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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  7,980 ratings  ·  867 reviews
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 Testame
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Published October 4th 2011 by Brilliance Audio (first published 2010)
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Berry Muhl He actually does consider this, in his mention of what is called the "escalator of reason." Part of the point of the book is to demonstrate *why*…moreHe actually does consider this, in his mention of what is called the "escalator of reason." Part of the point of the book is to demonstrate *why* people are more amenable to reason, to "thinking before reacting," than they used to be.
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Riku Sayuj

The Skeptic’s Peace

Pinker warns the reader upfront that the book is huge, and with more than 800 dense pages there is no question about it. It is so wide-ranging that it is fortunate it has such a memorable title - the reader might have easily lost track of where it is all supposed to be heading. Individually, any single section of the book is a throughly entertaining masterpiece, but as a whole, in terms of coherence, and on how the thesis and the direction of the arguments hold together, the b
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Miquixote
Breathtakingly mindless for 2/5 of the book, blowhard the whole way through.

Sometimes a good joke is more revealing than 800 pages of blowhardness. Pinker gives himself away with this quote by George Carlin on page 622: I think motivation is overrated. You show me some lazy prick who's lying around all day watching game shows and stroking his penis, and I'll show you someone who's not causing any fucking trouble!...

...I hope I am not the only one who thinks it is not necessarily a good thing to
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Warwick
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-ran
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David
This seems like a stunning misstep by the normally brilliant Steven Pinker. His ability to write with extraordinary force and clarity has been demonstrated repeatedly in two separate areas of expertise -- linguistics and cognitive science. Unfortunately, the brilliance of his earlier books in those areas is nowhere in evidence in this regrettable dog's breakfast of a book.

I found it almost unreadable - poorly argued, undisciplined, self-indulgent, and - despite its grotesquely bloated length (8
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knig
I have a peripheral awareness that Pinker awakens red penitus in a goodly proportion of his stalwart readers: but I don’t know why. I shan’t delve into this before I write up ‘better angels’: don’t want to be distracted by ‘noise’.

800 pages of socio-economic postulating: always an inexact science, is going to rub someone the wrong way hither or thither. We see what we want to see, and 800 pages of the ‘humanities’ is like waving a red flag to a bull: plenty of scope to flare up, statistically s
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Nebuchadnezzar
When an academic steps outside his or her field of expertise, it's best to brace yourself for a torrent of nonsense. Steven Pinker, whose work in linguistics and psychology I greatly enjoy, has made a habit of using that work as a springboard to foist his pet political theories on the public. Whereas his previous attempt in The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature was a vehicle for his ideological ramblings, it was at least not based on a gaping statistical flaw and had some value in r ...more
Richard
Steven Pinker certain ranges widely in intellectual circles. Although he is nominally a professor of psychology at Harvard, but even with specialties (per Wikipedia) in experimental psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, he somehow dove into history to present one of the best TED Talks, back in 2007: Steven Pinker on the myth of violence (watch those nineteen minutes, if you haven't already).

Wonderfully, he has now followed that presentation up with an entire volume.

Peter Singer wrote the
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David
In this book, Steven Pinker explores a very controversial thesis, that is, violence is declining. Different types of violence are declining on multiple time scales. It would seem like the twentieth century had some major wars and plenty of genocide to make his thesis sound rather foolish. But in the first seven chapters he shows lots and lots of statistics to back up his thesis. In the eighth and ninth chapters he also explores the scientific reasons for violence and the reasons for increasingly ...more
Lois Bujold
Jun 26, 2013 Lois Bujold rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lois by: chat list contributor who'd just read it
After a steady recent diet of short-attention-span theater internet surfing, it was very interesting to dive into a dense read that took me a week to chew through. (I am not a very fast reader, but I'm usually faster than that.) The exercise of following a really long, complex, sustained argument was probably good for me.

Seven chapters of convincing examination of historical evidence to the best approximation that could be managed, all of which jibes well with what I know or have experienced of
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Blaine
This book is sure to piss off or confuse just about everyone who cares about the world today, but especially postmodern-liberal-progressive types: "What? You gotta be kidding - violence has declined over time? No frikin' way - just look at the news." But be assured - after you read only a few pages of this book, you'll be reminded of what life used be like in the foreign country called the Past and you just might change your tune and recognize how different life is today.

