9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Profound, Magisterial and Wonderfully Written,
This review is from: The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (Paperback)
Stephen Pinker has long been a writer whose works I've enjoyed. At his best, he combines an effortless command of the latest scientific research with a warm and engaging style. He is impartial when considering the evidence, but pulls no punches when it comes to spelling out the implications of the facts.
This book is Pinker at his best, and then some.
Better Angels of Our Nature examines the extra-ordinary decline in violence of every kind over the course of human history. This decline is seen in every sphere and in every timescale (notwithstanding short-term variability, of which the world wars of the 20th century were a horrific example). His hopeful claim may seem counter-intuitive to many, and so it is one Pinker evidences extensively. Along the way, he dynamites some truisms dear to ideologues across the political spectrum; including the myth of the noble savage, the supremacy of free will over the influence of society, and the notion that human nature must be intrinsically good, or intrinsically evil. The latter third of the book is then spent examining possible reasons for this decline in violence. Wonderfully, Pinker finishes without discussing the ramifications of this staggering truth. He leaves that to the reader.
Better Angels is a long book, and heavy on data. The subject material is so fascinating, however, and Pinker's prose so gripping that it never becomes dull. There are some lengthy asides, but it is difficult to begrudge Pinker these; all are relevant, and sparkle with interest. Many of other ideas touched upon are as fascinating (if not as profound) as his central thesis, and could easily fill books of their own. Pursuing his quarry, Pinker ranges not only across the landscape of political science but sociology, psychology and probability theory. Pinker's command of his subject matter in every field is impressive, but never overbearing.
Simply put, then, Better Angels is a masterpiece. Hopeful without being naively optimistic, it is a wonderfully life-affirming work. And by beginning with the evidence, rather than ideology, it settles arguments that have been raging in op-ed columns for decades.
Highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in current affairs, society or human psychology.
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Initial post: 1 Feb 2014 17:18:37 GMT
think about it says:
Beautifully put. I completely agree. It is great to find a well-researched book, heavy on statistics, which is so readable! Been reading it over an extended period (in between other books) partly because there is so much to think about and it needs time to process. One of the most enjoyable aspects is the way I keep finding new meanings in discussions and current affairs issues, in the light of reading this book. My only real problem is the physical weight of the book. Hard to hold open in one hand.
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