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The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves [Hardcover]

Matt Ridley
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
Price: 20.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

27 May 2010

Matt Ridley, acclaimed author of the classics Genome and Nature via Nurture, turns from investigating human nature to investigating human progress. In The Rational Optimist Ridley offers a counterblast to the prevailing pessimism of our age, and proves, however much we like to think to the contrary, that things are getting better.

Over 10,000 years ago there were fewer than 10 million people on the planet. Today there are more than 6 billion, 99 per cent of whom are better fed, better sheltered, better entertained and better protected against disease than their Stone Age ancestors.

The availability of almost everything a person could want or need has been going erratically upwards for 10,000 years and has rapidly accelerated over the last 200 years: calories; vitamins; clean water; machines; privacy; the means to travel faster than we can run, and the ability to communicate over longer distances than we can shout. Yet, bizarrely, however much things improve from the way they were before, people still cling to the belief that the future will be nothing but disastrous.

In this original, optimistic book, Matt Ridley puts forward his surprisingly simple answer to how humans progress, arguing that we progress when we trade and we only really trade productively when we trust each other.

The Rational Optimist will do for economics what Genome did for genomics and will show that the answer to our problems, imagined or real, is to keep on doing what we've been doing for 10,000 years – to keep on changing.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; First Edition edition (27 May 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0007267118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007267118
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 241,697 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

Reviews for Nature via Nurture:

‘Nature via Nurture sets the modern terms for an ancient debate, and at the same time delivers a superb tutorial on contemporary genetics; the feedback loop that embraces genes and environment is generally not well understood. And yet this plasticity, this elegant mutuality, seems crucial if our new understanding of human nature is to inform public policy. These times need a book like this.’ Ian McEwan

‘Lucidly explains the most recent discoveries on what makes us what we are, and how we should think about these discoveries as we ponder who we want to be…A treat, written with insight, wisdom, and style.’ Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate

‘Bracingly intelligent, lucid, balanced – witty, too. Nature via Nurture is a scrupulous and charming look at our modern understanding of genes and experience.’ Oliver Sacks

‘A real page-turner. What a superb writer he is, and he seems to get better and better.’ Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene

‘Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, in glorious contrast, tells us what we really should want to hear: that the human species, through our unique ability to exchange ideas and thus innovate at the speed of thought, has overcome all the challenges that have ever confronted us, and will do so in future. This inspiring book, a glorious defense of our species, explains why: it is a devastating rebuke to humanity's self-haters.' Dominic Lawson, Sunday 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
27 of 27 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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12 of 13 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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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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 1 month 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 3 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 3 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 5 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 6 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 7 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 7 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 9 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 10 months ago by Mr. B. Lynch
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book
Another fascinating and wide-ranging review by this exceptional author. A great antidote to eco-pessimism.
Full of absorbing ideas. Read more
Published 12 months ago by JD
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