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The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence In History And Its Causes [Kindle Edition]

Steven Pinker
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)

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Book Description

-Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2012



This acclaimed book by Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate, argues that, contrary to popular belief, humankind has become progressively less violent, over millenia and decades. Can violence really have declined? The images of conflict we see daily on our screens from around the world suggest this is an almost obscene claim to be making. Extraordinarily, however, Steven Pinker shows violence within and between societies - both murder and warfare - really has declined from prehistory to today. We are much less likely to die at someone else's hands than ever before. Even the horrific carnage of the last century, when compared to the dangers of pre-state societies, is part of this trend. Debunking both the idea of the 'noble savage' and an over-simplistic Hobbesian notion of a 'nasty, brutish and short' life, Steven Pinker argues that modernity and its cultural institutions are actually making us better people.



'One of the most important books I've read - not just this year, but ever ... For me, what's most important about The Better Angels of Our Nature are its insights into how to help achieve positive outcomes. How can we encourage a less violent, more just society, particularly for the poor? Steven Pinker shows us ways we can make those positive trajectories a little more likely. That's a contribution, not just to historical scholarship, but to the world'


Bill Gates



'Brilliant, mind-altering ... Everyone should read this astonishing book' David Runciman, Guardian



'A supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline' Peter Singer, New York Times



'[A] sweeping new review of the history of human violence...[Pinker has] the kind of academic superbrain that can translate otherwise impenetrable statistics into a meaningful narrative of human behaviour...impeccable scholarship' Tony Allen-Mills, Sunday Times



'Written in Pinker's distinctively entertaining and clear personal style...a marvellous synthesis of science, history and storytelling' Clive Cookson, Financial Times



'Pinker's scholarhsip is astounding...flawless...masterful' Joanna Bourke, The Times



Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as The New York Times, Time and Slate, and is the author of six books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate and The Stuff of Thought.


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Review

One of the most important books I've read - not just this year, but ever ... For me, what's most important about The Better Angels of Our Nature are its insights into how to help achieve positive outcomes. How can we encourage a less violent, more just society, particularly for the poor? Steven Pinker shows us ways we can make those positive trajectories a little more likely. That's a contribution, not just to historical scholarship, but to the world (Bill Gates)

Brilliant, mind-altering...Everyone should read this astonishing book (David Runciman Guardian)

A supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline (Peter Singer New York Times)

[A] sweeping new review of the history of human violence...[Pinker has] the kind of academic superbrain that can translate otherwise impenetrable statistics into a meaningful narrative of human behaviour...impeccable scholarship (Tony Allen-Mills Sunday Times)

Written in Pinker's distinctively entertaining and clear personal style...a marvellous synthesis of science, history and storytelling (Clive Cookson Financial Times)

A salutary reality-check...Better Angels is itself a great liberal landmark (Marek Kohn Independent)

Pinker's scholarhsip is astounding...flawless...masterful (Joanna Bourke The Times)

Selected by the New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2011 (New York Times)

About the Author

Steven Pinker is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as The New York Times, Time and Slate, and is the author of six books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate and The Stuff of Thought.

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More About the Author

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Age is at hand; let's not screw it up 9 Sept. 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a very big and dense book, and you'll need time and energy to get the most out of it, but it's well worth the effort. Don't believe the dismissive reviews by conservative romanticists and sectarian anthropologists; they've either not read it or are incapable of persuasion. In the first half, Pinker undertakes a monumental survey of the available evidence concerning the rates of violence (war, genocide, assault, murder, judicial killing, etc.) and exclusion (slavery, disenfranchisement, discrimination, etc.) from prehistory to the present, and across most parts of the globe. The tide of statistics tells a consistent, overwhelming and frankly uplifting story of progressive and accelerating improvement. As a tiny example, homicide rates in Europe have declined steadily by 100-fold over the last seven centuries, are continuing to decline rapidly, and are estimated to have been orders of magnitude higher in earlier millennia. World Wars, industrial genocide and regional famines notwithstanding, the trend that we are all likelier - much likelier - to live socially and economically engaged lives and die naturally in our beds than were each of the preceding generations. Clearly, as we individuals age, we tend to reminisce and view the present as a nastier world than the one we grew up in. But the data just as clearly show that this is a subjective error. In the second part of the book - and indeed, previewed repeatedly during the historical section - Pinker attempts to assemble an explanation of the processes that have driven this trend. He is at pains to point out that none of his explanations suggest that the process is irreversible, and that we cannot shirk our responsibility to hand on a better world to the next generation. Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does it reach all the way? 11 July 2013
Format:Paperback
This is a book somewhat in the same genre as Hans Rosling's work, a cheerful message using statistics to show that things have, indeed, gotten better in our world, in this case that violence has been reduced to small fractions of their earlier levels, seen over the last few thousand years, and indeed even the last few decades. However, Pinker goes somewhat further than Rosling and tries to tease out the causes of improvement, on the assumption that probably they are not inexorable forces of nature, but the confluence of multiple factors, due to both human psychology and the social structures we have erected, and thus may revert if we do not consciously strive to retain those structures that have enabled--at least a part of humanity--to live in unprecedented peace.

