The Better Angels of our Nature

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I listened to this book on audio. In the Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker presents us with a stunning fact – that violence has actually been declining over the course of human history. He uses the entirety of the 36-hour book to prove it. It’s certainly a fascinating read, since it most certainly does not seem like this is the case from our own first-hand observations of the present-day world.

The author uses statistics, historical figures and consepts in psychology to explain his case on why, even in spite of appearances, violence has actually declined. He argues that World Wars I and II were the exception in a long decline. He focuses mainly on Europe, where according to him, statistics are more readily available. This, perhaps is the only area where I would contend with the authors approach.

I don’t think he focuses enough on figures from Asia. Certainly China and Japan, cultures with histories going back 5000 years, would have records of crime. To be fair, the author does cite difficulties in assessing and accessing such information, and does speak about the statistics available to him. History, isn’t always easy to judge, since you’re almost always evaluating someone else’s account of it. Nevertheless, I did find myself wishing there was more discussion of observations in eastern cultures. It would have, however, made the book even longer than it already is.

As I mentioned before, the book is long – 36 hours. As with many academic books, I found it to be somewhat repetitive. But not by much. I think the work could have been around 30 hours or slightly less. Regardless of the length, and slightly repetitive nature, I’d still recommend it. Steven Pinker does a wonderful job of presenting his case, and proving the reader with a whole new perspective on human history.