The Better Angels of Our Nature

  • by Steven Pinker
  • Narrated by Arthur Morey
  • 36 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

We’ve all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, “What is the world coming to?” But we seldom ask, “How bad was the world in the past?” In this startling new book, the best-selling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. In fact, we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.
Evidence of a bloody history has always been around us: the genocides in the Old Testament and crucifixions in the New; the gory mutilations in Shakespeare and Grimm; the British monarchs who beheaded their relatives and the American founders who dueled with their rivals; the nonchalant treatment in popular culture of wife-beating, child abuse, and the extermination of native peoples. Now the decline in these brutal practices can be quantified.
With the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps, Pinker presents some astonishing numbers. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then suddenly were targeted for abolition. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, battering, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse, cruelty to animals — all substantially down.How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? What led people to stop sacrificing children, stabbing each other at the dinner table, or burning cats and disemboweling criminals as forms of popular entertainment? Was it reading novels, cultivating table manners, fearing the police, or turning their energies to making money? Should the nuclear bomb get the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing World War III? Does rock and roll deserve the blame for the doubling of violence in the 1960s — and abortion deserve credit for the reversal in the 1990s?
Not exactly, Pinker argues. The key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence (such as revenge, sadism, and tribalism) and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.
With the panache and intellectual zeal that have made his earlier books international best sellers and literary classics, Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Violence is decreasing everywhere. Who knew?

Steven Pinker is an intellectual of the first order. Yet all of his book are readily accessible to an educated reader (well, maybe not The Stuff of Thought, which was difficult "stuff").

The premise of this book is that violence is decreasing throughout the world. That includes all kinds of violence: murder, rape, war, genocide and even terrorism! And the decrease is evident over all time scales. Over the last 10,000 years the chances of being a victim of violence has declined dramatically. This is true for the last 1000 years, last 100 years and even the last 10 years. You might think that this is absurd from reading the headlines and listening to TV news but Pinker presents exhaustive data to prove his point. He gives us FBI reports, WHO data, government studies and scholarly studies. He also tries in every case to explain the "why" of the decrease. We have become more and more civilized over time. We also have become more sensitive to the lives and feelings of others.

Pinker is a wizard of making the difficult so easy to undersand. He not only alludes to the classics, The Bible, and academic studies, but also to pop culture. He frequently uses scenes from popular movies, TV shows, books and songs to make his point.

The reading is superb. It is neither dull nor overly dramatic. Within minutes I forgot that there was a reader and my mind was focused in on Steven Pinker's mind.

I would also highly recommend Pinker's previous tour-de-force, The Blank Slate.
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- Francis J DiBona

I'd kill for another book this good

Without question of the best audiobooks I've listened to, out of over 100 so far. An exploration of the decline in violence through human history, taking pains to make a coherent, substantive and well supported case for every assertion it makes. Detailed and technical without being dull, this book makes one of the best cases I can imagine for the general advancement of the species and the triumph of modernity. Exceptional.
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- Eric Nicolas Morgan "Nic Morgan"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-04-2011
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio