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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Написано Steven Pinker

Озвучено Arthur Morey


The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Написано Steven Pinker

Озвучено Arthur Morey

оценки:
4.5/5 (129 оценки)
Длина:
36 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Oct 4, 2011
ISBN:
9781455839605
Формат:

Примечание редактора

See past violent headlines…

Bill Gates dubbed this “the most inspiring book I’ve ever read,” and with good reason. Throw all your presumptions about the prevalence of violence today, about the seeming decay of culture in this day and age, and much more out the window. Pinker’s book will help you traverse today’s media and political climates and will compel you to tear down the partisan barriers we’ve built through kind means.

Описание

We've all asked, "What is the world coming to?" But we seldom ask, "How bad was the world in the past?" In this startling new book, the bestselling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era yet.

Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the genocides in the Old Testament and crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals.

Now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse-all substantially down.

How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed?

Pinker argues that the key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.

Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping audiobook is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.

This updated edition include bonus reference material provided as a PDF.

Издатель:
Издано:
Oct 4, 2011
ISBN:
9781455839605
Формат:

Об авторе

One of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World Today," Steven Pinker is the author of seven books, including How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate—both Pulitzer Prize finalists and winners of the William James Book Award. He is an award-winning researcher and teacher, and a frequent contributor to Time and the New York Times.


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4.5
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  • Bill Gates dubbed this "the most inspiring book I've ever read," and with good reason. Throw all your presumptions about the prevalence of violence today, about the seeming decay of culture in this day and age, and much more out the window. Pinker's book will help you traverse today's media and political climates and will compel you to tear down the partisan barriers we've built through kind means.

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Отзывы читателей

  • (3/5)
    I feel as though I've been stuck in this book for weeks. It's undoubtedly interesting and, in many ways, reassuring, but I really wish it hadn't been quite so long. The chapter on war, particularly went on and on - and got way too bogged down in statistical niceties for my taste. And the editing wasn't particularly good either, in the ebook version I was reading.
  • (5/5)
    Another brilliant read from a wise old professor.
  • (5/5)

    This is one of the greatest books I have read in my life or that have ever been written.
    It is impossible to overstate the light it brings to any reasoning individual as to the progress humanity has brought upon it by and what has really given us the privilege to live in this era, and the hopes it brings for the future of humanity.
    I give a great THANKS to the great Professor Steven Pinker for the immense effort he made to give us and all the world such precious and clear guides for what is worth figthing for. It is a great legacy for which all of us who had the fortune to read it should be thankful.
    A great congratulations, please read Enlightment Now by same author. We hope to read more wisdom from you soon!
  • (5/5)
    Well written, precise and eye opening. A must read in my opinion.
  • (5/5)
    This book, for me, had the power and logic to change my way of thinking.

    All thoughtful people in these Modern Times are torn between the values of Conservatism and Progressivism.

    Conservatives on the one hand seem to respect the Ten Commandments and traditional family values inherited from the past as an antidote to perceived violence and cultural decay of the present.

    On the other hand, Progressives see Inequality embedded in past societies as the source of all violence and evil.

    This book attempts to describe and quantify violence (that we all must agree is evil) throughout the ages of human evolution and across the geographical continents.

    The very big book raises hypotheses and then draws conclusions in the most scintillating, rich & dense language packed with so much knowledge and nuance in his field of cognitive science and psychology

    In my opinion Stephen Pinker would be the next step for followers of Jordan Peterson

    In the early chapters of the book there were descriptions of Medieval public executions by the most agonizing and prolonged torture that could be conceived by the mind of man, and the general public’s apparent acclimatization and participation in this phenomenal sadism. The confrontation of the reader with this truly shocking reality prepared him or her for the later chapters wherein Stephen Pinker introduces his hypotheses and conclusions as to why violence and evil has provably reduced dramatically and hopefully irreversibly since the advent of what is commonly known as the Enlightenment

    You will have to read and digest the book yourself in order to learn of his conclusions: I won’t spoil the ending for you.

    Suffice to say that this book in a hundred years might well be seen to be as as historically influential as the works of, for example, Thomas Hobbes and Rousseau
  • (5/5)
    A Jaw dropping scope. The articulation of truly stunning and gratitude-inducing patterns. A nice ‘tuning-up’ of my understanding of our Enlightenment inheritance. And I’m the wake of it all, a hope for humanity in these bickering times as we proceed along the arc of the moral universe and time, towards a better world. Read this book (or listen!)
  • (3/5)
    You can practically hear the authors jeans tightening in response to his seemingly endless accounts of torture devices throughout history...we get it. The dark ages were dark. Clean up your mess and get on with it.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    This is a fascinating book, and many people will be surprised by what Pinker has to say. We routinely tell ourselves that we live in a violent world, that for all the comforts of civilization wars are more common, more terrible, and more fatal to non-combatants. Anyone who follows the news can cite examples of terrible atrocities that are the basis of our certainty that the human race is demonstrating a destructiveness and depravity towards other human beings unknown in the simpler, gentler past when knights and armsmen fought other knights and armsmen, leaving the civilians largely undisturbed.

