New York: Viking Press, 2018
576 pp. $35 (hardcover).

Under the daily barrage of bad news, it would be easy to lose perspective and even to conclude, in the words of a 2016 New York Times article, that “humanity is screwed.” But Harvard professor Steven Pinker has a different view, and his book Enlightenment Now lays out a powerful case for cultural optimism. Rational readers would be hard pressed to finish it without a skin-tingling sensation of wonder at the progress mankind has made in the past two centuries—or the conviction that reason and freedom give us the tools to surmount the problems that remain.

The book’s strongest feature is Pinker’s thorough detailing of the technological and social improvements of the past two centuries, during which “life expectancy across the world has risen from 30 to 71, and in the more fortunate countries to 81” (322). . . .

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