Pinker's basic thesis i
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Jan Rice
Steven Pinker has written a monster of a book. He has used his intelligence to crunch a huge volume of material. He has made a number of great points to which I'm sure to be referring often.

Yet despite all the insights and accompanying drum rolls, I am suspicious of the dramatic hypothesis, the grand prediction that humankind has learned in any permanent sense to be kinder and gentler. That hypothesis is a welcome change from all the dystopian predictions, and I do think I, and western civilizat
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Kate Savage
Make me a t-shirt that says “I read an 800-page book and all I got from it was this lousy review.”

The Good:
There’s a nice irreverent romp through the Bible, he shows what monsters "chivalrous" knights were, shows why we shouldn't be so afraid of terrorist attacks or child abductions or Iran.

The bad: everything else.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Conquistadors:

“Though imperial conquest and rule can themselves be brutal, they do reduce endemic violence among the conquered” (56).

P ope
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Joseph D. Walch
But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
--The Federalist, No. 51, James Madison


This is easily one of the best books of 2011, and I suppose it must already be earmarked as a Pulitzer finalist. It’s about violence, but so much more than that since it strikes at the very core of human nature, the hum
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Faruk Ahmet
Loathing is the word. It infuriated me. You'd think that after all these years one would stop being surprised by this style of typical new-atheist/liberal argumentation but when I see this much cherrypicking, oversimplification, handwaving and western supremacism shoved into a single book, I still get all worked up. And of course, it doesn't help that they call themselves "The Brights" and "The Enlightened" etc. I mean, who does that? Even if I was intellectually convinced by their arguments, I ...more
notgettingenough
Pinker has disappointed me for so long that it is no surprise to me to discover that this is the work of a charlatan. Here on goodreads try David Giltinan's review .

But also http://www.zcommunications.org/realit... is worthy of a read.

Is his basic message pretty much that if first world white people aren't dying, then violence is decreasing? And has this been greeted with great approbation in - ummm - the first white world? Oh deary me.
Hadrian
I have recently learned about some stunning statistical anomalies and misinterpretations in here which I had shamefully missed. A simple understanding of Chinese history in the 20th century already seems to be a profound stumbling block for this hypothesis. The jury is out. Further deliberation continues.
Jan
Stunning book! Probably the most fascinating nonfiction I've ever found!
In recorded form, this was 36+ hours long, but it was divided into sections that seemed like full books in themselves.
What a work of scholarship! In order to demonstrate the shift toward greater kindness and less violence in the world, Steven Pinker first examined, thoroughly, the many forms that cruelty has taken since our earliest primate ancestors. He then summarized the relevant studies in the sciences and social science
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Joakim Wendell
An interesting idea, but Pinker fails to deliver a convincing argument. The subject of the book is violence, and Pinker argues that 1) violence has declined historically, and 2) that the decline is due to a number of factors. His five factors are a) strong states, 2) commerce, 3) feminization, 4) cosmopolitanism and 5) reason. There are several glaring problems with his thesis. First, he never defines "violence", a rather big problem since the book is about violence. From his examples, I infer t ...more
Jon Stout
Nov 05, 2014 Jon Stout rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: futurists and fatalists
Recommended to Jon by: Bill Dennis
Skeptical as I was of the idea of progress in a moral sense, Steven Pinker convinced me that civilization really has progressed in terms of the way we treat each other. The book is really divided in two parts, first a historical study in which Pinker amasses enormous statistical detail to show that there has been a continual progression in the reduction of violence, and second a psychological study to unearth the causes, the constraints and the directions of this progression.

Pinker’s erudition i
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T. Edmund
Ok small confession to make. I was hoping to purchase this piece on the day it became available, power through it, and be one of the first to post a review on Amazon.

This was before seeing the thing...

But after pumping through the ~700 pages I feel its worth the size. Pinker dives through history, philosophy, psychology and politics to identify the apparent causes for the 'decline in violence.'

I would describe reading the book as a combo of history, psychology and professional polemic. Obviously
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Emily
When I first read reviews of this book last fall, I was profoundly unconvinced to the point of feeling almost irritated at Pinker, despite having read and enjoyed at least one of his prior books. This is a great argument, then, for actually reading the book, because I found it an enjoyable read, written in a personable voice. And, to the extent that it makes any sense to offer overarching theories across such a broad sweep of history (cf. Jared Diamond), I found this one convincing.

This is a ver
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Lis Carey
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 ...more
Cheryl
Now that I am done, I can look at the book as a whole, and say it was fascinating, and an amazing book to debate and talk about. Not that I agree with it all, I am still wary of evolutionary psychology, but I feel smarter at least, and have gained some new ways of thinking about the world we live in and my own pacifist and liberal nature. I love love this quote near the end of the book, and it was said by a man who survived Hiroshima, and fled to Nagasaki for safety where he then survived the ot ...more
Tommaso Querini
The better angels of our nature is a flawed book.
Unfortunately many will appreciate it without watching critically at the data used.

The main reasons I say so:

- Pinker uses 2nd sometimes 3rd hand raw data without further reflecting upon it.

- data on warfare in prehistory is cherry-picked exaggerated.
Read: http://www.ncas.rutgers.edu/sites/fas...

- data on pre-state societies is sometimes simply wrong and the extended debate on violence in these societies is completely ignored.

Read: http://bjc.ox
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Wealhtheow
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
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Chad Kettner
Pessimism is widespread these days - especially about the prospects for living in more peaceful world. And it is understandable, as we are bombarded with reports of murder, suicide bombings, armed conflicts, hate-crimes, and uprisings... and so much more.

But is human nature - the way we treat each other on a global as well as individual scale - actually getting worse? Steven Pinker says no... and offers over 800 pages of content to support his claim that "believe it or not, today we may be livin
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Gwern
This was really really good, as in, maybe the best book I've read that year. Time and again, I was shocked to find subjects treated of keen interest to me, or which read like Pinker had taken some of my essays but done them way better (on terrorism, on the expanding circle, etc.); even so, I was surprised to learn new things (resource problems don't correlate well with violence?).

I initially thought I might excerpt some parts of it for an essay or article, but as the quotes kept piling up, I rea
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Maitrey
The Better Angels of Our Nature is Steven Pinker's attempt to articulate if violence among humans has indeed declined. I thought it would make a great read in this centenary of the Great War and provide a counter-point to all the doomsayers who relish in pointing out humankind's penchant for violence. Pinker's specialty is linguistics and psychology so it was odd to see him tackling something so steeped in history and politics.

I think Pinker did a commendable job. Although there is a whiff of se
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Juli Anna Herndon
This is a long and complicated work to try to summarize succinctly, but here are my thoughts. First of all, thank goodness Pinker did all the research for me--and a lot of research there was. He makes a very convincing argument for why violence has declined over time, and the reasons he eventually surmises for this decline are surprising and refreshingly obvious. That said, my opinion is that, if one were to partake in more than a tourist's journey through the history of violence, one could abso ...more
Петър Стойков
Втората световна война, геноцидите в Руанда и Дарфур, атомни бомби в Хирошима и Нагасаки, войните във Виетнам, Корея, Афганистан, Ирак, Русия напада Украйна, Пол Пот, Осама бин Ладен, червените кхмери, муджахидините, терористични атаки всеки ден... Без съмнение, 20 век е векът на войната, на военно-промишлената машина, най-насилственото столетие в историята на човечеството. А последните 20 години нещата стават още по-зле.

Да... ама не. Всъщност - точно обратното, колкото и да не ви се вярва. Срав
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Steven Arthur Pinker is a prominent Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author of popular science. Pinker is known for his wide-ranging advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and is the author of seven b ...more
More about Steven Pinker...
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language How the Mind Works The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

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“The scriptures present a God who delights in genocide, rape, slavery, and the execution of nonconformists, and for millennia those writings were used to rationalize the massacre of infidels, the ownership of women, the beating of children, dominion over animals, and the persecution of heretics and homosexuals. Humanitarian reforms such as the elimination of cruel punishment, the dissemination of empathy-inducing novels, and the abolition of slavery were met with fierce opposition in their time by ecclesiastical authorities and their apologists. The elevation of parochial values to the realm of the sacred is a license to dismiss other people’s interests, and an imperative to reject the possibility of compromise.” 38 likes
“Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition. A connected and educated populace, at least in aggregate and over the long run, is bound to be disabused of poisonous beliefs, such as that members of other races and ethnicities are innately avaricious or perfidious; that economic and military misfortunes are caused by the treachery of ethnic minorities; that women don't mind to be raped; that children must be beaten to be socialized; that people choose to be homosexual as part of a morally degenerate lifestyle; that animals are incapable of feeling pain. The recent debunking of beliefs that invite or tolerate violence call to mind Voltaire's quip that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” 31 likes
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