    Stephen Pinker explains, with examples, details, and cites to original sources and current research, that we have it all wrong, and the past was a far more violent place than we typically imagine, or than we experience day to day in all but the most violent places on Earth now. And those "most violent places" aren't our modern cities in developed countries.

    He examines the levels of violence and the rates of violent death in primitive human hunter-gatherer communities, mediaeval Europe, and modern hunter-gatherer societies. He mines information from physical anthropology, historical records, recorded causes of death, death rates and causes of death in modern hunter-gatherer communities, and the trend is both clear and quite different from what our reflexive biases often tell us. Hunter-gatherer cultures generally have startlingly, even shockingly, high rates of death by violence. This stems from raids and conflicts with neighboring groups, the need to have a reputation for being too strong to attack and/or likely to take revenge if attacked, and other conflicts that, in the absence of a functioning government, individuals have to prevent or resolve for themselves.

    He traces the significantly lower but still high rates of violence in early agricultural settlements, as government begins to evolve but is still, itself, pretty violent, and then the evolution of things that start to resemble the modern state. We are introduced to Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and how their theories both described and influenced the growth of government, Hobbes' "Leviathan," and the concomitant increase in self-control and decrease in private violence. He describes in enough detail to make the point the behavior that resulted from the expectation that mediaeval armies would feed and pay themselves by "living off the land," i.e., raiding villagers, and damage the enemy's wealth by burning the fields and killing the villagers. Torture was also used routinely, openly--and often as a form of public entertainment.

    Fewer mediaeval Europeans were likely to die by violence than hunter-gatherers, but it was still a shockingly violent time by modern standards.

    Pinker marshals evidence from the fields of sociology and psychology as we move closer to our own time, as well as crime statistics, war records, causes of death, etc. He does not shirk examining the effects of the two World Wars in the past century, as well as civil wars, the Rwanda genocide, and other painful modern episodes.

    He also looks at less obvious declines in violence, such as hookless fly fishing and the elimination of many kinds of "entertainment" that used to be taken for granted. The banning of dodgeball by some schools and summer camps, and speech codes at universities are discussed as ridiculous extremes that are nevertheless simple overshoots of what are generally beneficial trends.

    Stephen Pinker has a track record of excellent books using psychology and sociology to examine major aspects of modern life in an interesting, informative, and enlightening way. He's done it again, and in this volume lays out a powerful case that the growth of effective government, the development of political forms that placed a premium on self-control, the growth of modern literature (and, eventually, movies, tv, and the internet), democracy, open societies, and international trade have all contributed to dramatically lowering rates of violence and creating a startlingly safe and peaceful world--for now. He makes no claim that we've changed human nature, or that the trends that have produced our current peacefulness could not be reversed.

    This a compelling, enlightening, and highly readable book.

    Highly recommended.

    I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    On the whole, I think this is a good book, but an incomplete one. While I don't think, or feel, that violence has declined, he does have data on his side. However, it is easier to push a button, or sit in the comfort of a War room, than actually lead troops to battle!He does cover aspects like domestic violence, rape, child killings, and this is good. As he also does the topic of genocide. The analysis is, in general, good. However, I feel that the book is incomplete on account of a few things"One: it is a Western book. The data covers Europe and the US. You cannot extrapolate to Latin America, Asia, Australia and Africa! This is a sad fact of the book, Two: I don't think he explores causality. Some aver that the rise of Muslim terrorism, and Hindu fundamentalism is because of the actions of the British, in India, between 1858 and 1947, wherein they systematically tried to drive a wedge between the two communities. True? Some sort of analysis on causality would be goodAnother example: the West has had a different growth trajectory, demographic situation, culture than the rest of the world. the forces that drive violence is different. He has not gone into this at allA good book, but incomplete.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I first became interested in this book through a TED talk Pinker gave on the same subject. It was a fascinating idea (that violence that greatly decreased over time) and one that struck me as true fairly quickly. Picking up the book, I was shocked by the many instances of barbarism of past centuries that modern persons would never even consider. Some may find the length of the book and Pinker's many examples for each point excessive, but I greatly enjoyed the thorough exploration of the myriad strange forms human violence has taken. Pinker's comparison of cultures separated by time and space was well done and backed up by a lot of statistical evidence. (He was also careful analyze the possible limitations of the statistics he cited.)

