Customer Review

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind altering, 11 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence In History And Its Causes (Hardcover)
This book will change your view of the world, and of yourself, forever.

It is a rich mountain of a book, with an immense range which probes far and wide into seemingly every corner of human experience, from the Roman Empire to World War II to feminism to the workings of the brain to the 1960's cultural revolution. It reminds me of a Mahler symphony, it is 'like the world: it must embrace everything'. You could easily lose yourself in here!

What struck me most strongly is that humans are such a brand new and recently developing species. Many of the things we all take for granted - equality of women, human rights, racial equality, and generally avoiding violence, are actually very recent developments, happening even within our current lifespan.

One surprising insight is that most perpetrators of violence actually believe they are behaving in a moral way. Pinker explains the dramatic improvements in moral standards in recent times that are responsible for the reduction in violence. He helps us to realise that many well respected figures of only a few decades ago, for example Winston Churchill, or Woodrow Wilson, actually harboured views which we would consider morally retarded.

An important consequence of the argument is that religions too have come to appear as morally retarded in recent years, as they cling to the lower moral standards of more violent times past.

On the down side, that broad range is a weakness as well as a strength. As the topics range ever wider, even Pinker sometimes finds himself a bit out of his depth. You probably won't agree with everything he says and you may also find the occasional error (for example he talks about the English 'town of Kent'(!)on page 61). If you get bogged down once or twice, or get irritated by something he says, do keep going. You'll find the overall experience well worth it, and the last two chapters are the best of all, with a new gem of profound insight on almost every page.
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