I didn’t plan in advance to finish Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress while standing in line to vote this morning, but it’s certainly fitting. Pinker lays out a very convincing argument about the meaning of progress, how life has been improving across a wide range of measures throughout the world, and how that progress is rooted in Enlightenment ideals of reason and humanism. It also thoroughly discusses the biases and fallacies that can make it difficult to maintain an understanding driven by data and logic, and common counter-Enlightenment attacks from the perspectives of religiosity, tribalism, populist authoritarianism, and romantic individualism. It also gives some solid reasons based on historical trends to hope that the current populist/reactionary era will be a blip on an upward trendline rather than the beginning of the end for democracy, and that there is at least some basis for hope in our ability to respond to critical areas like climate change.
The writing is clear, logical, and convincing, though the middle does drag a bit with chapter after chapter focused following the same template (introducing a topic such as peace, equal rights, happiness, etc., and demonstrating steady progress with charts and graphs), with a nagging feeling that it is difficult to be sure that these particular statistics aren’t being cherry-picked to support the conclusion. Still a very important message, and I hope that it spreads widely and is read by those who are still convinceable. 4.5/5