    However, where the book fell apart for me was in Pinker's reliance on evolutionary psychology, particularly in relation to differences between genders and between races. Evo-psych is not a discipline I have a lot of respect for (most of its claims are unfalsifiable and supported by little to no evidence) but I pride myself on being openminded and was willing to hear out Pinker's evidence that this differences are primarily the product of evolution, not society. The only problem was he never presented any.

    If I was being generous, I might say he provided some anecdotal evidence, but as far as hard, scientific evidence, crickets. It was actually quite jarring in contrast to heavily evidence-backed claims of the rest of the book. I hadn't been too familiar with Pinker's work before picking this up, but it turns out he has a bit of a reputation for this sort of thing.

    I still think there are many good ideas in the book but Pinker's embracing of some very morally and scientifically dubious ones calls the whole thing into question.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I tomb of a book that well illustrates Pinker's vast knowledge of the area. Well researched and founded upon exstensive reviews of the evidence. Perhaps one of the most important contributions to understanding the evolution of human morality and humanity.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Another excellent book from Steven Pinker. I love it when a book makes me say “Cool!” and “Wait, that can’t be right” at frequent intervals and one that angers both liberals and conservatives. Pinker starts by describing the bloodiness of the historical past, with chapters on Homeric Greece, the Bible (specifically the Old Testament – by one estimate there are around 20M violent deaths in the Old Testament; even if you don’t count The Flood there are over a million); the Roman Empire; medieval times; and early modern Europe. Pinker stresses both the body counts and the methods – the Roman Empire was the source of our government and is still used as a model of honor and probity – but nobody blinked an eye at death by crucifixion and the sale of 12 year old girls in the slave markets. The 20th century provides one of the “that can’t be right” moments – despite the WWI, the Ukrainian famine, WWII, the Holocaust, the Gulags, the Chinese “Great Leap Forward” famines, and the Cambodian killing fields it’s still the least violent century in history (Pinker has to clarify here; it’s not that there weren’t a lot of violent deaths, but that a randomly selected individual had a smaller chance of dying by violence than any time previously). The Middle Ages were particularly brutal; Pinker cites statistics for the European nobility (the only people you really can get statistics for) that gave a male member of a noble family about a 25% chance of premature death by violence. This is dramatically different from the popular view; people polled generally put the 20th century as the most violent, compared to the “Good Old Days”.
    After establishing this rather astonishing fact in the first couple chapters, Pinker spends the rest of the book proposing various major and minor explanations, with plenty of opportunity to offend people on both ends of the political spectrum. Major explanations are:
    * Leviathan – (Pinker consistently uses this term) – A government monopoly on violence, with the suppression of private feuds and punishment for private violence. Pinker also notes the concomitant reduction in the number of governments – Europe in the Middle Ages had hundreds of independent political units; it’s now in the 30s. Fewer people to fight against. Pinker also puts the decline of the “culture of honor” here, where every insult has to be bloodily avenged – you can often get the government to do it for you instead, and the government will come after you if you do it yourself. There is pretty strong criticism of the 1960s and 1970s, which Pinker describes as a “retreat of policing” with a corresponding increase in homicide. Pinker also puts the mellowing of religious ideologies. It’s no longer acceptable – well, for most religions anyway – to kill heretics or go to war for their conversion, and governments will no longer support it. (Pinker notes that Marxism is a religion in this sense).
    * Capitalism. (Now we get to the part that will annoy liberals). Pinker usually describes this as “trade” rather than “capitalism”, presumably to avoid giving his liberal readers fits, but it’s clear from the text that capitalism is what he means. It makes more sense to make money off somebody than kill them, and again Pinker has some pretty harsh words for Marxism here, notes that Marxism picked up some of the worst ideas of conventional religion – the idea that profit and charging interest are sins, the perfectibility of humankind, and the millennial prospect of a future Golden Age – and ran with them.
    * Sympathy. (Pinker prefers this to “empathy”). Here Pinker makes an interesting suggestion – the advent of literacy and the development of realistic fiction contributed to world and individual peace, because you could present someone else’s point of view. The general revolution in human rights fits in here as well; people began to treat those of different gender, race, or sexual preference as if they were human.
    Pinker also discusses what he calls “feminization: - a kind of unfortunate term but perhaps the best he can do. His idea here is that women no longer see prowess in violence as a desirable characteristic in a mate – in fact, usually the opposite. There’s some discussion – Pinker notes he covered the idea a little in The Blank Slate – that this once was true; on an evolutionary time scale if women had the chance to be involved in mate selection at all they picked a mate that could protect them and theirs, and if they didn’t have a choice they were just sexual prey to the most violent man. Pinker doesn’t go so far as to deploy an evolutionary argument about maximizing fitness here but it’s easy to read between the lines.
    After extensive explication and copious statistics, Pinker uses a variation of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” he calls the “Pacifist’s Dilemma”; it works like this:
