Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recommended Reading: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

Book Description: 

13543093Faced 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.

The central thesis of Steven Pinker’s 2011 book is that, contrary to popular belief, violence in the world has actually decreased over time. He deals with changes over time as well as specific historical time periods and human neurological qualities, not only demonstrating his point but also discussing reasons and mechanisms for the historical change he's observed. 

This is a big ol' book, but I still highly recommend that everyone read it, because it really will change the way you think about the world. Historians and political scientists will find plenty to talk about here, plus this book will be invaluable for novelists who want to understand historical societies or create their own. You don't have to be any of those things to appreciate Pinker's work, though. He demonstrates that despite fatalistic news reports, the human race is less violent than ever before and optimism can be well-founded!

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