Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism and progress
Allen Lane, $35 pb, 573 pp, 9780241337011
For a book announcing ‘the greatest story seldom told’ – that is, the triumph of the Enlightenment and its ‘stirring, inspiring, noble’ ideals – Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism and progress frequently hits an incongruously sour note. Since The Better Angels of our Nature: Why violence has declined (2011), Pinker has been at pains to assure us that humanity’s prospects are good and getting better. Now, he wants to explain why this is the case: in short, the values of ‘reason, science, and humanism’ articulated and propagated during the Enlightenment. Although the earlier book was rapturously received among centrist technocrats like its author, the scepticism expressed in other quarters about its thesis has clearly piqued him. The result is Enlightenment Now, a book in three parts. The middle part reprises many of the data-driven arguments of The Better Angels, while also expanding their methodology into diverse areas of human well-being. In each of these, the news is also good.