Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is the kind of book that should be long! And it is long at almost 700 dense pages. To quickly apprise potential readers of what they’re getting into here’s a nice summary of the book found in its closing chapter:

"The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species. Its implications touch the core of our beliefs and values — for what could be more fundamental than an understanding of whether the human condition, over the course of history, has gotten steadily better, steadily worse, or has not changed? Hanging in the balance are conceptions of a fall from innocence, of the moral authority of religious scripture and hierarchy, of the innate wickedness or benevolence of human nature, of the forces that drive history, and of the moral valuation of nature, community, tradition, emotion, reason, and science."

I went ahead and just quoted Pinker directly because it is futile for me to try to improve upon the superlative quality of his writing. The clarity and logic of this book are also of the highest standard. Even with such a long text, digressions are not pointless and the book has an organization that is always strongly making the main point (that violence is declining). The researched material seemed so thorough to me that the only reason I started to forget the point of the book was because by around the half way mark, I was already taking it for granted as if it were an obvious point of fact.

I felt that Pinker was fair to different perspectives and thoughtful in his analysis yet I’m sure he’ll have many critics for the opprobrium with which he treats religion and other magical modes of thinking. I know religious people really believe that religion has been a civilizing force in human history, but Pinker shows that it has simply not been the case. Pinker is not stridently against religion per se, but I think it’s clear that like all non-psychopaths, he is appalled by violence and his evidence — and there is a lot — shows that religion is one of the most pernicious factors for exacerbating it. (If you strongly don’t agree, buy the book, read it, and write your own analysis; I’m just reporting what Pinker reported to me.)

While this book necessarily drags one through the worst horrors of human history, it is, if you can stand that sort of thing, delivering a terrifically positive message. It turns out that if you block out the sensational aberrations and really take a clear look at the big picture, things are getting better, many, many important things! While there may be some room for slight opinion differences on some of the causes and best practices to strive for, over all, the main point of this book seems irrefutable. Humans are getting better at treating each other better. Or as one of my favorite musicians, DubFX says, "Peace on earth is evolution for mankind."