From lecture by Steven Pinker, presented by Skep­tics Society at CalTech on Sunday, October 23, 2011. The author of The New York Times best­seller The Stuff of Thought offers a contro­ver­sial history of violence.

Steven Pinker (2011). The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. Faced with the cease­less stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times best­selling author Steven Pinker shows in this star­tling and engaging new work, just the oppo­site is true: violence has been dimin­ishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’s exis­tence. For most of history, war, slavery, infan­ti­cide, child abuse, assas­si­na­tions, pogroms, grue­some punish­ments, deadly quar­rels, and geno­cide were ordi­nary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwin­dled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This ground­breaking book continues Pinker’s explo­ration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remark­able picture of an increas­ingly nonvi­o­lent world. The key, he explains, is to under­stand our intrinsic motives — the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circum­stances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind’s inherent violence and the curse of moder­nity, this ambi­tious and provoca­tive book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will chal­lenge and change the way we think about our society. — Publisher’s promo­tion