Pinker’s new book out tomorrow, previewed in the Guardian and the WSJ

Yes, tomorrow is the release of Steve Pinker’s new book , Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason Science, Humanism, and Progress, which is already at #48 on Amazon. I gave a preview of it here, noting that Bill Gates called it “my new favorite book of all time,” replacing Steve’s earlier book, The Better Angels of our Nature. Gates had read a prepublication copy, and his encomium surely boosted sales. But this book is destined to be a best seller, and I’m glad.

I’m glad because it promotes humanism, science, rationality, and progress, and claims that faith and dogma (i.e., religion) don’t promote social progress. You can see this in two precis of the book that Steve has written for the Guardian and for the Wall Street Journal. (The former is free; the latter is behind a paywall but judicious inquiry might yield a pdf). I now have a prepublication copy too (Steve and I have the same editor at Viking/Penguin/Random House), and I’ve just skimmed it quickly. It appears from the two articles, and from what I’ve skimmed, that this is the logical successor to Better Angels. While the earlier book documented that, in fact, most indices of social well being (violence, child mortality, longevity, health, accidents, and so on) have improved over the last few hundred years, Enlightenment Now delves into the reasons for that improvement. And the reasons are the implementation of Enlightenment values.

I’ll give a few excepts from the Guardian piece, “Reason is non-negotiable” to show the book’s tenor (my emphasis):

What is enlightenment? In a 1784 essay with that question as its title, Immanuel Kant answered that it consists of “humankind’s emergence from its self-incurred immaturity”, its “lazy and cowardly” submission to the “dogmas and formulas” of religious or political authority. Enlightenment’s motto, he proclaimed, is: “Dare to understand!” and its foundational demand is freedom of thought and speech.

What is the Enlightenment? There is no official answer, because the era named by Kant’s essay was never demarcated by opening and closing ceremonies like the Olympics, nor are its tenets stipulated in an oath or creed. The Enlightenment is conventionally placed in the last two thirds of the 18th century, though it flowed out of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason in the 17th century and spilled into the heyday of classical liberalism of the first half of the 19th. Provoked by challenges to conventional wisdom from science and exploration, mindful of the bloodshed of recent wars of religion, and abetted by the easy movement of ideas and people, the thinkers of the Enlightenment sought a new understanding of the human condition. The era was a cornucopia of ideas, some of them contradictory, but four themes tie them together: reason, science, humanism and progress.

. . . If there’s anything the Enlightenment thinkers had in common, it was an insistence that we energetically apply the standard of reason to understanding our world, and not fall back on generators of delusion like faith, dogma, revelation, authority, charisma, mysticism, divination, visions, gut feelings or the hermeneutic parsing of sacred texts.

Steve’s atheism, while omnipresent, is never the overriding theme of his work, though it’s an important explanation of what holds back the implementation of Enlightenment values.  He then goes on to show how reason, science, and humanism have produced progress, promoting a salubrious morality, economic advance, peace, empathy and “niceness”. (The Wall Street Journal piece, called “The Enlightenment is Working“, is more a documentation of this progress using statistics.

 

I’ll be reading this after I finish Adam Rutherford’s book on human genetics. If you read Better Angels and liked it, then you’ll have to read its sequel. If you haven’t read Better Angels, get both books and read them. That’s a lot of pages, but it’s worth it.

54 Comments

  1. Mark Reaume
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I’m still slowly getting through Better Angels (I’m a very slow reader), but this will be the next one I take on.

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      BTW, Pinker was Joe Rogan’s podcast last week. It was quite good IMHO.

      • Mark Reaume
        Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        (grrr, was ‘on’ the podcast)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      It took me a really long time to finish Better Angels too, as I am also a slow reader.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I repeat – if your to-read list is long, don’t poo-poo the audio books – these things are a GREAT use of down time, and you’ll get a few more lines in than if you don’t – my libraries are great in that they have multiple formats for this book, but I understand if some libraries can’t do it…

    • Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      I have Whispersync so I can flip between reading on my Kindle Fire and the Audible version.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        Yeah Whispersync is great. A word to Canadians: set your Amazon Kindle store to the US because you will get a better selection of books that are Whispersync enabled and a better selection of books that have the audiobook version available.

  3. glen1davidson
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    It would have been nice if he’d had an enlightened response to some of his remarks a few weeks ago, instead of insults and accusations of him being “alt-right.”

    Unfortunately, and quite hypocritically, I suspect some secgments of academia are beyond any appeal to enlightenment values. Let’s hope that a rather larger majority is not.

    Glen Davidson

  4. Al
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Pinker has been criticised as a proponent of “Pop Enlightenment” airbrushing out the French Enlightenment (which, many would say, was the main branch) in favour of British empiricism. The French Enlightenment arguably led to “scientific communism”/totalitarianism.
    See thread here:

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Hell, that argument’s been goin’ on since Edmund Burke went round-and-round with J-J Rousseau.

