Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Better Angels of Our Nature" Review

The lead review in the Sunday Book Review section of the New York Times this past week is of a book by Steven Pinker titled “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined." The review was written by Peter Singer.

I have not yet read the book – although I did purchase and download it based on this review – and will read it soon.

The basic thesis of the book is simple. Our era – the time in which we now live – is less violent and cruel and more peaceful than any other period in human history. Despite World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the Iran/Iraq war, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and all of the other atrocities of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Really?

Mr. Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard and author of “The Language Instinct." Mr. Singer makes a compelling argument that professor Pinker’s new book is substantial, worthwhile and interesting.

To sum up this observation, Mr. Singer states, quite simply, ””The Better Angels of Our Nature” is a supremely important book,” adding that the book addresses many of the age-old questions about human nature: Are human beings essentially good or bad? Has the past century witnessed moral progress or a moral collapse? Do we have grounds for being optimistic about the future?

Obviously Mr. Pinker has to convince a skeptical audience. According to the review he spends a substantial portion of the book successfully documenting his claim.

What do you think? Do we live in a more civilized and more just and peaceful world?


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  2. Interesting review, Dan. Personally, I think Mr. Pinker is going to have a hard time proving even by a preponderance of the evidence that the 20th and 21st centuries are any less violent or less immoral than past centuries, especially given the rise of terrorist, rogue tactics. I do, however, applaud Pinker for his optimism about the human race. It will be interesting to read how he successfully documents his claim. Commented by A. Ivanov