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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined Paperback – September 25, 2012


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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined + The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature + How the Mind Works
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143122010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143122012
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (367 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"My favorite book of the last decade is [Steven] Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time."--Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft


"For anyone interested in human nature, the material is engrossing, and when the going gets heavy, Pinker knows how to lighten it with ironic comments and a touch of humor. . . . A supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement."
(The New York Times Book Review)

"An extraordinary range of research . . . a masterly effort."
(The Wall Street Journal)

"Better Angels is a monumental achievement. His book should make it much harder for pessimists to cling to their gloomy vision of the future. Whether war is an ancient adaptation or a pernicious cultural infection, we are learning how to overcome it."
(Slate)

Praise for THE STUFF OF THOUGHT
“The majesty of Pinker’s theories is only one side of the story.  The other side is the modesty of how he built them.  It all makes sense, when you look at it the right way.”

(The New York Times Book Review)

 “Packed with information, clear, witty, attractively written …”
(The New York Review of Books)

“Engaging and witty …Everyone with an interest in language and how it gets to be how it is—that is, everyone interested in how we get to be human and do our human business—should read THE STUFF OF THOUGHT.”
(Science)

Praise for THE BLANK SLATE

“An extremely good book—clear, well argued, fair, learned, tough, witty, humane, stimulating.”
(Colin McGinn, The Washington Post)

“Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read…also highly persuasive.”
(Time)

About the Author

Steven Pinker is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World Today and Foreign Policy's 100 Global Thinkers.


More About the Author

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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Customer Reviews

The book is well written and engaging.
Paul Rowland
And if you don't believe that the world is a lot more peaceful today than it was at any time in the past, you really do need to read this book.
Gregory J. Casteel
I read a library copy and then bought a book to keep as a reference .
Daddymelt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

521 of 580 people found the following review helpful By Graham H. Seibert TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 5, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a huge book, but as Pinker says, it is a huge subject. He organizes himself by lists. First, there are six significant trends which have led to a decrease in violence.
1. Our evolution from hunter gatherers into settled civilizations, which he calls the Pacification Process.
2. The consolidation of small kingdoms and duchies into large kingdoms with centralized authority and commerce, which he calls the Civilizing Process.
3. The emergence of Enlightenment philosophy, and it's respect for the individual through what he calls the Humanitarian Revolution.
4. Since World War II, violence has been suppressed, first by the overwhelming force of the two parties in the Cold War, and more recently by the American hegemony. Pinker calls this the Long Peace.
5. The general trend, even apart from the Cold War, of wars to be more infrequent, and less violent, however autocratic and anti-democratic the governments may be. Call this the New Peace.
6. Lastly, the growth of peace and domestic societies, and with it the diminishing level of violence through small things like schoolyard fights, bullying, and picking on gays and minorities. He titles this the Rights Revolution.

Pinker then goes on to examine the traditional explanations of violence, the traditional explanations of human nature which account for violence. There is practical violence, which you might call necessary violence. Then there are dominance, revenge, sadism, and ideologically driven violence. Opposing these are what he calls the better angels of human nature, empathy, self-control, our moral sense, and reason. Many of these characteristics are shared with our primate brethren, the chimpanzees on down, but some of them are uniquely human.
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133 of 149 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This very ambitious and sprawling book is a serious effort to argue for and explain the progressive decline in interpersonal violence in human societies. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part is an effort to describe a broad sweep of human history from prehistoric societies to the present, arguing for a progressive though intermittant decline in violence in human societies. The second part is an effort to understand the underpinings of the decline in violence in terms of human psychological processes.

Pinker's sequence of the decline in violence is based on synthesis of a large volume of literature generated by archaeologists, ethnologists, historians, sociologists, political scientists, and psychologists. Pre-state societies, while low in absolute population and absolute number of violent acts, had very high per capita levels of violence. The emergence of states resulted in some decline in violence and the gradual strengthening of the state resulted in a progressive decline in interpersonal violence, even as states became more capable of waging war. This is best documented in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. Pinker highlights a number of important parallel processes. The "Civilizing Process" described by the great historical sociologist Norbert Elias of the increasing importance of self-control, manners, and social amity from the Renaissance onwards is prominently featured as a key feature in the decline of violence. Similarly, Pinker emphasizes the humanitarianism of the Enlightenment and subsequent reform movements. In the 20th century, the "Rights Revolution" that has brought widespread acceptance of religious and ethnic minorities, women, and homosexuals, is also discussed as improving our societies.
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150 of 178 people found the following review helpful By David Everling on October 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In his lauded but controversial best-seller "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature", Steven Pinker set out to quash a romanticized nostalgia for the lifestyle of people in pre-state societies: the myth of the "noble savage". Now, in his new book "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined", Steven Pinker extends this rectification of prevailing but misguided opinion to grand scale, presenting a strong case for our ennobled present; we are living in the most peaceful era humanity has ever known.

Pinker blows the reader away (forgive the violent metaphor) with sheer weight of analytical shot. At 700 pages of text interspersed with graphs and heaps of reference data, "Better Angels" is thorough-going and methodical because it has to be; contradicting common folk theories (like the noble savage), overriding an often overwhelming sense of unceasing or imminent violence from media coverage (see compassion fatigue), and compensating for a general lack of statistical thinking and probabilistic understanding in the lay public is no easy task. People are right to be skeptical of controversial theories, and knowing this Pinker has patiently lain it all out for us to see for ourselves that violence truly has declined with clear and unambiguously downward direction.

"Better Angels" is structured around an inventory of six Trends, five Inner Demons with four Better Angels, and five Historical Forces (Pinker can't help but enumerate).
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