The Better Angels of Our Nature

Why Violence Has Declined

Professor Steven Pinker - Author

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ISBN 9781101544648 | 832 pages | 04 Oct 2011 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP
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A provocative history of violence—from the New York Times bestselling author of The Stuff of Thought and The Blank Slate

Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species' existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.

List of Figures



1 A Foreign Country

Human Prehistory

Homeric Greece

The Hebrew Bible

The Roman Empire and Early Christendom

Medieval Knights

Early Modern Europe

Honor in Europe and the Early United States

The 20th Century

2 The Pacification Process

The Logic of Violence

Violence in Human Ancestors

Kings of Human Societies

Rates of Violence in State and Nonstate Societies

Civilization and Its Discontents

3 The Civilizing Process

The European Homicide Decline

Explaining the European Homicide Decline

Violence and Class

Violence Around the World

Violence in These United States

Decivilization in the 1960s

Recivilization in the 1990s

4 The Humanitarian Revolution

Superstitious Killing: Human Sacrifice, Withcraft, and Blood Libel

Superstitious Killing: Violence Against Blasphemers, Heretics, and Apostates

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Capital Punishment


Despotism and Political Violence

Major War

Whence the Humanitarian Revolution?

The Rise of Empathy and the Regard for Human Life

The Republic of Letters and Enlightenment Humanism

Civilization and Enlightenment

Blood and Soil

5 The Long Peace

Statistics and Narratives

Was the 20th Century Really the Worst?

The Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Part 1: The Timing of Wars

The Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Part 2: The Magnitude of Wars

The Trajectory of Great Power War

The Trajectory of European War

The Hobbesian Background and the Ages of Dynasties and Religions

Three Currents in the Age of sovereignty

Counter-Enlightenment Ideologies and the Age of Nationalism

Humanism and Totalitarianism in the Age of Ideology

The Long Peace: Some Numbers

The Long Peace: Attitudes and Events

Is the Long Peace a Nuclear Peace?

Is the Long Peace a Democratic Peace?

Is the Long Peace a Liberal Peace?

Is the Long Peace a Kantian Peace?

6 The New Peace

The Trajectory of War in the Rest of the World

The Trajectory of Genocide

The Trajectory of Terrorism

Where Angels Fear to Tread

7 The Rights Revolutions

Civil Rights and the Decline of Lynching and Racial Pogroms

Women's Rights and the Decline of Rape and Battering

Children's Rights and the Decline of Infanticide, Spanking, Child Abuse, and Bullying

Gay Rights, the Decline of Gay-Bashing, and the Decriminalization of Homosexuality

Animal Rights and the Decline of Cruelty to Animals

Whence the Rights Revolutions?

From History to Psychology

8 Inner Demons

The Dark Side

The Moralization Gap and the Myth of Pure Evil

Organs of Violence






Pure Evil, Inner Demons, and the Decline of Violence

9 Better Angels



Recent Biological Evolution?

Morality and Taboo


10 On Angels' Wings

Important but Inconsistent

The Pacifist's Dilemma

The Leviathan

Gentle Commerce


The Expanding circle

The Escalator of Reason





"My favorite book of the last decade is [Steven] Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a long but profound look at the reduction in violence and discrimination over time."--Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

"For anyone interested in human nature, the material is engrossing, and when the going gets heavy, Pinker knows how to lighten it with ironic comments and a touch of humor. . . . A supremely important book. To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement." — The New York Times Book Review

"An extraordinary range of research . . . a masterly effort." — The Wall Street Journal

"Better Angels is a monumental achievement. His book should make it much harder for pessimists to cling to their gloomy vision of the future. Whether war is an ancient adaptation or a pernicious cultural infection, we are learning how to overcome it."

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