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The Rational Optimist [Paperback]

Matt Ridley
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 Mar 2011

Shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction 2011.

Life is on the up.

We are wealthier, healthier, happier, kinder, cleaner, more peaceful, more equal and longer-lived than any previous generation. Thanks to the unique human habits of exchange and specialisation, our species has found innovative solutions to every obstacle it has faced so far.

In ‘The Rational Optimist’, acclaimed science writer Matt Ridley comprehensively refutes the doom-mongers of our time, and reaches back into the past to give a rational explanation for why we can – and will – overcome the challenges of the future, such as climate change and the population boom.

Bold and controversial, it is a brilliantly confident assertion that the 21st century will be the best for humankind yet.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (31 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007267126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007267125
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Ridley received his BA and D. Phil at Oxford researching the evolution of behaviour. He has been science editor, Washington correspondent and American editor of The Economist. He is the author of bestselling titles The Red Queen (1993), The Origins of Virtue (1996), Genome (1999) and Nature via Nurture (2003). His books have sold over half a million copies, been translated into 25 languages and been shortlisted for six literary prizes. In 2004 he won the National Academies Book Award from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine for Nature via Nurture. In 2007 Matt won the Davis Prize from the US History of Science Society for Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. He is married to the neuroscientist Professor Anya Hurlbert.

Product Description

Review

‘A triumphant blast on the vuvuzela of common sense’ Boris Johnson

‘A glorious defence of our species… a devastating rebuke to humanity's self-haters’ Sunday Times

‘No other book has argued with such brilliance against the automatic pessimism that prevails’ Ian McEwan

‘His theory is, in a way, the glorious offspring that would result if Charles Darwin’s ideas were mated with those of Adam Smith’ The Economist

‘Original, clever and controversial’ Guardian

‘As a work of bold historical positivity it is to be welcomed. At every point cheerfulness keeps breaking through’ The Times

About the Author

Matt Ridley received his BA and D. Phil at Oxford researching the evolution of behaviour. He has been science editor, Washington correspondent and American editor of The Economist. He is the author of bestselling titles The Red Queen (1993), The Origins of Virtue (1996), Genome (1999) and Nature via Nurture (2003). His books have sold over half a million copies, been translated into 25 languages and been shortlisted for six literary prizes. In 2004 he won the National Academies Book Award from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine for Nature via Nurture. In 2007 Matt won the Davis Prize from the US History of Science Society for Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. He is married to the neuroscientist Professor Anya Hurlbert.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, so long as you interrogate it 1 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There is much to admire in this book. Ridley makes a good overall case, based on solid and substantial research. It is a hefty corrective to much sloppy thinking in current political and social debates. It's a pity he mars it by some glib over-simplication in places and by caricaturing his opponents to a silly degree.

On the plus side, he says many things that need to be said. It's a book I'd recommend to anybody, simply because of the sheer number of shibboleths of both left and right that he deftly and enjoyably skewers. This sort of thing is essential in a world where too many of all political persuasions have given up thinking for themselves and rely instead on timeworn cliches. He also, true to his rationalist title, leans heavily on a weighty ballast of credible evidence drawn from a range of good sources.

