A History of Violence

Steven Pinker

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Without ever checking the numbers, many people assume that over the course of history the world has become increasingly violent. From the Judeo-Christian tradition of the corruption of innocence in the Garden of Eden, to our view of the twentieth century with ‘the war to end all wars’, the Holocaust and the Gulags, we see the modern world as a place of crime, war and terrorism. But a ruthless examination of the data shows that this is far from the truth: that violence is declining and has been for centuries. What if we are living at the most peaceful moment we have known, when the ‘better angels of our nature’ are coming to the fore? Is this knowledge a dangerous recipe for complacency, or a clear lens of optimism through which to see the real world?

Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. He is currently Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and his most recent book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why violence has declined.

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