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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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hope in book form.

Takes a while to get through, but it's worth it for the much needed perspective and context.

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A must read

This book should be a mandatory read by everyone, it explains so much about us human animals.

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Inspirering

Thought-provoking. How table manners, the ability to postpone own needs and wants, and abstract thinking have changed our lives for the better through the last few hundred years.

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Fantastic!

The narrator is good at pronunciation, but he lacks intonation. However, he has a pleasant voice to listen to, and the subject might seem theatrical if the narator spoke differently.

Pinker's research is voluminous and compelling, and sincere compassion mixed with irreverence make the book a cluster-fuck of enjoyment. I listened to this book for my philosophy class, and was happy to find Pinker's prose out-did the normal jargon and euphemisms of modern writing, while never saying anything outright barbaric. 5 stars!

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Sociology at its finest.

No single book has done more to augment my understanding of human nature while clearly much of the information is theoretical, there is enough data to really get you thinking.

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Wonderfully written and researched.

The sheer volume of research, facts, figures, and view points presented is an astonishing feat.

To any naysayer who wishes for the glory days of old they have only a romanticized fiction inside their minds.

Not only does this book give compelling logical arguments on the decline of violence but every notion put forth is further backed up by statistical research

Truly one of the most impactful, balanced, and well written books I have ever experienced.

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Everyone should read this book

The evidence for his hypothesis that violence has decreased in the world over the past millennia, centuries, and decades is so strong, and backed by so many other sources, that it's pretty close to irrefutable. My only complaint is that he makes quite a few errors of fact that a simple Wikipedia search would have corrected.

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Wonderful book!!

This was my first Pinker book, but I can HIGHLY recommend it!!! This is one of those books that will stay with you forever.

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the most pro-humanity book you're likely tonread

deep, broad, and sirprising. I learned so much in this book, from history to psychology, economics, game theory, and statistics. I'm going on a Pinker tear after this.

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interesting book, well worth the time

this book seems well sourced an thought out and gives a good view of why and how life is better now thsn ever