Ten chapters, 696 pages (not counting preface or endnotes). The first time through the book, I was dazzled, trying to grab what gems I could as they flew past me. This second time through, as I read along with the audio, I’m looking for organizing principles. Pinker himself gives me a good one in the introduction.
The book is about historical trends (six of them) which cover the middle chapters of the book, inner demons (five in number) that lead to violence and are covered in chapter eight, better angels (four) that mitigate against it in chapter nine, and historical forces (five) that, in the end, Pinker believes are the best explanation for the trends. I think that the trends themselves will be the biggest revelations for most people – though Pinker is hardly the first to notice trends toward non-violence, for most people I’m betting the trends Pinker writes about don’t seem as if they could possibly be real.
However, as David Deutsch taught me, it isn’t the facts that are most important, but rather the crafting of the explanations of these facts. It is there that we create new knowledge. I’ll spend most of my time here, in the book’s final chapters, to try to truly understand what Pinker is telling me about the nature of the world.
But first I’ll zip through the trends themselves, not in an attempt to convince anyone, but just to get you to explore for yourself the evidence Pinker presents. That will begin with my next entry.