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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress Paperback – 3 Jan 2019
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My new favourite book of all time (Bill Gates)
Exhilarating, magnificent, uplifting (Economist)
This is the biggest story of our time. It's about the many ways in which the world is improving, and why we don't believe it (Fraser Nelson Spectator)
Pinker is right. Not just a bit right, but completely, utterly, incontrovertibly right ... for most people, life is better, even if they don't realise it (Dominic Sandbrook Daily Mail)
Awesome. The confidence with which Pinker tears through the issues that cause such deep anxiety today is compelling (William Davies Guardian)
A characteristically fluent, decisive and data-rich demonstration of why, given the chance to live at any point in human history, only a stone-cold idiot would choose any time other than the present (Sam Leith Spectator)
A new, optimistic view of the world ... Things are not as bad as your Facebook news feed makes them seem ... a cheerful, contrarian tract for dark times (Niall Ferguson Sunday Times)
A goldmine of startling graphs and killer facts about the way we live now. Everyone should read this book and, just for once, be enthralled by what humankind has achieved (Iain Macwhirter Herald)
Brimming with surprising data and entertaining anecdotes ... a genuinely enlightening book (Jan-Werner Müller Financial Times)
Today we are living healthier, wealthier lives - and it's thanks to the values of the Enlightenment ... a passionate book in praise of Enlightenment values (David Aaronovitch The Times)
From the Inside Flap
Is modernity really failing? Or have we failed to appreciate progress and the ideals that make it possible? If you follow the headlines, the world in the 21st century appears to be sinking into chaos, hatred, and irrationality. Yet Steven Pinker shows that this is an illusion - a symptom of historical amnesia and statistical fallacies. If you follow the trendlines rather than the headlines, you discover that our lives have become longer, healthier, safer, happier, more peaceful, more stimulating and more prosperous - not just in the West, but worldwide. Such progress is no accident: it's the gift of a coherent and inspiring value system that many of us embrace without even realizing it. These are the values of the Enlightenment: of reason, science, humanism and progress. The challenges we face today are formidable, including inequality, climate change, Artificial Intelligence and nuclear weapons. But the way to deal with them is not to sink into despair or try to lurch back to a mythical idyllic past; it's to treat them as problems we can solve, as we have solved other problems in the past. In making the case for an Enlightenment newly recharged for the 21st century, Pinker shows how we can use our faculties of reason and sympathy to solve the problems that inevitably come with being products of evolution in an indifferent universe. We will never have a perfect world, but - defying the chorus of fatalism and reaction - we can continue to make it a better one.See all Product description
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This is not quite as overpoweringly persuasive, but then I think it would be impossible for it to be. Angels addresses the many aspects of one long-term trend in human history (the saw-tooth decline of violence over time, and its many causes, corollaries etc). Enlightenment addresses the greater sweep of a large number of such things, and cannot possibly devote the space that Angels did to one subject to each - hence the inevitability that it can't feel quite as persuasive
I note that several critics picked out areas that they felt were dealt with in a cursory manner, or where errors exist, and I would add to this is saying that whilst the ways in which a significant asteroid strike or supervolcano might be tackled are beginning to be understood, but I think Pinker believes that we are further along in these regards than I understand to be the case.
But none of these criticisms matter - not a jot. The case presented is like a building. It is comprised of many things, and finding some fault with one or two of the bricks does nothing to undermine the worldview that is being advanced.
So, less convincing that Angels perhaps, but if anything even more important.
It's an especially good read for those of us who like to see religion and simplistic tribal politics get a kicking ...
However, the chapters on inequality and the environment were flawed. Pinker should have acknowledged that most things are getting better, but not everything. Instead, by defending everything, he cast doubt over the whole book. He seemed willing to cherry-pick statistics to make the environmental situation look better, leaving himself open to the criticism of blind optimism he otherwise avoided.
I did notice that although Pinker strongly promotes the ideas of rationality and debate, he seems unwilling to take criticism. While his argument is made in precise detail, he generalises his critics as hysterical, irrational and foolish, without presenting their argument for us to judge.
A final note is that like other Pinker books, he presents his argument in exhaustive detail and I felt exhausted by the end of it and started skimming. His point was hammered home long before the end of the book. I skipped the bland final argument for enlightenment values because it had already been said.
Overall, an excellent book with only a blemish or two to stop it from being 5 stars.
What an uplifting message, and the primary sadness emphasised by this book is how little that is known and understood, indeed the extent to which so many people, including the highly educated and our leaders, wrongly believe the contrary and are fixated on strategies which employ insufficient science and reason to address the problems that still face the world.
After reading this myself, I gave two further copies to family, something I've never before been motivated by a book to do.