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The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves Hardcover – 27 May 2010


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The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves + Nature via Nurture: Genes, experience and what makes us human
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; First Edition edition (27 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007267118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007267118
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 4.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 56,848 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.

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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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By J. Goddard on 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jim 8888 on 31 Dec 2013
Format: Paperback
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 this is a new thing, as Ridley often points out) we get much more about how the free market, and how the trading of goods and ideas has improved mankind's lot. The central argument boils down to this - that if I'm a good cook and you're a good hunter, we'd get a better deal together if we both specialised in what we're good at and shared the spoils. In this way, mankind has flourished. The more we can do to encourage this trade, the better we will improve. And we've just built the best "sharing tool" ever in the internet. There's a lot to be optimistic about, and it's difficult to disagree with Ridley. It's easier, however, to focus on the downside, which is what many people have a vested interest in doing. You could argue that it's this paranoia that drives us forward - if we didn't worry about climate change, would we bother trying to tackle it? If we were all "rational optimists", or even if the majority were, maybe we wouldn't drive ourselves so relentlessly forward? After all, as the old joke goes, just because we're paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get us.
It's a stimulating read and I found the book easier to get through in short doses. I think it could have been a bit shorter, a bit punchier and a bit more aggressive toward the nay-sayers, but overall I found it a refreshing change to a lot of the messages we receive today about us all being doomed.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER on 10 Nov 2010
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. Williams on 30 Aug 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Book Review: The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
Natural resources are running out, we are polluting a planet that is already overcrowded, the recent rioting in the UK shows crime is everywhere and the free-market system is failing. It seems that we are going to hell in a handcart.

The Contrarian Matt Ridley, in his book 'The Rational Optimist' argues the otherwise, we have never had it so good and we will continue to do so. He goes about dismantling alarmist views from the last 30-40 years, population boom, rising crime levels, intensive farming are all in his sights. You can watch some quick videos on his arguments here and here.

Targeting the environmental movement, he attacks their stances on many topics such intensive farming or Genetically modified foods as counter-productive. Arguing that their position is less based on the economic and environment benefits and more on groundless fears.

His libertarian views do cuts across his book, describing state power in one point as `vermin' and widely blames an overweight, bureaucratic government as a limiter on trade and innovation. While his critical view on the environmental movement means that he is sceptical of climate change and belief in technology does not extend to wind power. Somehow innovation around this sustainable energy source is not happening, its propellers destined to shred birds.

A lack of acknowledgement of recent problems surrounding free trade and market is also quite obvious. We were, by all accounts, only 72 hours away from a complete collapse of the financial infrastructure, but this important event seems to pass the author by.
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