It's a pity, then, that in places he lets his enthusiasm run away with him and writes like a journalist rather than an academic. For example, I'm no expert in primatology, but even I know that you can't make simplistic points about the relative nastiness of our fellow primates (p.65) without acknowledging that there are relevant distinctions between our two closest cousins, the common chimpanzee and the bonobo. Given his academic credentials, Ridley should be better than this (indeed, I'm surprised it wasn't pointed out to him by Frans de Waal, whom he cites in his acknowledgments). Then again, he isn't the first well-known writer to dive into into the exciting field of primatology, grab the first thing he sees to back up his point and rush for the surface to catch breath; see Francis Fukuyama's latest on the origins of political order for an even worse example of exactly the same approach.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Send your inner pessimist packing - along with organic crops and ethanol. That's the contrarian message of Matt Ridley's insightful, entertaining look at humankind's steady progress over the millennia. Ridley dips into biology and economics to support his case that life is good and getting better. His wide-ranging look at humanity's past and future makes it clear that those who long for the good old days just don't realize how rugged hunting and gathering or medieval medical care must have been. Ridley meanders at times, yet, as the title suggests, his book offers a fundamentally optimistic analysis of humankind's ability to solve the planet's problems, even now. getAbstract recommends it to readers seeking a thought-provoking analysis of contemporary issues that doesn't hew to conventional wisdom.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Things ARE getting better 30 July 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you listen to the news, it's hard not to get depressed about how awful things are in the world - war, famine, poverty, ecological disaster, climate change, pollution, global warming, etc etc.
But this book shows that actually, and perhaps counter-intuitively, things are actually getting steadily better in the world as a whole.
For more people, in more places, the indicators of improvement are gradually consolidating and growing - the defeat of childhood diseases, life expectancy and longevity, family incomes, standards of education, travel, growth of democracy or electoral freedom, life choices, and so on.
Each chapter gives statistics and references, and seems to be very thorough. The graphics are easy to understand.
No doubt the book is written from a right-wing-ish point of view, but it's a good antidote to the relentless gloom and doom of the media, which can only survive on bad news and disaster. It does not gloss over the difficulties still faced by too many people, but it provides a viewpoint over time, and not just responding to each crisis or peril as it happens.
In some ways, this is a rather shocking book. There is such a clumpish mass of received opinion about what's wrong in the world, and I have found it is quite hard to challenge the set views about it all, but this book attempts to do that.
It does not say things are 'good' or even 'good enough' but it does say things are getting better - for lots of people, in lots of ways, in lots of places.
I found it an invigorating read, and I wish I had bought it as a 3D version, and not on Kindle, where the whole footnote/indexing/referencing systems are so clunky.
Recommended.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Upside/Downside? 20 May 2012
Format:Paperback
Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist is the companion piece to the more erudite Stephen Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. Both take a big picture view -against prevailing wisdom - that life has been getting better rapidly (Ridley) and violence has also become much less prevalent (except for the eruptions of WWI and II - Pinker). Both write well, draw upon tons of evidence and put their cases very clearly. Ridley, however has an agenda, and that is the free-market, anti-government agenda that he puts in throughout. Pinker is not political as such, but a great social scientist.

Well, what's wrong with that? For one thing, Ridley was Chairman of Northern Rock when it failed (because it was so unregulated) - then it and Ridley was rescued by the government, who can do no right, it seems. All government regulation does is stifle innovation. Come again? The Manhattan Project? Putting a man on the moon? Building the motorways? Rescuing capitalism every generation or so?

And that's the problem with Ridley's optimism. He can't help over-turning all his good work with this ridiculous stance that defies logic. He undermines himself and his case for life getting better, for the junk predictions of doom monging activists on every front with some of this political garbage that is anti-government - from a man who was saved by the government! What the hell does he think would have happened if Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling hadn't saved his bacon?

Still, there is much to enjoy in this, so many dumb things about human nature, our profound pessimism and countless examples that do justify the book and it's title.

Read it anyway.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for everyone
Great book, covered much more than I expected! - From the beginning of humankind right through to current day :)
Published 17 days ago by ellie
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
A refreshing change from the usual warning type books, a real wake up call to all those who think we are in the completly wrong path.
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Briliant book.
A really interesting book. Very informative, very well-written. Amazing perspectives on urban society, nature, technology, and progress of humankind. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Breno Nunes
3.0 out of 5 stars We're (not) Doomed
To be honest, I was expecting more optimism from this book than I got. Instead of a straight counterblast to much of the doom-mongering we receive from the media today (not that... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jim 8888
5.0 out of 5 stars When all about you are loosing their heads
Read the book and at a time when we don't seem to be able to get anything right it will give you hope for the future. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Michael G Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars The country is going to the dogs - or is it?
If you have ever thought that the U.K. will end up being a place of destitutiion then this book looks back in history and predicts that it wont be so. Read more
Published 8 months ago by LEWIS, UK
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimism я Us
At last a book that gives us true cause for optimism. We've never had it so good - almost everybody knows it but very few are prepared to say so, u.til now. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Nicholas Leach
1.0 out of 5 stars A bad book.
The author is deeply and hopelessly in thrall to his own rose tinted world view.

On almost every page there is one or more opportunities to doubt what is written or the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by StevenF
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking
Having read all of the 'doom & gloom forecasts of so called economic experts I found Matt Ridley's views refreshing to say the least.
Published 12 months ago by MR G CASTELL
4.0 out of 5 stars refreshing and heretical. spread the word. get positive and do good
Great riposte to the Pessimists who always have a scare to worry about. Great sweep of history and effective use of statistics to build case for optimism
Published 13 months ago by Mr. B. Lynch
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