    There are two contending parties; either can be a pacifist or an aggressor. If both are pacifists, they both win a small reward – say $5 (Pinker stresses the numbers are arbitrary to illustrate the situation). If one is an aggressor and one a pacifist, the aggressor gets $10 and the pacifist loses $100. If both are aggressors they both lose $50. In this setup, it makes sense to be an aggressor – you minimize your expected loses. Pinker now adds the factors he suggests contribute to peace. If there’s a Leviathan involved than can assess appropriate penalties after the fact – say $15 against aggressors – it now becomes a no-win game for the aggressor; even if one party remains pacifist while the other aggresses, the aggressor still loses (although so does the pacifist). In a second matrix, Pinker adds the effect of trade; in this case there’s a bonus of $100 if both sides are pacifist. Now you can still win $10 by being an aggressor against a pacifist, but if you are both pacifists you win $105. Finally, Pinker shows a matrix with sympathy added; they aggressor gets a smaller reward and the pacifist doesn’t lose as much. (There’s also a matrix with “feminization” considered; that gives the pacifist “defeat without humiliation” – smaller loss – and the aggressor “victory without glory” – a smaller gain).
    Pinker, of course, can’t set up a matrix with real world rewards and punishments, so although his arguments are sensible they can’t actually be quantified (one thing he doesn’t mention, for example, is that the evolutionary argument for feminization can be turned backward; Palestinian suicide bombers can reap considerable financial rewards for their families. Since the local ethos often makes it difficult for young men to marry due to the huge financial expenditure involved, it makes evolutionary sense to blow yourself up so at least your sisters can afford dowries and thus pass on some of your genome). However, Pinker does say that a factor contributing to peace is people starting to think like economists. Pinker is very careful throughout to emphasize that when he mentions “liberal” values he means “classical liberal” (he seems to be a little afraid of the term “libertarian”) rather than “left liberal”, and is generally at least mildly derogatory when speaking about “left liberal” economics.
    An interesting and worthwhile book, almost guaranteed to get you into screaming arguments, but well researched and backed up with massive data. Extensively referenced; lots of charts and tables. Recommended; four stars I think.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)
    Has the human condition gotten better over time? In this book, Steven Pinker argues that it has, mainly by showing how dreadful it was in the past. People still intentionally inflict unspeakable harm upon one another, but compared to the atrocities of the past, (some of which, such as animal cruelty, genocide, torture, and rape as a spoil of war, they did not even considered atrocities at the time) we have made considerable progress. In this lengthy book, Pinker provides details, data, and analysis demonstrating his point. At times, it seemed almost too much. Despite the almost painful level of detail, I found this a thoughtful and persuading mixture of history, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. I highly recommend it as a much-needed counter for the mistaken idea that humanity has somehow digressed from an idyllic past.
  • (4/5)
    The feelgood book of the year.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    VIOLENCE HAS DECLINED, AND I WILL KICK THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ANYONE WHO SAYS IT HASN'T Disappointingly, Pinker strikes a slightly less confrontational tone than that, but the basic idea is the same. His thesis is that violence of every kind, from international warfare down to murder and corporal punishment, has been on a steady decline throughout human history, up to and including the present day – and not only does he make this case in considerable detail, but he goes on to give a very wide-ranging discussion of possible political and psychological causes for what's happened. This book is big, and it needs to be: it's built around a vast accumulation of raw evidence. Historical, statistical, sociological, neurobiological, and anecdotal – and I'm slightly confused by some of the negative reviews here, because although you might not like all of his conclusions, it's not easy to argue with the facts when they're laid out in this much detail. Not convinced? Wondering if village life in the 30s can really have been as bad as dodging rapists in today's inner cities? Well, prepare for approximately 8,266 graphs and charts proving you wrong in every direction. Leafing through them is at first daunting, then fascinating, then astonishing, and eventually wearying. But they keep coming! The decline in some forms of violence is so dramatic that the figures have had to be plotted on a logarithmic scale, so vertiginous is their descent. Hitting kids – gone from normal to unacceptable in barely a generation. Murder rates? Dropping like a knackered lift. Paedophiles and child abduction? Statistically speaking, if you wanted your child to have a better-than-average chance of being abducted and held overnight by a stranger, ‘you'd have to leave it outside unattended for 750,000 years’. Terrorism, surely? Nope; in fact ‘the number of deaths from terrorist attacks is so small that even minor measures to avoid them can increase the risk of dying’ – one study suggests that 1,500 more Americans died in the year after 9/11 because they started driving rather than flying. Okay then, what about WAR. ‘As of May 15, 1984, the major powers of the world had remained at peace with one another for the longest stretch of time since the Roman Empire.’ This is important, because inter-state warfare is much, much more deadly than the small-'n'-nasty invasions and civil wars that are more common today. And even they are becoming less frequent and less individually deadly. Don't get me wrong, this is not a happy-clappy book about mindless optimism, and he is assiduous in stressing that the situation could easily change. The point is not that we have entered an Age of Aquarius in which every last earthling has been pacified forever. It is that substantial reductions in violence have taken place, and it is important to understand them.Pinker takes a good, long look at several possibilities, and (to my mind at least) identifies three major factors behind the decline. The first is the growth of democracy, which strongly correlates with lower rates of violence across the board, and we get the figures to prove it. The second is the revolution in communications, firstly during the Enlightenment, and then more recently with the birth of the mass media age. Again, huge numbers of studies are adduced to make the point. The third factor is what he calls ‘feminization’: women are just less violent than men, and the more involved they are in a society the more peaceful it is. ‘We are all feminists now,’ he concludes, after a typically detailed examination of changing attitudes to, and rights of, women through history. (He is talking about the West here, but even elsewhere the trend is unmistakeable.) Studies suggest that this is not just a consequence of changing attitudes, but a cause of them, particularly given that ‘the one great universal in the study of violence is that most of it is committed by fifteen-to-thirty-year-old men.’ Pinker hones in on the obvious implications: Would the world be more peaceful if women were in charge? The question is just as interesting if the tense and mood are changed. Has the world become more peaceful because more women are in charge? And will the world become more peaceful when women are even more in charge? The answer to all three, I think, is a qualified yes. When he's finished considering social movements and political changes, he pokes inside your brain. We have pages and pages of various neuro-sociological experiments where people were strapped to an MRI machine and told to slap a puffin in the face, or something, so that various lobes and cortexes could be identified and examined. The question is whether there are anatomical, or evolutionary-psychological, causes for violence, and if so how easily they can be overcome. We get a lot of impressive-looking diagrams like this (I may have remembered some of the details wrong). Pinker is very interesting on the Flynn Effect, which, if you're not aware of it, is the upward trend in general intelligence observed around the world in standardised testing since such things began. Many people that have written on this subject are skeptical that folk nowadays can really be smarter than anatomically-identical humans of a few generations ago, despite what the tests say – but Pinker, after a careful examination of how thought processes are influenced by changing social norms, is not afraid to draw his conclusions, at least in the ethical sphere:The other half of the sanity check is to ask whether our recent ancestors can really be considered morally retarded. The answer, I am prepared to argue, is yes. Though they were surely decent people with perfectly functioning brains, the collective moral sophistication of the culture in which they lived was as primitive by modern standards as their mineral spas and patent medicines are by the medical standards of today. Many of their beliefs can be considered not just monstrous but, in a very real sense, stupid.Obviously we are into speculative territory here, but I actually found it very heartening and thought-provoking to see someone prepared to follow the evidence that far. How's it written? His style is exact without being dense, although he is not averse to the odd cliché (‘capital punishment itself was on death row’), and from time to time his desire to cloak the science in colourful imagery leads him into some awkward prose:The age distribution of a population changes slowly, as each demographic pig makes its way through the population python.Yikes. Also…and this may sound like a weird thing to pick up on, but once I noticed it I couldn't take my eyes off it…he is absolutely obsessed with telling the reader to ‘recall’ things he's already said. Recall the mathematical law that a variable will fall into a power-law distribution…Recall from chapter 3 that the number of political units in Europe shrank…Recall that there were two counter-Enlightenments…Recall that the statistics of deadly quarrels show no signature of war-weariness.…and recall that duelling was eventually laughed into extinction.Recall that the chance that two people in a room of fifty-seven will share a birthday is ninety-nine out of a hundred.England and the United States, recall, had prepared the ground for their democracies…Recall that for half a millennium the wealthy countries of Europe were constantly at each other's throats.Cronin, recall, showed that terrorist organizations drop like flies over time…And recall the global Gallup survey that showed…Recall that narcissism can trigger violence…Recall that the insula lights up when people feel they have been shortchanged…Patients with orbital damage, recall, are impulsive…Recall from chapter 3 the theory of crime…Just how much stuff are you expecting me to remember, Pinker?! And surely someone who wrote three books on language has a fucking thesaurus handy? There are a couple of minor errors, too, that an editor should have caught. The Polish city of Wrocław is printed in my edition as ‘Wroctaw’; and he also refers to some statistics gathered in the ‘town of Kent’ (there are dozens of towns in Kent, which in the dataset concerned is a county).However, and despite my sometimes flippant tone in this review, the truth is that I thought this was a magnificent book – convincingly argued and truly multidisciplinary, so that I felt like I was getting a synthesis of the important studies carried out in half a dozen different fields. It's a big, serious argument that deserves proper consideration, and one that'll give you some ammo to argue back next time you're feeling cynical about the relentless news headlines. I think it's a clear 4.5.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (1/5)
    A half-baked book using stories from pseudoscience and made up fairy tales. Do yourself a favor and take a pass
  • (3/5)
    Pinker attempts to study trends of violence throughout human history. He sees a decline in violence of all kinds, on all scales of time and magnitude. The first seven chapters document the historical decline of violence, including hate crimes, murders, domestic violence, animal cruelty, war, and genocide. The remainder of the book traces probable causes of the decline, drawing on a huge range of fact sources, from histories to atrocologists to evolutionary psychologists.

