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Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology and frequent presence on The Science Network, has a new book out: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

The title, incidentally, derives from Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural which ended with these ringing lines:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. 

Pinker argues that violence has declined markedly over our evolutionary history: we are living in humanity's most peaceful age. It is a controversial thesis. As Vaughan Bell said in a review in the Wilson Quarterly: "Taken as a whole, it is powerful, mind changing, and important. Pinker does not shy away from the gritty detail and is not to be taken lightly - quite literally in fact, as at more than 800 pages his book could easily be used as a weapon if you remained unpersuaded by its arguments. But this avalanche of information serves to demonstrate convincingly and counterintuitively that violence is on the decline".

Perhaps, as you are reading the book and forming your own opinions, you might welcome occasional breaks to watch Pinker on TSN.

Pinker's opening remarks at The Great Debate: Can Science Tell us Right From Wrong at ASU


Discussion panel at The Great Debate with Sam Harris, Patricia Smith Churchland, Peter Singer, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Steven Pinker, and Roger Bingham


Pinker in conversation with Roger Bingham as part of the Science Studio series


Pinker talking about his book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, at Warwick's Books in La Jolla, California


Further conversation with Roger Bingham at the Crick house in La Jolla


Pinker's Keynote at the Origins Symposium


A conversation at Origins between Roger Bingham and Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss and Steven Pinker