The Better Angels of Our Nature

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Why Violence Has Declined

Book - 2011
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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, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the past was much worse. Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: genocides in the Old Testament, gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm, monarchs who beheaded their relatives, and American founders who dueled with their rivals. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were common features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? Pinker argues that 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.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York :, Viking,, 2011.
ISBN: 9780670022953
Branch Call Number: 303.609 PI
Characteristics: xxviii, 802 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm


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Sep 08, 2014

Again, I repeat that I both like and admire and respect Prof. Pinker, but it's 2014 in America and this country/society still has child labor, slavery both economic and in the form of human trafficking [did not George W. Bush attempt to appoint neocon Linda Chavez to an office, and she was rejected by congress because she employed below-minimum wage undocumented workers?] Government under Bush AND Obama has ramped up the ILLEGAL incarceration of whistleblowers, something even Richard Nixon avoided doing! Billions go missing on such a frequent basis [in Iraq, more in Afghanistan, $6 billion recently in the State Department - - wonder who they've been buying off? ? ?] and yet we learn nothing more about it? What amounts of murder and mayhem do such billions purchase? The ATF program - - Fast and Furious has distributed many weapons to the drug cartels for further murders and havoc; the Pentgon 1033 program to give military-grade weapons to various police departments around the country has led to missing weapons - - what murders or future murders will they turn up in; ISIS or the Islamic State, whose weapons were financed and supplied by the US government when they first were fighting the Syrian government, now have used those weapons for mass executions of fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq. The epic violence continues . . .

Sep 08, 2014

Much of the criticism of the book is aimed at a point its author never makes: that to chart violence's historical decline is to minimize present-day atrocities. No one says 20th- or 21st-century violence is excusably small-scale. Instead, we can take courage that expressions of collective outrage at the violence of our times is part of a moral trend continuing over hundreds of years, leading to greater cooperation and less pain.

So, I think Pinker would be amenable to this bit of advice: Be outraged and keep it up.

Jul 29, 2013

Not without flaws, but the principal thesis and the wealth of data in support of it is persuasive and contrary to much of what is popularly believed. A hugely optimistic read.

MelissaMcCarthy May 30, 2013

I wanted to like this book. I really did. But it is far too methodologically sloppy. His basic point is probably sound, but he makes broad assertions (such as Jesus being a copy of various Greek gods - a thoroughly debunked idea) with absolutely nothing to back them up. He also demonstrates that he lacks even a basic understanding of several of the historical periods he discusses. A disappointment.

Apr 20, 2013

Personally speaking, I greatly like Prof. Pinker, having spoken with him on several occasions (one being a book signing of his), but I find this one optimistic book of his falling woefully short of his previous ones, too much data out there bespeaks too much ongoing violence, both nationally and internationally. Prof. Pinker has enjoyed a nice upbringing and professional status, thus inuring him to street-level violence which permeates American society, as well as that American-supported violence throughout the planet, on behalf of multinationals. I agree with several of the commenters below, and afraid I can't agree with Pinker's book. (Point of fact: we exist in a completely fraud-based society today in America, and anyone over the age of 35 who is still clueless of this exhibits minimal expertise!)

Mar 20, 2013

For a book about violence this was incredibly uplifting. I appreciate Pinker's habit of preempting as many counter-arguments as possible. Many of the negative reviews I've seen appear to be from people making arguments he already covered.

A very well thought out book, easy and enjoyable to read despite the mounds of graphs and numbers.

Highly recommended.

Mar 20, 2013

This is a terrific book and it should be taught in high school. Excellent writing skills and very well-researched. an important book with an optimistic message.

filmguy86 Jul 22, 2012

It's amazing. And I agree that it is the most important read this century. Thank you NYPL and Steven Pinker for making this book available and accessible. I've waited my whole life for this book and I recorded a journal of its lessons along with my thoughts and responses. I'm sad though by wondering, "Now what?" Luckily I can follow Pinker's other work with NYPL.

May 16, 2012

An excellent book that is worth reading by everyone. The author includes many pop culture references that make this a more enjoyable read with out sacrificing the somber tone of the material. The author shows that violence has declined per capita and in some cases outright in the history of mankind. As someone who already knew the time we live in is the greatest ever there were not too many shocks and no hurdles for me to overcome. Those who think everything is worse and going downhill, please read with an open mind. Causation and correlation are tricky things when trying to evaluate the human animal however I feel the author does a good job outlining the limitations. (The book does contain some errors of fact and editing however with 700 pages it is not rife with them.)

Feb 09, 2012

I was not impressed by this book. It probably would have benefited from a better editor; I noticed a spelling mistake in the first chapter. Once I reached the point where the author made the assertion that over 100 million girls in the Middle East have their genitals mutilated a year, I gave up on the book. If the author would make such a glaring factual mistake, I don’t know what other “facts” presented in the book is also wrong.

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