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The Better Angels of Our Nature

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, is my latest foray into long, paradigm-shifting nonfiction. My last major such foray was Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants, and there's an interesting common thread in the two works.

Both examine long spans of history to discover evidence for the trends they are talking about--in Pinker's case, that human violence is decreasing, and in Kelly's that technology is a seventh order of life; both suggest that the trends are inevitable and natural (in fact, that's Kelly's primary thesis), and both find hope and beauty in human life as a result of their examinations.

I'm only about a quarter of the way through Pinker's massive nearly 800-page (32 hour) tome, so I don't yet know precisely where he's heading (except towards the thesis defined by his subtitle), but he writes engagingly and with humor about the fascinating and repellent subject of human violence.

(There is a TED talk here where Pinker summed up his ideas a few years ago, clearly in the early stages of his writing this book, and it covers some of the book's key points. Warning for shocking illustrative images and descriptions.)

It's prudent to mention that in order to make his case, Pinker has had to describe some really horrific forms of violence, though I'll give him credit: you need to understand how bad it's been to follow his larger argument, and somehow past gories are easier to hear/read about knowing that the whole point is that We Don't Do Those Things Anymore.

Good book. I'm enjoying having my mind expanded in hopeful and positive directions.

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