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We live in an age of doom and gloom. All the news we hear seems to be bad. Everything seems to be turning to shit. Americans were so disenchanted with this state of decline that they elected Donald Trump. The British were so disillusioned that they voted for Brexit. We have global warming, overpopulation, pollution. What is happening? How did things get so bad?
They didn’t. Stephen Pinker’s latest book is an optimistic look at the state of the World today. Like other feel-good books I’ve read & reviewed (‘The Rational Optimist’,’ Abundance’, and Pinker’s own ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’), this book tries to convince the listener that things aren’t really as bad as they seem – and it succeeds.
His method in this book is statistical. Basically, for each different aspect of World life that he examines, he provides evidence of progress by using graphs to show that things have become massively better over time.
Now, it’s awkward to look at graphs when you are out in the woods on your bike, but fortunately this isn’t necessary, because they are all well-described in the audio narrative and are pretty straightforward. Of course, if you want to check them out later, there is an accompanying pdf.
Looking at a whole screed of indices of human well-being and progress, Pinker shows us that on a global scale things have moved and are still moving in a very positive direction: Life expectancy, child mortality, poverty, war, road safety, human rights, civil rights, literacy etc etc. are all getting better over time, and in the process he also explains why it is that we are often not aware, or fail to fully notice, these encouraging trends.
Because all these observations are supported by hard statistics, it is very easy to be convinced. He also makes the point that there is no place for complacency. All the gains we have made have been the result of hard work. We face challenges that require continued hard work and ingenuity, and we need to commit ourselves to this in order to continue our progress.
This is a very refreshing and uplifting look at our World and is well worth a listen.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
This was an enjoyable and informative audiobook.
My only issue was with the Steven's anti-Trump bias. Some of his criticisms were indeed justified. However when discussing creeping authoritarianism and war, there was no discussion of Barrack Obama or Hilary Clinton in their roles as war mongers in Syria or Libya. Their complete disregard for congressional approval in waging war against those sovereign nations was unconstitutional. Obama too was an Authoritarian. Steven's push back against populism is understandable, though how it was represented was biased in my opinion.
He also makes the case for cosmopolitanism and open societies while addressing the inherant totalitarianism and radicalism present within Islam. It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts on how a cosmopolitan and liberal society can co-exist with people who hold antithetical beleifs, and what should be done at a state level re immigration and how to deal with people who fail to integrate.
His criticism of Nietzche was interesting.
I enjoyed listening to his arguments for secular, humanist societies built around the philosophical universalisation of morals and ethics. His information re the reduction of crime and poverty in all countries, even the poorest and the increased life span enjoyed by all people was uplifting.
Other than the above criticisms I highly reccommend this audiobook. It was enjoyable, interesting and entertaining.