Pinker has gathered all sorts of statistics of violence through the ages, and while he readily admits that some of the earliest statistics are based on estimates, he then proceeds to take them much at face value. I intensely dislike statistical plots that do not display error bars as it makes it impossible to tell if the, in this case, negative trends actually have statistical validity.

Pinker's writing is very clear and enjoyable, filled with various pop-cultural references--anyone who manages to work in a Paul Simon quote in a scientific argument gets a point in my book. However, the downside is that the cultural references are made from an almost exclusively Anglo-US perspective, Yiddish quips notwithstanding. That opens up for the counter-argument that Pinker's presentation of the western-style capitalist democracy as being the optimal structure of society may be just ethnocentrism, and this is a weak point.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A necessary and well argued book 21 Aug. 2013
By John Williams TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I will not summarise the contents of this book, as by now you all know what it's about. Indeed, in view of the many excellent reviews that have already been written, I think that all I can really do is give some very personal impressions of it. Firstly, it is an impressive piece of scholarship. A whizz through the footnotes and references is exhausting. Particularly in the first half of the book, in which Pinker presents evidence that all forms of violence have declined over the course of human history, he makes no assertions that are not backed up by a plethora of facts and figures. The second half of the book, in which he theorises about why this decline might have taken place and gives some pointers as to how we can foster its continuation, is less susceptible to this kind of proof, but is nevertheless very well argued and draws on a wide variety of evidence from researchers in various disciplines. Pinker takes an optimistic view of the world, and one comes to the end of his book tired but happy. In spite of the book's undeniable erudition (and length!) is is very readable, occasionally funny (in spite of its gruesome subject matter), and clearly aimed at the general reader. As long as one is prepared to devote some attention to it, no background knowledge of history, biology or the social sciences is needed.

So why only four stars? I think that the book is too long and repetitive. Is there really a need to quote from the same Paul Simon song twice, or to repeat lists of excruciating mediaeval tortures at regular intervals? Like the old preacher, Pinker tells us what he's gonna tell us, then he tells us, then he tells us what he told us.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Biased, unsubstantiated, cherrypicked, classist, racist, ...
Biased, unsubstantiated, cherrypicked, classist, racist, right-wing, imperialistic, nonsense. For a thorough debunking of this utter drivel, please read 'Reality Denial: Steven... Read more
Published 6 days ago by Philip Bellew
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Full of misinformation.
Published 23 days ago by Cathryn Townsend
1.0 out of 5 stars Pinker is telling people what they want to hear
In his book “The Better Angels of our Nature” Steven Pinker claims that we’re probably living in the most peaceful era in human history. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Hugo
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking scholarship at its very best
Like all of Pinker's books this is work of the very highest level of scholarship. The breadth of his research, knowledge and understanding is breathtaking in its scope. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Orpheus
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous and inspiring book. Congratulations to the author
Though I can quarrel sometimes with his causal interpretations this economist and statistician ends this book feeling both convinced, and impressed.
Published 2 months ago by Tony Lancaster
2.0 out of 5 stars not one of pinker's best.
i found this book hard to read.
attempted three times - only ever got as far as 350 pages.
i found it repetitive and long winded. Read more
Published 2 months ago by mrtat
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book. Very readable
Fantastic book. Very readable, very convincing.

Everyone should read this. Brilliant for combatting those "Things haven't changed and never will" attitudes you... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Matthew Mcgowan
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastic Tome on Peace
This continues to be my absolute favourite book. It is filled with hope and carefully researched knowledge of our world.
Published 3 months ago by S. Harker
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes a Good Case.
I noticed Steven Pinker's work several weeks ago after reading an article on the internet. Intrigued by his book, I invested in 'Better Angels' and found it to be a pleasant... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. D. J. Walford
5.0 out of 5 stars Execptional research with a bold and uplifting message.
Whilst a long slog, this book is both important and refreshing in it's conclusions. I have been a student of war for many years and this book, along with Ian Morris's recent work,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by si1981
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