The Rational Optimist

  • by Matt Ridley
  • Narrated by L. J. Ganser
  • 13 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Life is getting better at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people's lives as never before.
The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for 200 years.
Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization, which started more than 100,000 years ago, has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.
This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the 21st century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Delightful Case for Things Looking Up

An extended argument that human intelligence and the well-being it allows is created, collected, maintained, distributed and extended by trade. Trade is "ideas having sex." Ridley builds his case with point after point then examines all the usual counterexamples and objections, taking them out one by one. It's a wonderful book. Of course it helped that he was preaching to the choir with me. What's most delightful is Ridley's goodhearted skewering of pessimists -- the technological and environmentalist Jeremiahs in particular -- with the most obvious of weaknesses is their flimsy cases. He's almost embarrassed for them. Ridley is a bit repetitive at times, but maintains a wry humor and lighthearted tone throughout, which makes his writing all the more effective. He's a good writer and he's right about everything.
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- Darkcoffee

Contrarianism, convincingly argued

This book will make you feel more optimistic about the prospects for humankind than you might have thought possible. The author does this, not by ignoring the many very real problems that we face, but by taking a broad historical perspective. His conclusion, which is very convincingly argued: the human condition has improved dramatically by almost any measure and there is every reason to expect it will continue to do so. The reasons why are intriguing and the analysis draws from a broad range of economics, history, science and technology.

I wish my activist friends would read this book and re-assess the focus of their concerns. We all want to make the world a better place and surely the most effective way to do so is to assess, rationally and without ideology or dogma, what has worked in the past as a guide to what might work in the future. It won't be an easy exercise for many because it leads the author takes a contrarian view on many currently fashionable topics including world trade, alternative energy, genetically modified food, global warming, etc.

The author makes a strong case for rationalism and it is a nice, but not inevitable, outcome that rationalism leads to optimism. If that sounds promising to you, you will find plenty of material here to bolster your hopes and inform your views of where we should be going from here.
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- Bruce

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-18-2010
  • Publisher: HarperAudio