"The Better Angels of Our Nature" by Steven Pinker (2011)
"Yet while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, that species has also found ways to bring its numbers down, and allow a greater and greater proportion of humanity to live in peace and die of natural causes. For all the tribulations of our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible."
Steven Pinker is a psychologist at Harvard University. He has written many other books, and like many other authors in Penguin's catalog, he has been hailed as one of this century's most influential thinkers.
"The Better Angels of Our Nature" describes the decline of violence in the modern world, and explores possible reasons behind this decline. The book is divided into ten parts. The first part describes the brutality of former civilizations, the second through seventh parts describe trends that led former societies away from violence, the eighth part describes elements of human psychology linked to violence, the ninth part describes elements of human psychology linked to the process of pacification, and the tenth part features some of the author's conclusions on decline of violence in human cultures.
The author begins this book on solid footing, but the closing chapters descend into a morass of psychological theory, half-understood genetics, and musings on evolutionary theory that fail to place human behavior in a larger evolutionary context. Worse still, this book concludes with several theories that tend to confuse correlation and causation. By the end we are left with a book that largely states the obvious, and which will prove less than enlightening to those acquainted with major trends in Western civilization.
I will agree that we live in a world that is much less violent than that of our ancestors, but I didn't need to wade through the 800+ pages of this book to find that out.