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Book: Paperback | 210 x 133mm | 832 pages | ISBN 9780143122012 | 25 Sep 2012 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP
Professor Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker has made a glittering career for himself since he left Montreal as a young man; studying and then teaching at Harvard, Stanford and finally the Michigan Institute of Technology. He has won a number of prizes and awards, including being made a Doctor of Science honoris causa, McGill University, 1999 and the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement in the same year. He is acknowledged as the natural successor to Noam Chomsky in linguistics and a leading authority on the science of the mind.

Over the last 10 years, the science of the mind has exploded with new ideas which have led to a radically different understanding of human nature. At the forefront of this explosion, thanks partly to his two popular science best-sellers: The Language ...


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THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE

WHY VIOLENCE HAS DECLINED

Professor Steven Pinker

A provocative history of violence—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Stuff of Thought and The Blank Slate

Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species' existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.



"My favorite book of the last decade is [Steven] Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time."--Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft


"For anyone interested in human nature, the material is engrossing, and when the going gets heavy, Pinker knows how to lighten it with ironic comments and a touch of humor. . . . A supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement." — The New York Times Book Review


"An extraordinary range of research . . . a masterly effort." — The Wall Street Journal


"Better Angels is a monumental achievement. His book should make it much harder for pessimists to cling to their gloomy vision of the future. Whether war is an ancient adaptation or a pernicious cultural infection, we are learning how to overcome it."
Slate


List of Figures

Preface


Chapter

1 A Foreign Country

Human Prehistory

Homeric Greece

The Hebrew Bible

The Roman Empire and Early Christendom

Medieval Knights

Early Modern Europe

Honor in Europe and the Early United States

The 20th Century


2 The Pacification Process

The Logic of Violence

Violence in Human Ancestors

Kings of Human Societies

Rates of Violence in State and Nonstate Societies

Civilization and Its Discontents


3 The Civilizing Process

The European Homicide Decline

Explaining the European Homicide Decline

Violence and Class

Violence Around the World

Violence in These United States

Decivilization in the 1960s

Recivilization in the 1990s


4 The Humanitarian Revolution

Superstitious Killing: Human Sacrifice, Withcraft, and Blood Libel

Superstitious Killing: Violence Against Blasphemers, Heretics, and Apostates

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Capital Punishment

Slavery

Despotism and Political Violence

Major War

Whence the Humanitarian Revolution?

The Rise of Empathy and the Regard for Human Life

The Republic of Letters and Enlightenment Humanism

Civilization and Enlightenment

Blood and Soil


5 The Long Peace

Statistics and Narratives

Was the 20th Century Really the Worst?

The Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Part 1: The Timing of Wars

The Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Part 2: The Magnitude of Wars

The Trajectory of Great Power War

The Trajectory of European War

The Hobbesian Background and the Ages of Dynasties and Religions

Three Currents in the Age of sovereignty

Counter-Enlightenment Ideologies and the Age of Nationalism

Humanism and Totalitarianism in the Age of Ideology

The Long Peace: Some Numbers

The Long Peace: Attitudes and Events

Is the Long Peace a Nuclear Peace?

Is the Long Peace a Democratic Peace?

Is the Long Peace a Liberal Peace?

Is the Long Peace a Kantian Peace?

6 The New Peace

The Trajectory of War in the Rest of the World

The Trajectory of Genocide

The Trajectory of Terrorism

Where Angels Fear to Tread

7 The Rights Revolutions

Civil Rights and the Decline of Lynching and Racial Pogroms

Women's Rights and the Decline of Rape and Battering

Children's Rights and the Decline of Infanticide, Spanking, Child Abuse, and Bullying

Gay Rights, the Decline of Gay-Bashing, and the Decriminalization of Homosexuality

Animal Rights and the Decline of Cruelty to Animals

Whence the Rights Revolutions?

From History to Psychology

8 Inner Demons

The Dark Side

The Moralization Gap and the Myth of Pure Evil

Organs of Violence

Predation

Dominance

Revenge

Sadism

Ideology

Pure Evil, Inner Demons, and the Decline of Violence

9 Better Angels

Empathy

Self-Control

Recent Biological Evolution?

Morality and Taboo

Reason

10 On Angels' Wings

Important but Inconsistent

The Pacifist's Dilemma

The Leviathan

Gentle Commerce

Feminization

The Expanding circle

The Escalator of Reason

Reflections


Notes

References

Index

Steven Pinker has made a glittering career for himself since he left Montreal as a young man; studying and then teaching at Harvard, Stanford and finally the Michigan Institute of Technology. He has won a number of prizes and awards, including being made a Doctor of Science honoris causa, McGill University, 1999 and the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement in the same year. He is acknowledged as the natural successor to Noam Chomsky in linguistics and a leading authority on the science of the mind.

Over the last 10 years, the science of the mind has exploded with new ideas which have led to a radically different understanding of human nature. At the forefront of this explosion, thanks partly to his two popular science best-sellers: The Language Instinct and How The Mind Works, is Steven Pinker. And it's not just his accessible and exuberant writing style, or even his penchant for using Woody Allen jokes to illustrate his arguments that have made him such a star.

So what precisely is his argument? Refreshingly, it's a very simple idea to grasp. Pinker's own words explain it best: 'The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection, to solve the problems faced by our evolutionary ancestors in their foraging way of life.' Literally, our minds are 'neural computers', running on complicated algorithms and patterns of information: these programs evolved in our far-off ancestors' hunter-gathering phase, developing over millions of years. They enable us to reason about the existence of plants, animals, objects and people. That is, to the extent that we were able to know what they were and what they might do, we improved our chances of survival.

This ancestral reasoning process provides us with our essential human motives – described by Pinker as 'goal states'. These are the psychological conditions which made sure that we were 'biologically fitted' for our early environments. These include, in Pinker's list, 'food, sex, safety, parenthood, friendship, status and knowledge'.

The Language Instinct, Pinker's first book concentrated on applying these arguments specifically to how we learn and develop our language skills. How the Mind Works, as the title would suggest, expanded these ideas into a consideration of the human mind as a whole. Both books were met with critical praise and have joined the ranks of the popular science best-seller.

However, Pinker is not without his critics, including Harvard evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould. The crux of the debate surrounding Pinker's work? Essentially, it's about what or who is in control of the human mind. Is there a separate thing called 'mind', a vital spark? Or does the complexity of the brain and its workings create an illusion of a separate thing called mind. Pinker would argue the latter. We suggest you read the evidence for yourself and make up your own mind.

About the BookSteven Pinker
Praise

"My favorite book of the last decade is [Steven] Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time."--Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft


"For anyone interested in human nature, the material is engrossing, and when the going gets heavy, Pinker knows how to lighten it with ironic comments and a touch of humor. . . . A supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement." — The ...

Read more »