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Publisher's Summary

We’ve all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, “What is the world coming to?” But we seldom ask, “How bad was the world in the past?” In this startling new book, the best-selling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.

Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the genocides in the Old Testament and crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals; the nonchalant treatment in popular culture of wife-beating, child abuse, and the extermination of native peoples. Now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified.

With the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps, Pinker presents some astonishing numbers. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then suddenly were targeted for abolition. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, battering, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse, cruelty to animals — all substantially down.How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? What led people to stop sacrificing children, stabbing each other at the dinner table, or burning cats and disemboweling criminals as forms of popular entertainment? Was it reading novels, cultivating table manners, fearing the police, or turning their energies to making money? Should the nuclear bomb get the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing World War III? Does rock and roll deserve the blame for the doubling of violence in the 1960s — and abortion deserve credit for the reversal in the 1990s?

Not exactly, Pinker argues. The key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence (such as revenge, sadism, and tribalism) and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.

With the panache and intellectual zeal that have made his earlier books international best sellers and literary classics, Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.

©2011 Steven Pinker (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

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A must read...

For anyone still buying into the cultural narrative pervading conservative America that we're on some kind of downward spiral into a moral and ethical abyss. Or anyone who just loves history :)

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MY FAVORITE BODY OF WORK

The books itself is extremely well written. It is just happenstance (or maybe purposefully) that the narrator has the absolute best voice to read this book. The narrator has a clear, eloquent way with which he delivers this impactful body of work.

DO NOT MISS THIS READ. It is excellent.

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  • Pandora
  • Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
  • 09-27-16

Important

My grandmother used to bemoan the world's "going to hell in a hand basket," as is the time honoured heritage of every passing generation. My experience is that the majority of people are very poorly oriented in human history, and this can leave anyone of any age experiencing the same fatalism. The so called advancement of civilization is such in the face of serious and legitimate criticisms, ecological devastation, social stratification, genocides and colonialism, etc, etc. I hold this book as deeply important for demonstrating that, contrary to all our intuitions, to everything we see on the news, and to my grandmother, that things can and are getting better, that we can improve the world for everyone, and that we should not give up aspiring to that end.

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excellent performance thought provoking

best book I've read this year. pushed against much conventional wisdom. it was well read and generally kept me engaged. there were a few places in the middle that could have been more concise but was generally well written and edited.

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bring a dictionary

Lots of interesting perspectives on history. Feel smarter after reading. Looking forward to reviewing the criticisms.

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Amazingly insightful!

Probably the most important book you will ever read or listen to! You will never look at the world the same way again!

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My review

What a detailed analysis of mankind's evolution of it's behavior of and towards violence. An unbelievable amount of data and statistics backing the opinion that over time, as man has gained in intellect, his beliefs and values have evolved into present day awareness of life's precious attributes, the threat of and carrying out of terristic activi

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The World in Perspective

I wish Steven Pinker could have narrated it as he best projects his humor as well as the intended emphasis. The material is so good, satisfaction is inevitable. It is definitely worth reading more than once & is tremendously uplifting. Excellent for anyone fearful or depressed.

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Wonderful read! Long but definitely worth it!

It takes awhile to get past a the first 5-10 chapters with a ton of mundane topics but the overall aspect of the book is just wonderful! I love how the author sticks to just the facts! Pointing out numbers a

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Makes sense to me, mostly

I believe in one's better angels. That being said, you'll understand my bias. I also was fascinated at some of my respected "others" who disagreed with Mr. Pinker.
It is totally understandable that detailed people with limited perspectives of a particular region or city might exhibit a temporary violent outburst. Still, as is explained and documented in this book, the broad brush strokes and overall general nature of humans it being won over by "better angels".
Media sends messages of fear and of civilization so it is understandable how other points of viewing civilization might be held.
There is, however, more than enough information to convince me that Steven Pinker is spot on relative to the majority of his points.
I'm now drawn to him, his YouTube presentations and interviews and his other books.
I'm now a fan one will follow him.
This book is understandable and important, especially with someone who has an uncle Howard (a curmudgeon).
Terrorism is an issue that perhaps needs more reflection and understanding by leaders. If this book were more fully understood, I think we'd be more successful.