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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read during a crisis
Most of the news I get bombarded with is negative: Greek debt close to default, economic decline in Europe, you name it ... and it feels that our civilisation has reached its peak and is in constant decline. Interestingly, this has been true for many years and we are still around and overall are better of than ever before. Why is that?

"The Rational Optimist"...
Published on 24 Feb. 2012 by J. Schmuecker

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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 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...
Published 18 months ago by Jim 8888


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We're (not) Doomed, 31 Dec. 2013
This review is from: The Rational Optimist (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful read during a crisis, 24 Feb. 2012
Most of the news I get bombarded with is negative: Greek debt close to default, economic decline in Europe, you name it ... and it feels that our civilisation has reached its peak and is in constant decline. Interestingly, this has been true for many years and we are still around and overall are better of than ever before. Why is that?

"The Rational Optimist" brings it down to the simple principal of "comparative advantage". While I did know about comparative advante, I did never think about it's consequences. Finally, a believable argument why we can have hope that our "world" will continue to improve and move forward.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenged many of my preconceptions....unsettling, maybe even "a Damascus road experience", 9 Feb. 2015
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French beans from Kenya, may seem like a crazy idea, but if their delivery to my plate in the UK involves the consumption of only 25% of the energy required of those grown 10 miles away...that is not what I had expected. That the wheat the anti GM movement are happy to be grown, were developed by irradiation and selection of radiation mutated genes is not part of their mantra, or the massive number of blind children denied "Golden Rice" (rice with a gene that adds vitamin A to the grain, and thus improves their diet).....OK read the book...it changed my perspective, uncomfortably!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reasons to be cheerful?, 4 July 2011
This review is from: The Rational Optimist (Paperback)
An enjoyable and thought provoking read, if somewhat lacking proper intellectual rigour or originality. Ridley's Hayekian approach to markets and the role of the state are nothing new and his up-beat analysis is too often journalese masquerading as something deeper (you often get the impression he's doing all his research on Wikepedia). But his views on climate change and food production are clearly thought through and are genuinely strong and heartfelt arguments. To my mind this is when the book succeeds the most. The problems arise in Ridley's general lack of nuance in understanding the subtleties of human psychology and emotion (e.g. when he's describing the social changes caused by the industrial revolution or enclosure acts). This is not helped by the book's sometimes geeky, lecturing and boffin-like tone which lacks a certain gravitas. But putting these criticisms aside, I would definitely recommend the book, if only for the reason that he demands an intellectual response and makes you question your ideological and political assumptions. Now that can't be a bad thing.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, so long as you interrogate it, 1 Sept. 2012
By 
J. Goddard "Jim Goddard" (Shipley) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rational Optimist (Paperback)
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.

I also grew a little tired of his presentation of his opponents, mainly on the left, as a monolithic establishment, with himself and his merry band of fellow free-thinkers engaged in a David versus Goliath struggle. It may make him feel good but if you look around the world it is hardly the case. Likewise I was disappointed by his tendency to characterise those opponents as idiots, narcissists or power-crazed zealots. No doubt this is true in many individual cases, but such a sweeping dismissal is a cheap way of avoiding the possibility that some of their arguments may be worth taking seriously. It also suggests that they are all singing from the same PC-Guardian-Reader crib sheet, which is simply not the case. However, it certainly cuts down on the number of books one might feel obliged to read.

As a result of this mindset, there is a tendency to a panglossian view of the world. Perhaps Ridley feels a need to overcompensate for the doom-mongering that he so rightly criticises. However, one can still feel positive about the human capacity to solve its own problems while discussing the issues that are currently extremely challenging. Indeed, it would have strengthened Ridley's case if, to take just one example, he hadn't blithely skipped over the world-wide growth of obesity. Some of the answers to this problem are implicit in his central thesis. He would have helped his case by deploying them.

For all that, this remains a substantial and worthwhile book. I learned much from it and will doubtless read it again with profit. Much as I would differ very strongly from Ridley politically (notice how daintily he skips over questions of economic inequality by focussing on the - admittedly very positive - good news in many parts of the world), I was impressed by his general approach. It is certainly a far deeper and more thoughtful analysis of current social and economic trends than one gets from the mass media. That might not seem much of a compliment, given that this is a book. However, in a world drowning in unthinking soundbites and rent-a-quote 'experts' it makes a refreshing change to read someone whose arguments are based on hard work and research and who is prepared to present them in an interesting and relevant way to the general reader. So many non-fiction books on social issues these days are little more than journalism writ large (indeed, often written by journalists who have been carried away by their public profile). Ridley is much better than that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely erudite, very readable., 21 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: The Rational Optimist (Paperback)
Matt Ridley draws upon a huge base of diverse knowledge. He writes a fascinating book to expound his theories of how H.Sapiens developed culture and how things inevitably improve for mankind. he reserves scorn for the parasites of society - bandit warlords/politicians and bureaucrats.
I borrowed this book from the library but halfway through decided to buy my own copy. Not often I do that!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good listen..., 11 May 2011
The audio version of Ridley's convincing, amusing and controversial tome kept all my family entertained for several long journeys. The reader has an attractive broad American accent which seems appropriate for a book which tends to prairie optimism. I was surprised to discover the author is in fact from gloomy, cynical old England.

The best and funniest bits are the debunking of the 'apocaholic' doomsters. Optimism is rare and enjoyable. Nonetheless we all tend to be drawn to pessimism and so I have just bought a copy of 'the limits to growth' as recommended by the earlier reviewer.

In the end TRO is a great book and I commend the audio version to you unreservedly.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimistic argument that life on Earth is better than you think, 10 Nov. 2010
By 
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars The country is going to the dogs - or is it?, 19 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Rational Optimist (Paperback)
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. Learning from bad lessons in the past, (like those greed ridden bankers), humanity should be progressing upwards - despite the downs, the ups should always make trends upwards for prosperity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimism я Us, 9 Sept. 2013
By 
Amazon Customer (Bracknell, Berkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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. Let's promote Rational Optimism as the new religion!
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The Rational Optimist
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (Paperback - 27 May 2010)
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