cover image Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Steven Pinker. Viking, $35 (576p) ISBN 978-0-525-42757-5

Harvard psychology professor Pinker (The Sense of Style) defends progressive ideals against contemporary critics, pundits, cantankerous philosophers, and populist politicians to demonstrate how far humanity has come since the Enlightenment. These ideals, as well as progress, science, reason, and humanism, are explored through the lenses of evolutionary biology, physics, sociology, anthropology, and, of course, history. Pinker explores the fallacies that critics of progressive ideals employ and presents graphs and statistics to demonstrate that issues such as income inequality, terrorism, and racial intolerance are not at the crisis levels the hysterical media commonly suggests. He astutely captures the deceptive techniques of the naysayers whose opinions alter those of the wider public, describing “the social critic’s standard formula for sowing panic: Here’s an anecdote, therefore it’s a trend, therefore it’s a crisis.” In the book’s final section, Pinker explores how political discourse exploits cognitive biases, exacerbating polarization and partisanship, and how humanism is a preferable ideology to its main rivals, theism and nationalism. In an era of increasingly “dystopian rhetoric,” Pinker’s sober, lucid, and meticulously researched vision of human progress is heartening and important. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Mar.)