I’ll say this again and again: read the book. I can’t do justice to it here. I can’t just quote the whole thing. The ways the world has changed for the better will make you leap for joy and will inspire you to try to fix the many, many things that are still to be done. Here’s just a short list of what has gotten better:

Life expectancy has increased, to a great extent (though not entirely) because child mortality has fallen.

“The loss of a child is among the most devastating experiences. Imagine the tragedy; then try to imagine it another million times. That’s a quarter of the number of children who did not die last year alone who would have died had they been born fifteen years earlier. Now repeat, two hundred times or so, for the years since the decline in child mortality began.”

Many disease have been eradicated. Others are on their way out. Knowledge of how disease spreads, and the resulting vaccines, water treatment facilities, and medical protocols have saved millions of lives.

Famine is decreasing. Famine deaths, once in the hundreds or thousands per 100,000 people, are today so low as to be unmeasurable on the same graph.

“In 200 years the rate of extreme poverty in the world has tanked from 90 percent to 10 percent, with almost half that decline occurring in the last 35 years.” And this at a time when population is increasing. Possibly the most powerful graph in the book is figure 8-5, which shows how the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen (not just percentage-wise but in actual numbers) while the total population has grown.

By the way, before you jump on Pinker (and me) for being polyannas, consider this quote:

“The point of calling attention to progress is not self-congratulation but identifying the causes so we can do more of what works.”

In the next post I’ll look at the causes.