Five Star Reviews: Enlightenment Now

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

No, the world’s not going to hell. No this year wasn’t the worst one ever. In fact, in most ways, this year was the best year ever. I can write that with a great confidence that it will continue to be true, regardless of which “this year” you happen to be in when reading this review.

There is a lot of pessimism about our society and its future, but Steven Pinker does a masterful job of demonstrating why our worst fears are unfounded. With painstaking care and attention to detail, he lays out support of his thesis that reason, science, and humanism have improved our world significantly since the Enlightenment and should continue to do so. With equal care, he discusses the cognitive biases, cultural contingencies, and perverse incentives in society that obscure this positive view of the world.

I don’t agree with Pinker about everything, but it is gratifying to see someone applying evidence and logic to the study of society. This is the same pragmatism I found so helpful in Factfulness, a book Pinker cites often. While Pinker isn’t quite as charming as Rosling, and he doesn’t draw on such a wealth of personal experience, there is a sense of humor in there somewhere, and the research that went into Enlightenment now is impressively broad.

The world can’t be perfect, and indeed it is not. We are surrounded by problems. But, as Pinker says, problems can be solved.

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