Title: Enlightenment Now
Author: Steven Pinker
Category: Nonfiction, science-based
10-word summary: The world is so much better now – thanks to science.
About Enlightenment Now
Enlightenment Now is the kind of book that everyone should read – especially now. In this book, Pinker uses statistics, facts and arguments to prove that the world has made a lot of progress in the past decades and centuries in almost every area related to wellbeing. And he believes that all that progress was possible because of the values of Enlightenment: reason, science, humanism and progress.
Some of the areas that are explored in the book are democracy, equality, terrorism, wealth, knowledge, quality of life, happiness and more. And all the trends are positive and they show that we are making progress in almost every area all around the world. Now we just need to continue making progress.
What I like about Enlightenment Now
1. Steven Pinker makes the case for reason and science
To be honest, I didn’t realize anyone had to make the case for reason and science. I was thinking to myself: “Who doesn’t believe in reason and science?” But Pinker talked about a concerning trend of a disdain for science that seems to affect even highly educated people.
I had already believed that science is incredibly important for our society. It’s the best tool we can use to understand ourselves and the world as accurately as we can. It’s what allows us to make progress. After reading this book, I felt even more inspired and encouraged to learn as much as I can and to encourage others to rely on science and data.
I believe that Pinker does a great job at showing how much we owe to the values of the Enlightenment and to the scientific process. I hope that more people will read it and see the value in these ideals and ideas.
2. The book shows how much progress we have made recently
As a society, we have made tremendous progress in the last centuries. We are healthier, we live longer, we are more educated, we have more food and we live in freer, more democratic and more prosperous countries now. We have more free time, more devices to make our lives easier and more access to information. While it is true that not every part of the world made progress as the same pace, we still live in the best moment in human history. And we need to realize that – and to continue making progress.
3. It is science-based, well-researched and very informative
Enlightenment Now is a great book. Pinker (with the help of a team maybe) has obviously done a lot of research for this book. When he addresses each topic, he includes statistics and resources to back up his observations.
I have also noticed that each topic is addressed from many different points of views and this helps us get a good perspective on them.
I believe that Enlightenment Now is a very informative book that is a great starting point if you want to learn more about the state of the world and the progress we have made so far.
4. I find Pinker’s perspective and many of the ideas in the book interesting and inspiring
Knowing that Enlightenment Now is a science-based book that includes many statistics to show our progress, I was certain I would relate to it. But after reading the entire book, I have to say that I enjoyed reading and learning about some ideas much more than I had anticipated. I was delighted to read about the way Pinker talks about science and its tremendous importance. I was intrigued and saddened by the disdain for science that some people show – a phenomenon I had not noticed before. And I found many ideas eye-opening and intriguing – so I believe I will read the book or parts of it again in the future.
What I don’t like about Enlightenment Now
1. A few ideas seem questionable, under-explained or contradictory to other sources
As far as I can tell, Enlightenment Now is a great book that includes a lot of information that is correct and reliable. But there are a few pieces of information that seemed questionable, under-explained or contradictory. To be honest, I cannot tell for sure if Pinker is misinformed or if he is cherry-picking or manipulating information to fit his perspective. He could also be right. I honestly don’t know. And I want to acknowledge that there is a chance that I am misinformed.
But there are a few ideas that we should take with a pinch of salt and learn more about.
Controversial Idea #1: Pinker stated that data shows black people are not more likely to be shot by police.
Other sources state the opposite, including a recent study conducted by Harvard that shows black people are on average 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Source
Controversial Idea #2: Pinker believes that social media does not have a negative effect on people’s relationships and that we are not more lonely because of it.
I have found this idea surprising and counterintuitive. Replacing the time we spend interacting face-to-face with online interactions is bound to have a negative impact on relationships. And this is something that Pinker mentioned as well. Yet despite this, he believes that social media does not have a negative effect on us and our relationships. And yet there are many sources and studies that claim the opposite. Here are just a few articles that mention the negative effects of social media and research that prove this – 1 2 3
Controversial Idea #3: We can find solutions to the problem of climate change and wealth will help.
Pinker is very optimistic about our chance of solving climate change. He thinks that, if we think of climate change as a problem, we can definitely find a solution by relying on science and technology. That makes sense and perhaps we should be more optimistic.
But when talking about climate change and pollution, we need to consider the fact that wealth is a double-edged sword. As Pinker mentioned, we know that when people become more wealthy and more educated they begin to care more about the environment.
Yet we also need to take into account that the wealthier people become, the more they pollute. So even if wealthier people may care about the environment more, they still contribute to environmental problems much more than poor people. If everybody on the planet lived like people in the US and Canada, we would need more than one planet. And if wealthy people don’t decide to consume and pollute less (in some cases much less), I don’t think wealth and awareness will do much to help.
Take a look at this graphic to put things in perspective. Source
2. The book seemed a bit…academic
Enlightenment Now is a great book. I learned a lot from it, it is well-researched and I love the ideas it explores and promotes. But I have to say that there’s something about it that I didn’t really like. It seems to me that the book is a bit too academic or too much like a textbook for my taste. I do love nonfiction books, but I did not really enjoy reading this book as much as I had anticipated.
Either way, I don’t think this is a criticism of the book. If anything, it may say much more about myself than about the book. Maybe I got used to reading books that are much more simple in terms of content and style. Perhaps my experience is nothing more than a sign that I need to read more and better books.
Should You Read Enlightenment Now?
Yes. To be honest, I wish everybody would read this book. If you think that the world is getting worse, read this book. If you don’t know why science matters, read this book. If you are skeptical about the importance or validity of science, read this book.
You will learn so much about so many topics by reading it. You will also be exposed to a certain philosophy and certain values that I hope everybody would share.
The book is pretty long and it’s not very easy to read, but I think it’s definitely worth reading it!