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The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity Paperback – 4 Oct 2012

139 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1056 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 Oct. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141034645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141034645
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 4.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Product Description


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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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 68 people found the following review helpful By William James, Brasenose on 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 By I Rascible on 11 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback
Steven Pinker has written some interesting and provocative books. Here he ventures into the world of history and somehow his scientific sense leaves him. That or his editors have not done their job properly.

At one point he speaks of declining levels of homicide in most of Europe in the 20th century with the exceptions of the mountainous regions of the Balkans, Montenegro, Sicily and Sardinia. He draws the conclusion that these areas had less effective means of control because they were less accessible (at least I think that is the point)to control by the developed state, as it would be in most of Europe in the 20th century. He then writes "It's no coincidence that the two blood-soaked classics with which I began the book - the Hebrew Bible and the Homeric poems - came from people that lived in rugged hills and valleys".

With respect, as they say, this strikes me as pretty weak reasoning. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Homeric poems came from people who left some record of their values and totems; others have not and others may have been as violent. Is there any evidence that in Homeric times or during the periods of the Hebrew Bible that people who lived in flat plains were less violent?

He also relies on and quotes extensively from Elias "The Civilizing Process" which, so Pinker writes, includes a mediaeval manners guide advising against sipping coffee from a saucer. Now, I know it's only one small bit of evidence I've latched onto here but I am dubious about mediaeval coffee and even more so about saucers. In Elias's book it is clear that examples cover periods into the 19th century but Pinker may conflate them. I could find no reference to drinking coffee from a saucer in the main examples in Elias; maybe the example slipped in as a joke!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. J. Walford on 13 Mar. 2015
Format: Paperback
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 surprise. According to the author, human society today is experiencing the lowest levels of violence in it's entire history. Sounds doubtful ?? Well, Pinker's work is clever, informative, entertaining, very witty and, ultimately, convincing. It's a quite a wonderful read and I was very impressed.

Firstly, Pinker looks at humanity's violent past. For this he goes right back to pre-history. Looking at human behaviour from both early state and 'non-state' societies, the author documents the development of humanity through several stages; The Pacification Process, the Civilizing Process, the Humanitarian Process and also the Rights Revolution.

Ostensibly, humanity's violence has deteriorated over the centuries thanks to the development of society. Using Thomas Hobbes's 'Leviathan' as a model, Pinker states that the more humanity has invested in mutually beneficial structures the less willing humans have been to use violence as a way of life. The growth of government and authoritative structures have reduced random violence by challenging and defeating other forms of 'privatised' violence; Knights, warlords, gangsters, bandits, etc. Not only this, the greater evolution of societies over the years has led to changes in other human attitudes and behaviours also. Torture, vulgar behaviour such as public fornication, public defecation, swearing and even bad table manners have all reduced over the years and have been both a cause, and a consequence of, the decline in human violence, according to the author.

Pinker also looks at unusual influences too.
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