      • Al
        Posted February 12, 2018 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        Funny you should say that. A colleague of our host at U.Chicago claims Pinker with his emphasis on empiricism is moving the Enlightenment closer to Burke than Rousseau, thereby giving cover to conservatives like Andrew Sullivan and Jordan Peterson:

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 12, 2018 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

          All I know of Jordan Peterson is what I’ve encountered of him on this site — and what I’ve seen of him here hasn’t been enough for me to form any firm opinions, nor been of enough interest to me to wish to pursue his ideas further. But Andrew Sullivan, with whose work I’m much more familiar, hardly needs any “cover.”

          If Sullivan’s a Burkean — and I think a good case can be made that he is — we could use more like him. Look, I’m a confirmed (some here might even say knee-jerk 🙂 ) Leftist, but our Republic, with its two-party system, needs a decent, prudent, Burkean center-right party. And today’s Republican Party — the Party of Donald Trump — is not it.

          • darrelle
            Posted February 13, 2018 at 7:31 am | Permalink

            “And today’s Republican Party — the Party of Donald Trump — is not it.

            Damn Ken, I think you just set a knew record for understatement there.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 13, 2018 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

              Well, hell, you know me, darrelle, always erring on the side of understatement. 🙂

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

                😛🤪

  5. Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Tomorrow??

    Chapters had this already on Saturday! It is on my reading list, after Vaclav Smil’s book on energy and human history. (Which, incidentally is weirdly full of typos and ignores the history of thermodynamics, but otherwise seems very interesting.)

    • Christopher
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Disappointed that Amazon still says my pre-ordered copy isn’t due until February 20, but that’s better than March 20, the original date from way back in October when I put in for it.

    • Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Well, the official release date is February 13, but we all know that’s a bit flexible.

  6. Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be an antidote to Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire” which I’m just finishing. The depressing premise of that book, documented through history, is that the combination of 1st amendment rights to believe and speak as you wish combined with a national fixation on individualism has morphed into a widespread belief that each of us is entitled to our own reality, and it has become undemocratic and “elitist” to question someone else’s version of reality.

    • Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      I have been wanting to read “Fantasyland” as well. The Atlantic’s piece is a good summary, but for some reason the book is quite pricey in Canada.

      I do see the elitism argument behind, though. To those that complain about it, I can only say: too bad! Because when they chose to travel by airplane or have their appendicitis fixed; they demand to be taken care of by the elite.

      Is the book worth the read though Joe?

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I’ve gotten Fantasyland from my library twice – all the copies are rapidly requested, and put on hold – and yes, $30.00 for it. The audiobook is MORE i think…

        … hmmm…. perhaps I should put multiple requests in so I always have a copy on hand…

        Was just reading it last night – its very fun to read!

      • Posted February 12, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I would recommend it although it gets a bit repetitive at places – probably could have been done in 300 pages rather than 450.

        • Mark R.
          Posted February 12, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          I finished it last week. I’m with you on the rather longish 400+, but it was enlightening. I think it’s crazy that he started the book a couple years ago and the election of Trump fell perfectly in line with his thesis. That election was the very definition of America going Haywire.

          Like you, I’m hoping Pinker’s book is an antidote to Fantasyland. The book doesn’t offer much hope as to combating religious institutions or “the fantasy-industrial-complex”. I liked that term.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      I just downloaded the Kindle version after reading all these comments. Sounds like a great read. I really wish I could read faster & without falling asleep. Even audiobooks make me drowsy. There must be something with books that triggers dopamine or seratonin in my brain.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Steven Pinker — would that we had many, many more like him!

  8. KD33
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I have Pinker’s new book pre-ordered, looking forward to it.

    Also adding my small voice in support of Better Angels, truly one of the great syntheses of knowledge that I have ever read. It is weighty, but is a smooth read punctuated by regular highlights. The foundation it provides is entirely worth the effort. The chapter on the Rights Revolution is a thrill.

  9. Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Folks might be interested in my (very positive) review of Enlightenment Now, link below. If, as Pinker says we should, we become good progressive cosmopolitans who accept reason and science, we’ll understand that our racial, ethnic, sexual, political and religious identity is a purely contingent matter of genes and environment. That will lead us to take such identity far less seriously, undercutting tribalism. Whether this will come to pass is of course an open question, but Pinker’s book improves the chances, so let’s hope it’s widely read.

    http://www.naturalism.org/resources/book-reviews/rational-optimism-steven-pinkers-enlightenment-now

  10. Julian C
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I’ll get to it as soon as I finish Sapolsky’s Behave (read Rutherford’s A brief history of everyone… a few weeks ago).

