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About the Author

Steven Pinker is an authority on language and the mind. He is Peter de Florez professor of psychology in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Steven Arthur Pinker was born on September 18, 1954 in Canada. show more He is an experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and author. He is a psychology professor at Harvard University. He is the author of several non-fiction books including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, The Stuff of Thought, and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. His research in cognitive psychology has won the Early Career Award in 1984 and Boyd McCandless Award in 1986 from the American Psychological Association, the Troland Research Award in 1993 from the National Academy of Sciences, the Henry Dale Prize in 2004 from the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and the George Miller Prize in 2010 from the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. He was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, in 1998 and in 2003. In 2006, he received the American Humanist Association's Humanist of the Year award for his contributions to public understanding of human evolution. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Works by Steven Pinker

How the Mind Works (1997) 4,821 copies, 41 reviews
Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (1999) 1,817 copies, 16 reviews
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004 (2004) — Editor — 292 copies, 7 reviews
Do Humankind's Best Days Lie Ahead? (2016) 94 copies, 2 reviews
Hotheads (2005) 73 copies

Associated Works

This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking (2012) — Contributor — 809 copies, 17 reviews
The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing (2008) — Contributor — 809 copies, 6 reviews
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) — Introduction, some editions — 767 copies, 8 reviews
Darwin (Norton Critical Edition) (1970) — Contributor — 662 copies, 4 reviews
What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable (1914) — Introduction — 633 copies, 8 reviews
The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do (1998) — Foreword, some editions — 564 copies, 11 reviews
Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (2011) — Contributor — 381 copies, 16 reviews
A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (2018) — Contributor — 239 copies, 4 reviews
The New Humanists: Science at the Edge (2003) — Contributor — 230 copies
The Best American Essays 2010 (2010) — Contributor — 227 copies, 7 reviews
The Best American Science Writing 2010 (2010) — Contributor — 107 copies, 2 reviews
Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Gender (2006) — Contributor, some editions — 56 copies
Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame (2012) — Contributor — 54 copies, 2 reviews

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Are we living in the most peaceful era of world history? in History: On learning from and writing history (September 2013)

