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The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves Hardcover – May 18, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 5th Printing edition (May 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006145205X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061452055
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (229 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ideas have sex, in Ridley's schema; they follow a process of natural selection of their own, and as long as they continue to do so, there is reason to retire apocalyptic pessimism about the future of our species. Erstwhile zoologist, conservationist, and journalist, Ridley (The Red Queen) posits that as long as civilization engages in exchange and specialization, we will be able to reinvent ourselves and responsibly use earthly resources ad infinitum. Humanity's collective intelligence will save the day, just as it has over the centuries. Ridley puts current perceptions about violence, wealth, and the environment into historical perspective, reaching back thousands of years to advocate global free trade, smaller government, and the use of fossil fuels. He confidently takes on the experts, from modern sociologists who fret over the current level of violence in the world to environmentalists who disdain genetically modified crops. An ambitious and sunny paean to human ingenuity, this is an argument for why ambitious optimism is morally mandatory. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Science journalist Ridley believes there is a reason to be optimistic about the human race, and he defies the unprecedented economic pessimism he observes. His book is about the rapid and continuous change that human society experiences, unlike any other animal group. Ideas needed to meet and mate for culture to turn cumulative, and “there was a point in human pre-history when big-brained, cultural, learning people for the first time began to exchange things with each other and that once they started doing so, culture suddenly became cumulative, and the great headlong experiment of human economic ‘progress’ began.” Participants in the exchanges improved their lives by trading food and tools. Ridley believes it is probable that humanity will be better off in the next century than it is today, and so will the ecology of our planet. He dares the human race to embrace change, be rationally optimistic, and strive for an improved life for all people. --Mary Whaley

More About the Author

Matt Ridley's books have been shortlisted for six literary awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (for Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters). His most recent book, The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture, won the award for the best science book published in 2003 from the National Academies of Science. He has been a scientist, a journalist, and a national newspaper columnist, and is the chairman of the International Centre for Life, in Newcastle, England. Matt Ridley is also a visiting professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Customer Reviews

I enjoyed reading it immensely, and unless you are allergic to bad news about the BAD NEWS, I think you will, too.
Steve Summers
In THE RATIONAL OPTIMIST, Matt Ridley seeks to correct the record and point out that, hey, things are getting better, mostly because we're good at working together.
Dave Schwartz
Matt Ridley has put together a fascinating survey of human history to argue that things are much better than most of us realize.
Joseph

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

258 of 270 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist is a history of progress based on a simple but unpopular idea: that specialization and markets are the prime movers of progress. In fact, Ridley suggests in his introduction that the answer to the perennial "What makes humans unique?" question is our unique ability to specialize and trade. Instead of catching our own food, making our own shelter, etc (as other animals do), we humans have created a system where everyone can specialize and trade with others who specialize in other things. This means that those best at making houses make houses, those best at making food make food, and by trading, we can each benefit from that which others do and vice versa. Self-reliance equals subsistence: interdependence through trade equals ingenuity and a boom in living standards.

"What?!" you say. What about Rousseau, Marx, Ehrlich, Marcuse, and all of those other critics of society! What about all the stuff we hear about how capitalism exploits the poor, reduces living standards, rapes the environment, etc, etc. The first few chapters of Ridley's book are devoted to showing that, on all fronts, markets have actually produced higher living standards FOR ALL (and especially the poor, as also shown in Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies), MORE leisure time for all, and - here's the most surprising - better environmental conditions.

The next several chapters are a history of how this progress happened. To be honest, these chapters may be the most dry as they are very detail-laden and repetitive in that they stress the same theme across time - that specialization leads to ingenuity and progress.
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218 of 248 people found the following review helpful By Steve Summers VINE VOICE on May 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First, the GOOD NEWS: the sky isn't falling! The world is actually improving dramatically and the pace is quickening. There are abundant facts to prove it. The BAD NEWS predicted isn't true after all. The not-so-good news is that good news doesn't sell newspapers or prime-time ads. So we'll keep on hearing that doomsday drumbeat of horrific predictions from the media, all of it certified by officials of academia and government with an obvious agenda in the vision of impending environmental collapse which can only be averted by comparably drastic intervention. We have a glut of popular books and articles feeding these fears with plausible evidence for the demise of civilization or the planet, but a critical shortage of books like "The Rational Optimist" which challenge that evidence, describe its pathologies, and show where those disastrously coercive interventions will lead, and what they'll cost in human terms. So why risk ostracism in cocktail-party conversation by reading a persuasive contrarian essay which proclaims a heretical optimism in its title?

Well, one reason might be the pleasures of an utterly readable book. Unlike talk-show polemicists, Matt Ridley uses good-natured eloquence, serious erudition and incisive wit to deflate the imminent-disaster scenarios which dominate our evening news, academic and political discourse. Despite its length, the book is remarkable for its brevity and the sheer quotability of its prose. (A reader cribbing zinger quotes will soon have writer's cramp.)

Another reason might be the challenge of unfamiliar ideas, of cleaning the mental attic of the baggage left by cultural osmosis. No book can guarantee final truth, but a fresh perspective can provide plenty of creative stimulation for a skeptical mind.
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71 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Matthew T Atkinson on August 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Book starts off great with seemingly good solid logic. However Ridley goes off the deep end. The guy wants to downplay scientific theory's effect on the industrial revolution as little or none at all. He goes on to suggest science has little influence on technological innovation, that is comes from "tinkering business men instead of thinking boffins, by hard heads and clever fingers". He basically dismisses Issac Newton, his contribution to calculus and its impact on engineers. He makes an attempt at discrediting James Watt's degree in mechanical engineering as having little effect on his improvements to the steam engine.

He gets even more ridiculous, saying that innovation in Silicon Valley comes more from the coffee shops and garages than the Stanford Labs. Then to really make himself look silly he asks "for which scientist would you give credit to the search engine". How about Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who actually developed Google in a Stanford Lab while working on their Ph.Ds. Then they go on to hire a bunch of top Ph.Ds (aka Scientists)to keep on improving the search engine.

It's completely insane and completely wrong. For any part of the book to have credibility I would have to fact check it completely, because if he can miss by so much on the roots of technology and innovation then odds are the book is filled with errors and bad logic. I'm angry I wasted time on this book. I say that with a smile on my face, because I just can't over how off he is and how much I enjoyed the first part of the book. Hopefully my time spent on this review will spare others.
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