The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
first caught my eye when I read a tweet by Bill Gates calling this ‘one of the most important books I’ve ever read’…pretty high praise, no?
The book, written by a psychologist/linguist from Harvard, explores his hypothesis that the world is, indeed, less violent and more peaceful. It might sounds hard to believe – just a quick browse through your favorite news source will bring up daily murders, rapes, theft, corrupt politicians, etc. etc., but Pinker manages to prove his point through facts, graphs, statistics, and sound analysis with a touch of humor.
Yes, this book is long – I’m a pretty fast reader, but it took me about a week to chug through this novel. Part of this is just because I had to process so much – Pinker goes into great detail about medieval torture, animal abuse in scientific experiments, and even child rearing, but really, it’s a big book.
Packed with information about the decline of racism, homophobia, sexism, wars, catastrophes, child abuse, and animal abuse, “The Better Angels of Our Nature” also explores deeper questions. Is violence a part of hereditary human nature? Does government activity increase or decrease violence? What do we owe to the Enlightenment? Will we ever achieve world peace? Is honor worth dying for? The book never directly gives answers, but rather hands us carefully curated information, leaving readers to draw their own conclusion.
And what an optimistic conclusion it is! Yes, we still have to walk under the street lamps, one hand on our phone, if we’re alone at night. Yes, people are still suffering from abuse and racism, and, yes, the world could most definitely do with a little more kindness.
But, I doubt any of us have to worry about literally being burned at the stake for being a ‘witch’. None of us have ever watched a public hanging. Most of us would be horrified if an advertisement showed domestic abuse or rampant sexism, and that business would surely face backlash. Parents raise their children on Disney and Dreamworks, rather than the gruesome fairy tale originals that starred cannibal step-parents, sisters with their eyes plucked out, feet placed in scalding iron shoes, and so on.
The world is far from perfect, but we are making evident progress.
I highly recommend The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and give it five stars for the well-developed thesis, solid evidence, ironic humor that can be found throughout all 800 pages, respectful writing, and for the optimistic message it provides.
It is clear that violence has declined – and we, as members of humanity, need to make sure that trend continues.