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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
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Book Club 2014 > January 2014 - Better Angels of Our Nature

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message 1: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betsy | 1668 comments Mod
For January 2014 we will be reading The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. You can use this thread to post questions, comments, or reviews, at any time.


message 2: by bup (new) - rated it 5 stars

bup | 19 comments *hoping I get this for Christmas*


message 3: by Claire (new)

Claire Just a heads-up that the hardcover of this is available on Barnes and Noble's website for $4.99: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bette...


message 4: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betsy | 1668 comments Mod
832 pages!!!! I hope a lot of it is notes and appendices.


Aloha | 334 comments Oh, no. This is one of my top choices to read with a group and I'm inundated with groups reading books I've been wanting to do with groups. On top of that, I've devoted myself to James Joyce although there's no active group on him. When it rains it pours.


message 6: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Please don't read Joyce and Pinker together.....your brain might explode!


Aloha | 334 comments Betsy wrote: "832 pages!!!! I hope a lot of it is notes and appendices."

Betsy, have fortitude. Better Angels goes with a 3,000+ pages meditation on violence I finished and wrote a long, long review on in 2013, Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means. Terrific set from a seasoned journalist and writer.


Aloha | 334 comments The link is probably to the abridged, but I read the unabridged.


Aloha | 334 comments Kenny wrote: "Please don't read Joyce and Pinker together.....your brain might explode!"

I read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and grew an extra head.


message 10: by Kenny (new)

Kenny Chaffin (kennychaffin) Thought so. :)


message 11: by Claire (new)

Claire You'll be thrilled to know that it's in fairly small type, too ;) I was going to start on it early but I took one look at the type and let out a long sigh. Mercifully, it's actually closer to 700 pages as there are a lot (a lot) of references.


David Rubenstein | 870 comments Mod
I've started reading the book. It's interesting, and not heavy reading. Parts of it are not for the squeamish, though.


message 13: by Skyler (new) - added it

Skyler Myers (the_olde_guarde) | 2 comments David wrote: "I've started reading the book. It's interesting, and not heavy reading. Parts of it are not for the squeamish, though."

Not for the squeamish as in graphic depictions of violence or as in the book itself is factually inaccurate? I hope and think you mean the former, but just want to make sure.


David Rubenstein | 870 comments Mod
Skyler wrote: "David wrote: "I've started reading the book. It's interesting, and not heavy reading. Parts of it are not for the squeamish, though."

Not for the squeamish as in graphic depictions of violence or ..."


I did mean the former. In one of the chapters (which of course, one could skip), there are some brief listings of medieval torture techniques. Factually, I think the book is superb, as are all of the books by Steven Pinker.


message 15: by Daisy (last edited Dec 29, 2013 06:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Daisy (bellisperennis) | 26 comments David wrote: "I did mean the former. In one of the chapters (which of course, one could skip), there are some brief listings of medieval torture techniques."

It's great that you clarified this. I am a little squeamish about certain things (torture is one of them), so thank you for pointing this out. I was starting to have some doubts. I think I'll go ahead and read it. It sounds really good plus, my library has a copy.


Maitrey | 7 comments I just started it a few days back and it was refreshing to see that Pinker has not been bogged down by political correctness in a topic as open to misinterpretation as this book.

I'm almost certain that Pinker doesn't have any political axe to grind, but one never knows. So far all his troubling conclusions I've com across have been solidly supported by data.


Darren (darrenhancock) | 9 comments My review:

Although this was a long book, it was a fantastic and thorough recount of the steady decline of violence in human history, citing such logical reasons as the mass reproduction of the written word through books, the formation of democratic societies, the adoption of free trade and commerce, the evolution of the rights movements (including the abolishment of slavery, women's rights, children's rights... even animal rights), to list just a few. Despite the statistic numbers from the sketchy record-keeping of the past, Pinker unfolds the facts to reveal an undeniable downward trend in human violent behaviour on a global scale.

Although he does not commit to the continued tendency, Pinker does offer this historical trend as an optimistic hope for the future of humankind in what he calls "The new peace". I would encourage anyone interested in this topic (or fans of Pinkers previous writings) to dig in and read this gem. I am adding it to my list of top influential books I have read.


message 18: by David (last edited Jan 08, 2014 05:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David Rubenstein | 870 comments Mod
I agree with both Darren and Xox--it is an excellent book. Very long, but comprehensive. It is sure to be controversial--how can it not be, with the major wars and genocides in the twentieth century? But the documentation and the reasoning are very good. Here is my review.


message 19: by Daisy (last edited Jan 16, 2014 11:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Daisy (bellisperennis) | 26 comments On page 14 Steven Pinker writes that (view spoiler).

Indeed. I just finished The Book of Margery Kempe by Margery Kempe, considered one of the first, surviving, autobiographies of the English language.

A spiritual, devout and mystic, medieval woman, Kempe's devotion lived on the edge of what Pinker describes above. Sometimes, while reading Kempe, I had asked myself if I was interpreting her intentions correctly. This quote leads me to think that I was.


message 20: by Daisy (last edited Jan 16, 2014 11:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Daisy (bellisperennis) | 26 comments Okay, perhaps I will mention that I liked Kempe's book in that my image of the Middle Ages has been filled with images of flagellants, plague caused panic and death and horrific medical treatments.

But by reading this book I was shown a different world of people. They helped and cared for each other both in sickness and financially. They both enjoyed their families and faced similar familial difficulties as today. They succeeded in small business, travelled around the world and country, married people from other countries, farmed successfully and maintained life-long friendships.

This is a thread about The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I know. But, for me, while trying to get through the reading of some of the atrocities it's helpful to remember this.


message 21: by Daisy (last edited Jan 29, 2014 07:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Daisy (bellisperennis) | 26 comments Sometimes I wonder if it's somewhat difficult to "see the forest for the trees." Are we still a little too close to these events to know for sure? My mind grapples with recognizing the randomness of some of these historic events.

I can appreciate what Pinker writes about the stars, that "from our vantage point are randomly spattered across the sky. Yet it is the stars that seem to fall into shapes, including the ram, bull, twins and so on, that for millennia have served as portents to pattern-hungry brains." At page 204 and moving onward. :)


Maitrey | 7 comments I thought the book was an eye-opener in many different aspects. However, I'm still unsure about many of the claims as I couldn't shake off the feeling that Pinker was cherry-picking and painting the picture he wants to see.

Here's my review.

Also my first group read on this group, hope that it is the first of many.


DavidO (drgnangl) | 15 comments Good book, thought the author might have gone a bit overboard with examples and statistics.


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