9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Upside/Downside?
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...
Published 19 months ago by The Outsider
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, so long as you interrogate it
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...
Published 15 months ago by J. Goddard
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, so long as you interrogate it,
This review is from: The Rational Optimist: Economic Progress and the Evolution of the Future (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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Upside/Downside?,
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.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimistic argument that life on Earth is better than you think,
This review is from: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Things ARE getting better,
This review is from: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (Kindle Edition)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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original, convicing, challenging,
The optimism in the title is indeed rational since it's based on an historical assessment of of the way the mechanism has led to mankind's explosion from a few hunter gatherers to the dominant species on the planet. Again, I was fairly convinced.
The final thesis concerns the doom-sayers, who the author shows have always been with us. I particularly liked his dissection of the IPCC models, which imply that we should impoverish ourselves now so to ensure that 100 years hence our descendants are 20 times better off, instead of the mere 19 times they'd be if we do nothing.
And yet, the book creates a concern. No, more optimistically, a challenge!
The challenge is those doom-sayers - you can see the way they think in the negative reviews of this book. These folk, in spite of humanity's unprecedented wealth (see Cool it: The sceptical environmentalist's guide to global warming) want to stop our advance and are getting louder and more desperate the higher we climb. And now they rule the western world - currently the US administration, the EU, and the British government have all embraced that pessimism, and are pushing up our energy costs (in consequence killing poor people) in an attempt to avert an alarmist prophecy.
The book tells us that this kind of rejection of change froze the Chinese into a stasis of poverty for a thousand years. But author also shows that, historically, such local failures don't matter much, because in the past there's always been another civilization - such as the Italian city states - to pick up the torch of progress. But for that to work, we need a fragmented world, which we had until recently. But now the Internet makes it much less fragmented. And the doom-sayers are pushing for a form of world government to enforce 'sustainability' on us.
So, if we want our descendants to continue to get richer and healthier and happier, we're going to have to fight hard not to bring the world into one big happy polity, but to keep it fragmented.
Now that's a challenging thought!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A healthy and contrarian view to the dominant pessimistic viewpoint,
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.
It may something to do with the author being the Chairman of Northern Rock running up to 2007 when it collapsed, the first banking collapse of the crisis and first one in Britain for over 100 years.
But I couldn't help finding myself constantly agreeing with many arguments. Even if we live a consumerist society, we are living healthier, longer lives with a range of goods, foods and leisure that our even the most richest ancestors could only dream of.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely essential read,
For me, it articulated every thought I'd ever had about consumer capitalism. What a delight to read someone as intelligent as Matt Ridley eloquently voice my thoughts about the free market, how it has helped bring prosperity, learning, democracy, freedom and charity wherever it has been applied. The book certainly proves that the current intellectual force is with what could loosely be termed the right, if only in the sense that socialism gets another huge battering here.
As the title suggests, Ridley is a rationalist. He's also a humanist and a capitalist which, as he convincingly demonstrates time after time, is anything but a dirty word. It's the opposite: it's the way to health and happiness, the way to the stars. Where financial enrichment appears, so do cultural and scientific enrichment. He exposes those who would wish to stop the economy dead as dunderheads, showing how it is only an advanced, innovative, risk-taking economy that can provide the best solutions to problems that life and the planet can throw at us. Entrepreneurs are the answer, not the clumsy hand of the state.
My only slight criticism would be that there's a few too many historical examples from history of specialisation and exchange working their magic - with a few less we'd still get the point.
But this is still a brilliant book, and note that those who give it low marks are those who do not comment on the book itself but only choose to abuse the author. Ignore these skulking socialists and buy this book to make this planet's future a whole lot better.
5.0 out of 5 stars When all about you are loosing their heads,
This review is from: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (Hardcover)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. It also dispels many rubbish written and spoken about the environment and the economy.
5.0 out of 5 stars The country is going to the dogs - or is it?,
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimism я Us,
This review is from: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (Kindle Edition)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: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley