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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  17,725 ratings  ·  1,690 reviews
Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year. The author of The New York Times bestseller The Stuff of Thought offers a controversial history of violence.

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 Pink
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Hardcover, 802 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Viking (first published 2010)
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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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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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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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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
David
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Tom LA
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
I love optimistic books, and there is a lot of optimism in the almost 800 pages of "The better angels of our nature". At the same time, I find it impossible to give a single opinion about this behemoth of a book, because I found some of its elements truly excellent, some ok, and some absolutely scream-out-loud dreadful.

In brief:

- the great: the quality of the writing is superb. This is one of the best books I've ever read in terms of clarity of exposition and effectiveness of the writing. Also
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Kate Savage
Dec 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
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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knig
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
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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Jan Rice
Jun 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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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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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Faruk Ahmet
Aug 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Daniel Clausen
Steven Pinker’s "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" is a big ambitious book. Perhaps too big, perhaps too ambitious. And perhaps, too sprawling for its own good. One could opt for a Peace Studies reader and get a more eclectic taste of what research is out there. Would it be as comprehensive as this book? Maybe, maybe not, but you would get the benefit of tasting the many kinds of literature through many different voices.

Here, we get a great deal of peace science, behav
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Scott
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic, history
Are you afraid of being of being attacked or murdered? Do you think our society is becoming more violent and less safe? If you watch the news, read the papers and listen to politicians it would be logical to be afraid of the seemingly rising tide of violence and criminality in the world. However, Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature will show you your feelings are misguided- crime and violence in society is lower than it has ever been, and our often idealized past (even the recent pas ...more
Lois Bujold
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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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Max
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Pinker goes into voluminous detail to show us that violence has steadily declined in human society since prehistoric times. In this well-structured work rich with statistics, charts, and the ideas of influential scholars he identifies six prevailing trends: The Pacification Process, the Civilizing Process, the Humanitarian Revolution, the Long Peace, the New Peace, and the Rights Revolutions. Turning from history to psychology he identifies five inner demons that lead us to violence: Predation, ...more
Blaine
This book is sure to anger or confuse just about everyone who cares about the world today, but particularly those who love to hate the idea of cultural progress: "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, for large sectors of the world's ...more
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.
Amir The Fat Bookworm
Mind-blowing book! I have never read a book about history and statistics that was this interesting. I love how Steven Pinker argues with countless studies and a great logical validity.
This book is a must-read book for anyone interested in sociology, history, politics and environment. This book breaks the long romanticized picture of the past which has been filled with nostalgia and confirmation biases.
Fiona
Did this really take two and a half years to read? I see that it did. I picked it up after a new-ish boyfriend press-ganged me into seeing Pinker talking about his new book - this one - in Edinburgh, and thinking that it sounded fascinating and potentially relevant to a PhD I was considering doing. Well, the PhD idea is discarded, and as for the boyfriend, I swapped Pinker for Susanna Clarke and moved in with him. He finished my book first.

The premise of The Better Angels of Our Nature is that t
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Bettie☯
Audio Books : Educational : MP3/Variable : English



blurb - We've all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, "What is the world coming to?" But we seldom ask, "How bad was the world in the past?" In this startling new book, the best-selling 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 in our species' existence.
Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the
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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.
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 huma
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Nikki
Nov 23, 2015 rated it liked it
I better admit up front that I don’t have any intuitive or educated grasp on statistics, and without actually sitting down with the data sets, I haven’t the least idea of whether they’re appropriately chosen, correctly delineated, etc, etc. I do note, though, that Steven Pinker is a respected academic, Penguin are a respected publisher, and I was directed to reading this by another academic. Where he talks about history, he seems to be broadly correct, and his explanation of his graphs and stati ...more
Barnaby Thieme
May 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, hated
I was recently listening to a BBC interview with two historians on the An Lushan rebellion, and the interviewer read a passage from Pinker's book in which he argued that this Chinese civil war was primary evidence for his thesis that human violence used to exist on a scale we would find hard to believe, from our current perspective. When the interviewer read some of Pinker's fact and statistics about the rebellion, both of them spontaneously burst into laughter and one of them asked "What on ear ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Steven Pinker is fast becoming a favorite author of mine. Everything he writes is so interesting. He really knows how to pick a topic and provide relevant research and feedback for that topic. As a non fiction lover he is straight to the point but still interesting and relevant. Perfect voice for his audience. I think his topic of violence is facinating. We are very easily influenced by this idea that the world is less safe and less secure because of the media and our own warped perceptions. Ste ...more
Damien
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In reviewing The Better Angels of our Nature, I find myself struggling to avoid the absolutes that Pinker so deftly dodges in this epic study of the history of violence in humankinds history. This book is possibly the best structured arguement I have read (even if it does result in a book that you clearly need to pick up with both hands so as to not inflict spinal damage on yourself) and leaves you with a fresh perspective on things that you took as given in so many ways.

To even begin to try and
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Tommaso Querini
Oct 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
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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Joakim Wendell
Jun 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Marc
Anyone who follows me on this site knows that I rarely give high scores to books; I like to make very clear distinctions and to indicate what is just good and what is outstanding. And this book is one of those that belongs to the top category: not because it is a perfect one (see below), but because of the breadth, the depth, the insightful, well-founded, nuanced and yet daring way in which Steven Pinker has tackled the very delicate subject of violence throughout human history.

It is not feasibl
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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
“Challenge a person's beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them--or worse, who credibly rebut them--they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.” 101 likes
“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.” 65 likes
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