    To sum up, here are the factors that don't show a consistent relationship with violence: weaponry and disarmament (when people want to be violent, they'll do so regardless of available weaponry and rapidly develop more, whereas when they want to be peaceful, the weapons are not used), resources (wealth originates not just from natural resources but also the ingenuity, effort, and cooperation used on resources. A country rich in minerals could experience more war and civil unrest while everyone scrambles for it, or less because other actors rationally understand that peacefully trading will result in more money for everyone), affluence (wealth doesn't correlate with dips in violence, nor are richer countries less violent), or religion (ideologies can be used for violence or for peace). Factors that do show a consistent relationship with violence: a state that uses a monopoly on force to protect its citizens from one another, commerce, women's involvement in decision making and society's respect for the interests of women, the expansion of the circle of sympathy, and increased use of reason. I've stuck points that particularly struck me in the "status updates" section; go there for more specifics and quotes.

    I was overall impressed. The sheer number and breadth of sources Pinker draws upon is really impressive; even if you discount a number of the facts or his interpretation of them (for instance, I don't believe that a test showign differences in men and women's reaction to hypothetical cheating necessarily reveals an innate, biological difference between the sexes when it could just as easily be due to being socialized to react and think about sex differently), there still remain a mountain of evidence upon which his arguments can still rest. I also think this book suffers from an unfortunate tendency to focus on 19th and 20th century Western Europe and the USA; relatively modern western thought and social movements are given vastly more time and attention than any others, and although I understand that Pinker can draw upon those traditions most readily (and can count on his English-speaking audience to do the same), I still wish a global history of violence used more a more global lens. His data on violent crime, wars, and genocides is decidedly global, but his anecdotes, examples, and the philosophies he draws from are almost exclusively western. That said, his arguments convinced me. I think he demonstrates pretty conclusively that violence, both as a whole and as individual categories, has decreased over time, and his theories as to why made sense to me.
  • (5/5)
    I picked up this book by chance in a bookstore, and did not know I was in for a reading adventure. With great sensitivity and a marvellous sense of humour, Pinker lays out the justification of his surprising thesis that violence in today's world is at its lowest level in human history. Along the way, he gives the reader lessons in the darker periods of world history, in the physiology of the human brain, and in the evolutionary reasons for why people act as they do.

    His insights into the role of reading as an important contributor to the pacification of the world, and to the indispensability of human reason to the betterment of our species are profund and inspiring.

    This was a true tour de force, introducing me to dozens of insights that never would have occurred to me otherwise. The book at 840 pages is somewhat of a long slog, but it was a very good investment of my reading time.
  • (5/5)

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    A very engaging book that combined history/science/politics/economics/psychology as it impacts violence, and (counter-intuitively) the decline in violence... It was very broad in scope and massive in length...but well worth reading. Pinker reminds us that we can often gain insights by carefully and thoroughly looking at empirical evidence. Data is king!

