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Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead?: The Munk Debates

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  934 ratings  ·  120 reviews
Progress. It is one of the animating concepts of the modern era. From the Enlightenment onwards, the West has had an enduring belief that through the evolution of institutions, innovations, and ideas, the human condition is improving. This process is supposedly accelerating as new technologies, individual freedoms, and the spread of global norms empower individuals and soc ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by House of Anansi Press
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Nov 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book was underwhelming in a major way. First, I don't think the question "Do humankind's best days lie ahead?" was a fair way to parse the question at hand. Since there are so many measurable variables that suggest that human life is improving, it's hard to argue against this proposition. I would have thought that the 'con' representatives would have brought stronger points. Instead, the whole debate seemed to be a back and forth of low shots and slight insults. Furthermore, when thinking o ...more
The book transcribes a debate between two teams of two men each, on the proposition: "Do Humankind's Best Days Lie Ahead?". The question is not well-posed - the answer could literally be "Yes" despite an apocalyptic scenario. Suppose the coming year is the best in humankind's history, and then, say, an asteroid impact causes total human extinction. The answer to the question is still "yes." All you really need is a minimum of two really good future days to satisfy the premise (two days qualifies ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is the transcript of the Munk debate that took place in 2015, and it comes with pre-debate interviews and post-debate commentary. Holy hell were the teams mismatched. I mean you have a Harvard professor and a member of the House of Lords debating a journalist and an (admittedly mesmerizing) "intellectual" and philosopher.

The debate plays out exactly as you would expect it to. The teams begin with opening remarks, misunderstand the question, and then gung-ho, here we go. Honestly felt
Dec 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
This short book transcribes a debate on the question 'Do Humankind's Best Days Lie Ahead?' Arguing for the proposition are Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley, against are Alain de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell.

Pinker and Ridley have much the better of the debate. They avoid Whiggish determinism for the most part and, looking progress on a range of issues in recent decades, look at what a continuation of these trends might mean for the future and the likelihood of them continuing.

De Botton puts in a ve
asih simanis
It's surprising how intellectuals at the level of these 4 gentlemen debate so childlike when it comes to this issue of human progress.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Quick read that gave me a few chuckles but to be honest I expected more from these great thinkers. The debate would veer off topic at times or just become baseless. Plus, where was the female perspective? I enjoyed Gladwell's argument the best, that for every problem we solve, new problems are generated. Therefore, we can only conclude that humankind's days will be different, but we cannot quantify "better".
Mugren Ohaly
Sep 03, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017

I began the debate con and ended it con. However, none of the arguments were convincing.
This is a transcript of the 2016 Munk Debate on the question of 'do humankind's best days lie ahead?' and of single one-to-one interviews with each of the four participants. The 'yes' side might appear to be getting the better of it, possibly owing to Pinker and Ridley's grounding in science and De Botton and Gladwell's lack of it. De Botton and Gladwell are often flapping and saying strange things. But I think every participant has some worthy things to say.

Pinker and Ridley's main argument is
Sorina Negrilă
It's the first time I read a debate instead of watching the video. But it was interesting specifically for that reason, because with a pen in my hand, I could actually follow through the argumentative process instead of being charmed by the speaker's charisma. I already have a slight liking of Pinker, though I can't say I share all of his optimism (he obviously was on the pro team) or his arguments for it, but I have to say I can see why sometimes science looks down on the "humanities" - Alain d ...more
Nickky Faustine de Guzman
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A new year always makes us more hopeful of the coming unknown days. In this short book (you can read it in one sitting), the debating teams of scientists and philosophers present us with polarizing outlooks: the former think we have better tomorrow thanks to the technologies that have improved our health, work, economy, education, etc., but the latter, on the other hand, believe that we should be more realistic than positivist, tomorrow is no better, they say, because if it is, how come more and ...more
Ian Gillies
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Four intellectuals debate whether things are getting better or worse. After all was said, in a witty and lively debate, 73% of the audience at Toronto's Massey Hall were convinced that our best days as a species are ahead of us. Stephen Pinker best put forward the evidence supporting the optimist's view humankind's fortures. Malcolm Gladwell took the opposing point of view. I am interested in this debate because I think the prevailing intellectual narrative in Canada can be summed up in the phra ...more
entertaining wordplay among 4 brash and talented gentlemen, worth it for something like an exciting night at a debate parlor or intellectual salon, but unlikely to change anyone's position or quicken anyone's minds towards serious realisations
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
An interesting debate - which I think would have been more fun to watch than to read!
Saif Saeed
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really good short read. Excellent arguments from all sides. And they were funny in some moments too.
Zach Smith
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's easy to get mired in negativity just because of the topics that make headlines. Reading about positivity is like a breath of fresh air!
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a transcript of a debate between 4 important thinkers and scientists of our day. The debate itself is only half the book and then there are individual interviews with each of the speakers about their stance more specifically.
The book itself is a quick read and very enjoyable. I was familiar with Pinker and de Botton's ideas, but watching the 4 men play off against each other was very interesting and often hilarious (apparently even big thinkers get petty with each other).
All four seem
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's one thing to read works by these brilliant men , but really a treat to see how they interact when such great minds go head to head. Loved the spicy tension between Pinker and Gladwell. Informative and entertaining.
Aug 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This debate has a strong case strongly made by Pinker and Ridley, and some very irrelevant objections made by de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell. But I wanted to explore something de Botton said about Anna Karenina. Unfortunately, that's not possible to do without spoiling that book.

So, a bit of setup:

Alain de Botton: Do you know a famous novel, written in the nineteenth century called Anna Karenina. Now, the people in Anna Karenina - none of them suffered from your ten [dimensions of wellbeing - Pi
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was interesting to read instead of watch as I could see exactly what they were saying without their grandstanding getting in the way, which I'm sure there was at least a bit of. Botton showed up to the wrong debate, he argued that things would not be perfect in the future, billionaires feel poor & life sucks a little bit from time to time in Switzerland. Ridley & Pinker rightly pointed out that not dying from Malaria & having your children generally live is a big plus but they also took the ...more
Madalin Betivoiu
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Not exactly a book, just a transcript of the televised debate between the 4 famous authors, as part of the semi-annual Munk debates in Toronto (November 2015 edition). The topic is highlighted in the title and had Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley in the "pro" camp, with Malcolm Gladwell and Alain de Botton in the "against" camp.

While arguably Pinker and Ridley had the easier mission to start with (71% of the audience held the "pro" view), their arguments were rather stereotypical. They made the est
Chloe Lee
The notion that the future is going to get better is hopelessly naive. And the word better is misplaced. What we are really facing when we look at the future is a future that's different.

Not only is the notion 'hopelessly naive', it is also hopelessly generalised. Furthermore, such a notion would already place people in either stance, and with a rather strong attitude. This can be manifested by the parties, who are so intent on their own stances they seemingly cannot accept anything from the opp
Jakub Ferencik
This book is another Munk Debate that was put into written form. Pinker & Ridley (argue that the world is getting better) vs. Gladwell & Botton.

I did not enjoy this debate as much as my previously reviewed Munk Debate on the liberal international order, between Niall Ferguson and Fareed Zakaria. The debate was full of one-liners and frequent interruptions. Pinker came across as uncharitable to the opposition the same as Gladwell. Botton was just being misunderstood, it seemed to me, both by Pink
Drew Clancy
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book which is a transcript of a 2016 Munk debate in Toronto in which four writers/ thinkers argue about whether life is getting better or worse.

During the debate, Pinker and Ridley share a plethora of data showing that life is getting better -
from life expectancy to health, prosperity, peace, safety, freedom, knowledge, human rights, gender equality, and intelligence.

Pinker's book The Better Angels of our Nature is one of my favorite books as it was such an eye-opener to me about t
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
The title of this book really got my attention, especially in a season when it seems nuclear weapons are becoming popular again, racism is on the rise, and true happiness (as much as money has bought us much convenience) seems somewhat low. So I was intrigued to hear the opinions of the authors. In some ways I wasn't surprised at the pro-side presenters, basing their projections on innovation and economic progress yet at the same time was slightly disappointed with the con-side objections (or th ...more
Andreas Andersen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Darius Daruvalla-riccio
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Alain de bottom ruined this. He forced the debate to revolve around his irrelevant ideas about first world problems.
Steven pinker completely wrecked him with this: "are you serious? are you willing to approach a peasant in cambodia, sudan or bangladesh and say: listen, ive been there. you worry about your child dying or your wife dying in childbirth, you're full of parasites; you don't have enough to eat, but trust me, it's no great shakes to live in Switzerland".
De Botton then spent the rest o
A.J. Saktiana
Jul 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This short book transcribes the Munk debate that took place in 2015 on the question 'Do Humankind's Best Days Lie Ahead?' Arguing for the proposition are Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley, against are Alain de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell in Cons side.

The Pro team cites reams of statistics that show steady improvement in human well-being by several important measures; Pinker lists ten. Ridley tags in with some additional fire support. This improvement in human welfare seems indisputable. Ridley's cla
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
There is not much to be said in terms of writing style since it's basically a transcript of a debate. In terms of the actual debate, it is very well structured and allows all participants/authors to express their ideas giving them equal speaking time. However, the ideas expressed are not necessarily ground braking and a good chunk of the debate was (unsurprisingly) centered around what would constitute "best days" and how do you measure progress. Personally, I found myself agreeing with argument ...more
Hind Al-Qahtani
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I saw it got some bad reviews on Goodreads. I found it entertaining and informative in the realm of ideas, not necessarily facts. Alain de Botton was criticized for his role in the debate but I thought he brought a fresh angle and the contrast between him and his opponents highlights the basis of both positions more clearly. Surprisingly enough they debated viciously. I´ve always heard that Arabs do not master the art of debate, but now I think no one does, lol. Some of the comments were petty, ...more
Bill Hill
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cross purposes?

An interesting debate that seemed to pit optimistic projections based on long-run societal level trends against pessimistic projections based on well understood human behavioural traits.

The debaters were often at cross purposes and seemingly debating two different propositions. The pro speakers talking about the topic and the cons talking about whether a good societal trend is worth pain of those who don’t benefit from the upswing. I think one side was too optimistic basing every
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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 explorations of human nature and its relevance to language, history, morality, politics, and everyday life. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Repu ...more

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