pinker explains how much violence existed in "The good old days", how much safer we are now and what has caused this transformation.
Very interesting and I whole heartedly agree with the premise of the book. He goes into painstaking detail and statistics and graphs (audio graphs are tough to follow but you really don't need to understand every little thing to get it). The chapter on women's rights, especially violence against women, is where he lost me. No painstaking detail here, cites a couple studies, says most sexual harassment stats are wrong and that rape counsellors are wrong because they don't tell women to dress modestly and not drink. That rape is not about violence at all that it is all about sex. Now, had he backed all this up with evidence I might have continued but he did not. I wondered what the author actually thought about these topics outside of the book. I found anti feminists championing him and Pinker himself speaking of how he disapproves of the "hysteria around the idea of rape culture". I stopped listening at chapter 70. I might come back to it, who knows, probably not.
Professor Pinker's lucid, humane and funny book puts solid science and realism in the service of much appreciated optimism. It made made think much better about our world.
The analytical approach to violence through psychology and historical data conflicts with many preconceived views on violence. The perspective feels right and is well argued, regardless of your preconceived view on violence.
I highly recommend this book. The narration was great and easy to understand, while keeping a good pace.