Reviews

This review is based on the Blinkist version of the book...thus a summary and my review needs to be qualified as such. Presumably the original full text has much more details and research.....but it also takes much longer to read. If I like the Blinkist version, I might seek out and read the full book. Meantime here are a few nuggets that particularly struck me:
The Enlightenment started in the first half of the eighteenth century and it offered a bracing antidote to the rampant ignorance, terror and paranoia to which society had previously been in thrall.....It was high time for a change. And thus four main Enlightenment themes began to take shape: reason, science, humanism and progress.
1. Reason means that there are things in the world that are non-negotiable...that no matter what your so-called sacred text or authoritarian leader says, only reason can dictate the ultimate right. A good example is slavery......
2. With the emphasis on science, people began to value knowledge, especially as it pertained to certain universal human traits. Early versions of neuroscience, psychology and cultural anthropology opened the door to:
3. Humanism,which offered a secular way for people to understand and respect one another. Humanism also led to what’s known as
4. Cosmopolitanism, which can be seen in today’s modern values......It looks at everyone as a child of the world and recognizes that just because someone was born in a different country doesn’t mean they’re less deserving of the same rights.
There’s a very good reason for the establishment of a cosmopolitan system of global trade and mutual benefit. Why? Because the more diverse and interconnected a system becomes, the more resilient it becomes against entropy. [slight warping of the use of the term entropy here]...it’s important to recognize that an organism isn’t a closed system–and can therefore push back against entropy. This is part of why the Enlightenment can, and has, continued to flourish.
If we look at any number of graphs and hard, factual data about the state of the world over the past hundred or more years, we can see that we’re still in the process of adding energy and greatly improving.....Whether it’s life expectancy, crime rates, happiness levels,.wealth or quality of life, just about every measurable indicator of “the good life” has been on the rise and shows no sign of stopping...[This is the main theme of one of Pinker’s other books...”The better angels of our nature”....see my review] At the start of the Enlightenment, in the mid-eighteenth century, the global average life expectancy was 29 years......even our hunter-gatherer ancestors are believed to have lived to around 32.5 years!...But post-Enlightenment, the life expectancy of people around the world has increased by leaps and bounds......while far fewer infants are dying, mothers are also surviving childbirth......In 1845, a 30-year-old person in Britain could expect to live another 30 years while an 80-year-old could count on about another five more. In 2011, that 30-year-old could expect another 52 years, while the 80-year-old could expect nine more years......This kind of improvement is global:....These years can also be expected to be lived in better health than that of previous generations......In the 1800s and early 1900s, it didn’t matter if you were the poorest or the richest person in the world; you were just as likely to die from an infection......a mere 45 years ago, 35 percent of the world was malnourished. That number dropped to an all-time low of 13 percent in 2015.......Making this even more impressive is the fact that five billion people have been added to the planet in that time.....This is due to the science of agriculture.
Prior to the Enlightenment, it was common for a nation’s poor people to be forced into backbreaking labor for next to no pay......In 1820, close to 90 percent of the world was in extreme poverty, but this is when the tools of the Enlightenment really began to take effect. Between 1820 and 1900, global income tripled.......Between 1900 and 1950, the world income tripled again, and then it took only 33 years to triple a third time. Now, South Korea and Singapore are getting rich while Vietnam, Rwanda and El Salvador are doubling their income every 18 years, with another 40 nations doubling theirs every 35 years.
With this growth, it’s to be expected that a period of inequality will follow. But as time goes on, this inequality naturally levels itself out, which is what we’re seeing today. This is called the Kuznets curve, named after economist Simon Kuznets.
Another rule we can see in action is Wagner’s law, which states that the wealthier a country gets, the more it spends on social programs that benefit the poor.....In European countries
during the early twentieth century, the average amount of earnings spent was 1.5 percent. Now, an average of 22 percent is spent on social programs and relief for the poor.
You might think there’s an unprecedented number of refugees today, too, but if we go back a few decades to 1971, we see that the Bangladesh War displaced 10 million people.
In 1945, the United Nations was formed, and, with it came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Written by a diverse group including Mohandas Gandhi, Aldous Huxley and Muslim scholars, this is perhaps one of the most humanist and Enlightenment-aligned documents ever created......Since then, this organization has been extremely influential in helping settle disputes, along with the continued trade and commerce agreements that have helped forge healthy international relations.
With rising wealth across the majority of nations in the world, there’s less of an opening for militant groups to form an uprising and try to convince the people that they should join in a revolution.....Democracy is very much the result of Enlightenment thinkers looking for a better form of government than the reign of terror that had plagued the world since biblical times. People were tired of slavery, torture, human sacrifices and the public mutilation of dissidents......and it’s proven to be the one form of government with healthier economic growth, fewer genocides and better education......As of 2015, there are 103 democratic nations, a pretty good number, considering that it fell to 12 during the fascist uprisings of the 1920s.
