Customer Review

148 of 176 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An analytical, methodical juggernaut of guarded optimism, October 8, 2011
This review is from: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (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). More than half of the book is dedicated to a chronological exploration of the Trends of our history, six paradigm shifts in the human condition: The Pacification Process, The Civilizing Process, The Humanitarian Revolution, The Long Peace, The New Peace, and The Rights Revolutions. The bulk of the remaining half of the text is a fascinating look at psychology and sociology, showcasing a combined total of nine human traits (the Better Angels & Inner Demons) that dictate our behavior depending on their interplay with our environment and circumstance. The last five items in Pinker's syllabus, the five Historical Forces, feature in the concluding chapter and encapsulate much of the book's overall content by reflecting combinations of historical trend and human trait.

The Five Major Historical Forces for Peace:

The Leviathan (the state; reigns in internal violence)
Gentle Commerce (economic incentives for cooperation)
Feminization (empowerment of women; men are naturally more violent)
The Expanding Circle (empathy; sympathizing with ever wider classes)
The Escalator of Reason (rationality; application of empathy)

A few minor quibbles with value judgments aside, "The Better Angels of Our Nature" assiduously justifies its subtitular contention: violence really has declined, and now it's not so hard to see why. Steven Pinker has assembled vast quantities of data to support his position, sourced in turn by the assemblies of other preeminent scholars in ethnography, anthropology, and the history of man. Add to this a trove of lab-tested social psychology, game theory, and the areas of Pinker's own expertise in cognitive psychology. The resulting dissertation, structured with the incredible skill and forethought that define Steven Pinker's books, sums these component analyses into the rational juggernaut needed to upend the conventional wisdom it is up against. Though consistently dispassionate in tone and bearing throughout, the title of this book betrays its emotional impact: optimism for humanity.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 

Comments

Tracked by 3 customers

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 16, 2011 6:03:16 AM PDT
One important item in my opinion is the existence of nuclear weapons. These have discouraged war in the last 60 years. Hopefully this effect continues.

Posted on Oct 23, 2011 11:30:51 PM PDT
Thomas Merle says:
Even without all the analyses, any educated adult should come to the same conclusion as Prof. Pinker. But the more central question remains: so what? Here in the US we have a fair amount of violence in the inner city which is causing distress and great expense, and keeping a large group of males from participating in society. Regardless of the meta trends covered in this book, what are we to do about this Dr. Pinker?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2011 5:06:29 PM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2011 10:17:35 PM PST
To the contrary, Mr. Pinker does indeed devote quite a significant amount of the book to discussing World War II specifically for the highly salient reasons you've alluded to here. You are correct that it was a period in history unmatched in terms of casualties, but you are misinformed if you think that the issue is ignored.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2011 4:31:52 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 21, 2011 4:38:15 PM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2011 9:30:40 AM PST
It tells me you rely on anecdote more than science and fact-gathering.

And what evidence do you have that native peoples lived "peaceful, joyous lives?" Wishful thinking?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 10, 2012 8:21:13 AM PST
**SkipKent** says:
The fact that your friend was mugged instead of simply being slain outright or injured and left to die unattended or sold into slavery tells me quite a bit.

Posted on Jan 18, 2012 2:27:12 AM PST
Having also read Professor Pinker's book, not only do I agree with you, but this is a superb summation. Great review.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 27, 2012 12:28:04 PM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 20, 2012 2:45:39 PM PST
Andy says:
Where the hell did you get your 500 million people figure from?
‹ Previous 1 2 Next ›

Review Details

Item

4.3 out of 5 stars (336 customer reviews)
5 star:
 (223)
4 star:
 (52)
3 star:
 (31)
2 star:
 (10)
1 star:
 (20)
 
 
 
Used & New from: $2.29
Add to wishlist
Reviewer


Location: Palo Alto, California

Top Reviewer Ranking: 805,935