Better Angels of Our Nature

Steven Pinker ( and, Professor of Psychology at Harvard, is truly one of the big beasts of academia. One suspects that he must suffer from headaches because it seems he’s got six brains inside one skull. Not content to confine his research to learned journals Pinker has published, amongst other titles, The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), and The Blank Slate (2002). He meets the demand of Jacques Barzun, (historian, essayist, critic, gadfly) who said that writing for a general audience was ‘a responsibility of scholars’. Each of Pinker’s titles combines genuinely fresh thinking with the ability to explain ideas in engaging language. In the last of these he argues powerfully that the human mind is not a blank slate upon which any chosen culture can be imprinted.

He says that ‘the conviction that humanity could be reshaped by massive social engineering projects led to some of the greatest atrocities in history’. In The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) Pinker contends that on the whole human violence is in decline. The contention does seem deeply counter-intuitive given the reality of the blood soaked twentieth century plus what we witness continuously across the media today. In support of his thesis the author calls upon an astonishing array of research and evidence from across the humanities and sciences. These are cognitive science, anthropology, behavioural science, criminology, sociology, statistics, game theory – to name a few. The sweep is magisterial and the conclusion optimistic. This is well worth a read.

ISBN: 978-0141034645

Professor Steven Pinker



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