Simply put, racism and sexism are untenable arguments, which means they can’t withstand scrutiny and there’s no rational or reasonable defence of them.....So it makes sense that the modern world has far fewer ethnic and racial discriminatory laws on the books. In 1950, half the world’s nations had these laws, but by 2003, that number was down to under one-fifth.
The reality is that an American is more likely to be killed by lightning or a bee sting than a terrorist. If we look at the worldwide statistics, all people would still be 125 times more likely to die in an accident than at the hands of a terrorist.....People are afraid because of the negative bias and fearmongering sensationalism that taint the media’s presentation of world news.
As technology has progressed, it’s also gotten safer, with more levels of fail-safe monitoring. If something poses any threat, chances are there’s someone with a switch who’s monitoring the person with the switch who’s monitoring yet another person and so on.
There’s a long history of science being attacked by ignorance and misunderstanding, not to mention by people trying to advance their own agenda. Since science is one of the tenets of the Enlightenment, it’s important to spot this nincompoopery and see the truth.....These days, attacks on science are likely to be thinly veiled attempts to discredit a legitimate concern, such as climate change.
One of the greatest challenges facing humanity is cutting back on CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2050 and eliminating them completely by 2100.
While it’s certainly distressing to see Donald Trump, who the author sees as distinctly anti-Enlightenment, win the US presidency, we can still take some small comfort in the fact that he lost the popular vote by a significant margin
Across Europe, the populist parties, which favour nationalistic, tribalist, anti-cosmopolitan values, have only managed to get about 13 percent of the vote, while ultimately losing as many legislative seats as they’ve gained.
Younger generations across the globe are polling as more progressive, tolerant and less religious than the previous generation. According to WIN-Gallup International’s Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, even in traditionally religious countries, like Poland, Turkey and Russia, there was an average nine-percent decrease in people who identify themselves as religious between 2005 and 2012. So, with each successive generation, we see more people relying on reason, science and humanism as the source of their values.
The data shows a positive story, a story of the triumph of reason and humanism over the past 100 years. And there’s no reason to think this progress will be reversed.
The key message in this book: There is still war, violence, disease and poverty in the world, but if we put this into the context of history, we’re looking at a tiny fraction of what once was. Ever since the age of reason in the eighteenth century, we’ve been making progress at reducing poverty, disease and war. By reducing superstitions, racism and warmongering, we’ve turned the world into a much safer and enlightened place than it’s ever been before.
My take on the book: It’s very much the same as what is in Steven Pinker’s book “The better angels of our natures”...and is an upbeat take on current affairs. Basically Pinker says that the adoption of enlightenment values has led to improvements in a whole host of measures of well-being: health, life expectancy, less wards fewer deaths from violence, better living standards, more democracy etc. Maybe he overstates the case but if so it is not by much. I give it four stars.
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booktsunami | 57 other reviews | Jul 20, 2024 |
First, decades ago, Edgar Cayce, “the Sleeping Prophet,” tells me that animals don’t have souls; Now, come to find out, or, according to Stephen Pinker that is; people don’t have them either. Meanwhile, Deepak Chopra tells me; no, we don’t HAVE souls, we ARE souls. Well, alright. We all have opinions about the noumenal world. And if I understood it right, one of the things the author is telling us is that, some of them come from the Age of Enlightenment, and some we only think did.
Mr. Pinker immerses us in the Age of Enlightenment's principles and varying philosophies, quoting from the movement's various members and arguing for (science, humanism, logic) and against (brands of metaphysics that drift into religion) those ideas and/or our assumptions about them, while citing and praising the many actual results.
For the most part, I liked what the author had to say. Fortified with numerous charts and graphs, he explains all the ways in which mankind is better off, not worse, than it ever was before, despite the prevalent fears engendered by the media and several common failures of cognitive function (such as a tendency to assume that correlation=causation, or an assumption that an anecdote is as strong, evidentially, as statistics---although he often opts for the anecdote to make a point).
I’m guessing that few will agree with every conclusion he comes to, or appreciate the criticisms that are flung left and right . . . though I’d say, most of his sympathies lay with the former, politically speaking.
With a few reservations, all in all, I’d say it’s an enlightening book. 😊
(Narrated by Arthur Morey)
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TraSea | 57 other reviews | Apr 29, 2024 |
I love and loathe this book all at once. It speaks very powerfully to much of what I feel, and then sometimes seems to get things so staggeringly, simplistically wrong that I want to shout my opinions in the town square.

It will be a while before I can write an even-handed review on this one.
 
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therebelprince | 57 other reviews | Apr 21, 2024 |
My favorite part was when Pinker used big data and graphs to explain his arguments (even though they all seemed to be taken from the same source, and half of them seemed to be a rehash of what was in his last book before this one). My least favorite part was when he was pontificating all the rest of the time.
½
 
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sanyamakadi | 57 other reviews | Apr 4, 2024 |

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