Progress report. I'm not even on pg. 100 of Better Angels of Our Nature yet, and I'm feeling just a little weary. Reason: Pinker presents himself as a debunker of a Great Myth. What's the myth? That over the course of history, humanity has become more and more violent. But the thing is, I have no great attachment to that myth - if it's a myth - so I don't need 700+ pages worth of disabusing. In fact, it's taken less than 100 pages for Pinker to make me see that yes indeed, modern life is pretty peaceful, relatively speaking. Let's hope the chapters explaining why we've become less violent are more interesting.
Why I bought this book: I've greatly enjoyed other Books about Everything, like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, and (though much less so) Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist. The beauty of Guns, Germs, and Steel is that it asks such a wonderful question. Why is it that different groups of people have made progress at such hugely different rates? Diamond's book simply tries to answer the question, instead of posing as a repudiation of some seductive conventional wisdom. The danger of the second approach, I'm seeing from Pinker's book, is that it can only succeed to the extent that readers are tenacious about the conventional wisdom. If the author poses as doing battle with something, the reader has to play the role of opponent, or at least take the battle seriously. But I have no deep-rooted pre-conceptions about uneven progress or about whether we're getting more violent or less violent.
I will persist. I will persist.
good, so you should stop and first read a book that presents the opposite case. with these books getting both sides is always a lot more interesting ...
Maybe my problem is precisely that I read Ridley's book first--which is another very long account of things getting better. OK, so things are getting better! I don't need Pinker to re-convince me of this!
So--what's a book about how things are getting worse to interpose between Ridley and Pinker? (And does it really make sense to spend time on it, just to make Pinker more exciting?!)
I've had this one on my list for some time, but haven't read it yet. It seems well researched from MIT press.
also popper's "poverty of historicism" makes for a good balance ...
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