The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity
A comprehensive look at an important problem of perception.
I sort of disagree with Pinker's hypothesis that most people believe the world is more violent than in the past: than in the recent past, perhaps, but I don't think anyone really disputes that the past 2,000 years had more violence in them. Where dispute arises, I think, is when one considers pre-State or pre-chiefdom level societies: did small bands live in harmony, as Rousseau and his followers would have us believe? Pinker's answer is a clear "no", when one considers the death rates of small-society violence.
But in some ways this is an essay manifesting itself as a book. The introduction and conclusion are quite compelling in their own rights: violence has decreased, people do live more peaceful and safe lives now than at any other point in history, local eruptions of extreme violence notwithstanding. The rest of the book provides the evidence, and it's vitally important that it's been collected, synthesised, and analysed by someone as skilled as Pinker. And it's the source of fascinating anecdotes that it's a shame to risk missing – but its very depth and length make that risk real, as well as becoming lost in the fascinating but ultimately inconsequential analyses of a certain body of evidence. It's a depth that's necessary for a research work or thesis, but perhaps off-putting for a casual reader.
4/5. Finished 04 March 2017.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)