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  • (4/5)

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    I have read enough history to agree with Steven Pinker's thesis in "The Better Angels of Our Nature" that the trend of human existence has been toward less violence, less cruelty and more tolerance. Yet most people, aware of ongoing wars, global terrorism, mass shootings, the soaring murder rate in Chicago and the violent protests on certain college campuses whenever conservatives try to express an opinion might believe otherwise.Pinker takes nearly 700 pages to make his case, and though he often strays from science into opinion, it is a sound one. War, if still commonplace, is not as common as it once was. Nor is the mistreatment of animals, the owning of slaves, the burning of witches, the torture of criminals, the spanking of children, the beating of wives or the persecution of minorities and, despite what has been taking place at those college campuses, those who hold unpopular points of view.The reasons are many. For one thing, people everywhere seem to be getting smarter. IQs keep rising. Smart people are more likely to realize that violence may not be the smartest way to solve a problem. (Again those college protestors stand as a notable exception.)Before the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, human rights were not something most people even thought about. Now, in much of the world at least, everyone thinks of and speaks of rights. You can't walk into a doctor's office without being told of your right of privacy. All those groups of people who once had few rights now have them written into law. Recognizing the rights of others has led to less violence. (And once again those college protestors are an exception to the rule.)Stronger central government, a government with a license to put down violence with violence when necessary, has been vital to the pacification of the populace. When someone damages your car, you call the cops; you don't try to resolve the matter yourself with your fists or a gun.Trade and international organizations, says Pinker, have made countries less inclined to go to war. Why invade a neighboring country when you are already getting what you want from it through trade?Pinker develops these ideas, and others, in great detail, complete with graphs and illustrations. Much of what he says will surprise you, much will probably anger you. Whether or not he is correct on all points, I think he is right on the central one: Human beings are less prone to violence than we once were.

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  • (3/5)
    I abandoned this book when it got way too deep into the statistical weeks for my comfort, but the author explores an interesting thesis. He posits that mankind and our cultures have become less violent rather than more violent. While media coverage focuses our attention on both individual incidents and on terrorist attacks, mass murder, and outright warfare and their resulting carnage, violence is less likely to directly touch our lives that at any time in the past.This might seem counterintuitive, given that the first half of the 20th Century saw the two most destructive wars in human history. He suggests that this needs to be put in perspective by considering the world's continually growing perspective. He provides hard data to support his thesis. More interestingly, he explores reasons for the gentling of our natures. Much of it traces back to the Great Enlightenment and our growing awareness that other individuals share the same emotions as we do.Still, too much detail for me.
  • (3/5)

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    I enjoyed his arguments and his collection of data from different historical surveys and textual study, but I found the overall structure of the book longwinded and incoherent. Pinker jumped around throughout history, when the obvious structure of the book would follow time, as violence has decreased through time. Also, many of his causal explanations were lacking.

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  • (5/5)

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    This is one of the best books I have encountered in my 63 years. The length may be daunting, but it is well worth the effort. Pinker meticulously explores his subject from every possible dimension, with a breadth of learning that is well up to the task. You will come away with an enhanced understanding of some of the most important questions we humans face. My only regret is that I did not read it sooner.

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  • (5/5)
    This is a mighty book about a very interesting and surprising piece of information - the decline of violence in almost all forms across most societies in the world.Pinker piles up the data from an amazing range of sources until even the most sceptical reader must be convinced - levels of violence really have fallen, and to a quite amazing degree.Then Pinker tries to go through causes and contributory factors. And there are many. The first is the role of an effective state in its "monopoly of violence". As Locke stressed in the Leviathan, man not living in an organised state lives in a state of war. Then there are many others to follow - a general "civilising process"; the enlightenment, the growth in empathy that flowed from the widespread consumption of fiction made possible by the printing process and the growth in literacy levels are key factors.I think there is a shorter book in here, but that is not Pinker's style. And with such a great story to tell, it is hard to criticise.Read October 2014.
  • (5/5)
    Required reading for anyone who cares about the State and its relation to violence. The charts and graphs detailing the decline of violence are convincing. The proffered explanations less so, but Pinker isn't trying to be authoritative. They are intriguing and well developed, and give much to think about. A lot of neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and game theory.4.5 stars on completion (oc)After a few months: I find myself frequently using arguments from this book, to great effect. It remains a 4.5 star book.
  • (4/5)
    Society is not broken, and the world is less scarred by violence than at any time in history. It's not a jungle out there. In fact, we're all getting nicer and nicer, except perhaps in a few marginal places, far from Harvard. Yes, Dr Pangloss is in the house, as the amiable Steven Pinker offers some perspective on our contemporary world. His thesis is fair enough, and indeed quickly stated - that law, government and rationalism have reduced much of the brutishness that previous generations suffered under. But he spins it out over such garrulous length that one is pretty much obliged to skim the book. It's always enjoyable to read despite the author's excesses of style, but in the end too Eurocentric, and has no special insight for predicting what will come next. Will we perhaps all go veggy or tolerate currently taboo sexual relations? No, no, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds (or in the current rendering: "Everything is awesome, ...").
  • (3/5)
    Throwing in the towel two-thirds through.

    The first part of the book is quite interesting and Pinker successfully argues that we now live in a much less violence-prone world.

    He then goes on to talk about the whys, and this part is both less convincing and intensely tedious. I felt that at times he overstated the evidence and walked very close to woo territory.

    Worth reading for the first half. Avoid the rest when you start gnawing on your arms in boredom.
  • (5/5)
    Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?This groundbreaking book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society.
  • (3/5)
    Steven Pinker’s book hides its evil message well. You have to read the second-to-last chapter in this huge book to drill down to Pinker’s key message: There is less violence because humans are more intelligent now. The world should be ruled by the best and the brightest (of Harvard), the philosopher kings, the Elois, the alphas, keeping the Morlocks, the great unwashed people from the levers of power. Karl Popper fought against this totalitarian worldview in his great work The Open Society and Its Enemies. Pinker effectively allies himself with the open society’s enemies, good servant of the plutocracy that he is as are so many of his colleagues at Harvard, always defending the privileges of the few against the demands of the poor, the sick and the tired.As Pinker’s real message is as unpalatable as many other of Harvard’s claims, he has to repackage it, hide his ugly views by presenting the great Norbert Elias’ civilization process and amassing a huge amount of dubious statistics. Pinker is certainly right that the level of violence in the Western world has declined, although this statistic relies on the absence of Black Swan events. The huge killers of the 20th century that are the drivers behind Pinker’s downward trend were one of a kind events (WWI, WWII/Holocaust, Stalin, Mao). A nuclear bomb would obliterate Pinker’s trend.Pinker is also wrong in attributing the decline in violence to the individual. He neglects the influence of Leviathan: Good government both protects the weak and offers non-violent means of conflict resolution. This also explains what Pinker cannot explain (apart a crude cultural origin honor and hidden in it racial explanation): Violence in the ghettoes is so much larger in the United States because their inhabitants do not have access to governmental conflict resolution mechanisms. Pinker also runs into the trouble of not being able to explain why the best nation of the world (“USA! USA! USA!”) is actually much more violent than the civilized world (Pinker doesn’t state it explicitly but the ideas of The Bell Curve are not very distant in his idea of dumb people creating more violence.).Naturally, Pinker also ignores the harm caused by non-violent actions: The Johnstown Flood of 1889 was caused because the fat cats of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club failed to pay for the maintenance of the dam. Likewise, the poor of New Orleans suffered because the levies were not properly maintained. In Pinker’s view, these actions would not count (as long as they are not performed by Communists). Likewise, people dying in famines isn’t violence but force majeure. They could have chosen to be born to different parents (or, according to the Harvard educated philosopher Matthew Yglesias, they don’t value life as much)."The better angels of our nature" is a piece of ideology rather than science. The origin of this book, in all likelihood, was Pinker's shock about the (on-going) American descent into the darkness of torture and murder. Pinker's belief in a steady progress of prosperity was shaken. In this book, he has assembled a large number of factoids to reassure his belief that this blip in violence is an aberration in the greater picture of diminishing violence. The montage results in much "truthiness" and will fool many (“mission accomplished”). Those with the stamina to read also the second to final chapter will see Pinker finally drop the masquerade: Violence is committed by stupid people. Education and genetic improvement will create a brave new world led by the best and the brightest. That exactly those people, many of them Harvard educated, have caused incredible misery and harm in the world escapes Pinker's perception. Then again, the book's purpose was re-assurance not truth.
  • (5/5)
    Do you know what hemoclysm is? Or, what the difference between genocide, democide and policide is? If you don’t, it’s not necessarily a bad thing because they all mean different types of mass murder. The good news is that they are all on the decline. Violence is on the decline on the whole, actually.It shouldn’t come as such a surprise because when you think of it we do live in a much more civilized time than ever before. Yet, it doesn’t feel that way every time we hear about an insane idiot killing schoolchildren or of other awful atrocities perpetrated somewhere in the world, so it’s nice to have it supported with numbers. Violence is on the decline across the board when numbers of crimes are calculated relative to the populations in which they occur.Regardless of its uplifting thesis, it is a difficult book to read. It is oppressive from time to time with all the minute analysis of violence and its research overkill. I felt oppressed by the amount of violence described and by all the ways people have caused harm to other people. But, it’s a wonderfully argued book, and Pinker cannot be accused of not having given enough proof to support his theses. It’s that sometimes it just feels we have too much. I loved the vindication of humanism, rationalism, democracy, feminism, human and animal rights, and old and boring Hobbesian political philosophy. It is a superb book, but you don't know how glad I was when I finally finished it. It may be his best book so far though, and I thought nothing was going to beat Blank Slate.