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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, 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.
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Brilliant, mind-altering...Everyone should read this astonishing book (David Runciman Guardian)
A supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline (Peter Singer New York Times)
[A] sweeping new review of the history of human violence...[Pinker has] the kind of academic superbrain that can translate otherwise impenetrable statistics into a meaningful narrative of human behaviour...impeccable scholarship (Tony Allen-Mills Sunday Times)
Written in Pinker's distinctively entertaining and clear personal style...a marvellous synthesis of science, history and storytelling (Clive Cookson Financial Times)
A salutary reality-check...Better Angels is itself a great liberal landmark (Marek Kohn Independent)
Pinker's scholarhsip is astounding...flawless...masterful (Joanna Bourke The Times)
Selected by the New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of 2011 (New York Times)
'His book will change the way you see the world ... Pinker's powerful ideas, vivid stories and sparkling prose make this hard to put down' Daily Mail
'May prove to be one of the great books of our time ... he writes like an angel' Economist
Wasn't the twentieth century the most violent in history? In his extraordinary, epic book Steven Pinker shows us that this is wrong, telling the story of humanity in a completely new and unfamiliar way. From why cities make us safer to how books bring about peace, Pinker weaves together history, philosophy and science to examine why we are less likely to die at another's hand than ever before, how it happened and what it tells us about our very natures.
'Masterly, a supremely important book ... For anyone interested in human nature, it is engrossing' The New York Times
'Marvellous ... riveting and myth-destroying' New Statesman
'A marvellous synthesis of science, history and storytelling, written in Pinker's distinctively entertaining and clear personal style ... I was astonished by the extent to which violence has declined in every shape, form and scale' Financial Times
'An outstandingly fruitful read, with fascinating nuggets on almost every page' Sunday Times, Books of the Year
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