  11. Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Read Better Angels years ago, soon after release. I am looking forward to this new one. My pre-order is in since for a few weeks now.

    More gasoline to use against faith. I feel I should go door to door like a mormon with Jerry’s books, and now this one at hand.

  12. Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    I have pre-ordered a copy of this book.

  13. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I have this book on my to-read list. I have such a backlog so after I finish my current fiction book, I’m going to look over my physical & virtual book cases again to see what I feel like reading.

  14. kelskye
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I have it preordered as an audiobook. They suck for diagrams, but I love that I can listen to them while I take a walk on my lunch-break.

  15. Posted February 12, 2018 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read Better Angels yet, but I’m more interested in this book. Any idea if it’s really a “sequel” in the sense that Angels should be read first?

    • Posted February 12, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      I do not think so. Angels gets deep into the stats, and as per Jerry’s post above, this new one is more about the why of these changes.

      Angels is really good, but it gets be a heavy read.

      This, at least from the purpose of the atheist/humanist movement’s point of view, seems to be even better John.

      • Posted February 12, 2018 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. I’ve been planning to read Angels ever since it came out, but I have to admit the size is a bit of a put-off, despite the fact that I often read novels almost as long! I guess it was more that the subject matter didn’t seem THAT interesting at the time! 🙂

        But this book seems like something I’d really be into. I’ll probably read it soon and then Angels later.

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          You are welcome.

          I meant to say, Angels is really good, but it can be a heavy read… So yes, I second what you say. I have to admit though: I cheated.
          I started the paper version, but ended up getting the audiobook and only then I finished it. It is a big book with not “story” in it to make it an engaging narrative like a novel would. It reads like a text book.

          • Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

            I have yet to use audio books. Something about them doesn’t appeal to me, but perhaps they’d be good for a book like this.

            • Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

              If you make long car rides audiobooks are unbeatable. It also makes you drive slower to get clearer sound and also makes you miss appointments when you just have to hear the end of the chapter. Make sure you route it through your sound system.

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

                I worry that that might be too much of a distraction while driving.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                For me, it’s more the driving distracts from the audiobook. I guess that’s as it should be, but I miss large parts of it paying attention to driving.

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, I’d hate for that to happen too. Kind of defeats the purpose of using the audio book!

  16. Posted February 12, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    ‘Enlightenment Now’ should arrive on my iPad tomorrow via Kindle (14/2 Australian time) – looking forward to a typical Pinker read of eloquence and substance.

    rz

  17. Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    This one is next on my non-fiction list. There’s no better way to endure the dreary winter months than with a good novel, but Pinker’s book will definitely be nearby.

  18. kevin7alexander
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Just arrived in the mail. No Netflix tonight.

  19. danstarfish
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I am excited for this book. Any new book by Pinker would be great, but a Pinker book on enlightenment philosophy and its current relevance sounds like a dream come true.

  20. Rupinder Sayal
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been looking forward to read it long after you referred to it a few months ago here. It sucks that the hardcover version costs almost three times the price of a paperback version, and the latter will be released on March 14th. I’ll have to wait a bit for it, I guess 😦

    • Rupinder Sayal
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      Forgot to add that this is the situation in India.

  21. Hemidactylus
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    There should be an inevitable rebuttal Romanticism Now or is that already superseded by the post-modern movement?

  22. Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Reading it over the next few days now. No spoilers, but I do see a few things one must discuss! Good! 🙂

  23. nicky
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    The ‘better angels’ is definitely in my top ten, looking forward to read Steve’s new book.
    Steven pinter is part of the “Steve’s” that counter creationist’s number of scientists supporting they. Do not have the link right now, but the number of just the scientists caled ‘Steve’ far outnumber the total output of the ID-iots.
    it us not the actual list, but it explains the ‘project steve’:

  24. nicky
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    pushed the wrong button:
    htpps://ncse.com/project-steve-faq

    • nicky
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      and Pinker, not pinter, hate this autocorrect. 😠😠😠

  25. Luke Hatton
    Posted February 18, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Just finished Enlightenment Now. It’s a little lighter, less dense, that Better Angels, but no less worthy. A masterpiece of reason and rationality. And he’s got the data to back it up, as always. It’s a must-read for any curious individual. In the last chapter, ‘The Future Of Progress’, Pinker makes some extremely strong and forceful arguments against the rising tide opposing reason and rationality, especially in the name of Religion; his atheism has never been more explicit. I’ll be seeing Pinker give a speech in London on the 22nd Feb and I can’t wait.

  26. Luke Hatton
    Posted February 18, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    P.S. Also, in ‘Enlightenment Now’ Pinker quotes our very own PCC, utilising the term ‘faitheism’ a direct quote from ‘Faith vs Fact’.


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