Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker

In 1784, philosopher Immanuel Kant asked, ‘What is Enlightenment?’ It was, he argued, humankind’s emergence from its submission to the ‘dogmas and formulas’ of religious or political authority. The Enlightenment ushered in a new approach to society based on science, reason, humanism and progress. In this magisterial work Pinker looks at how the world has evolved since those beginnings of a new way of looking at the world based on those premises.

On almost every measure the world today is a far, far better place than it was in the 18th Century, the 19th Century and the 20th Century. Humankind is healthier, cleverer, safer, wealthier, better governed, and on almost every other measure better off. Life expectancy is growing, people live longer, and are freer from disease; fewer people live in extreme poverty, more people are receiving education, fewer people die from war or violence, and people are happier. These gains are the result of progress and the spread of Enlightenment values.

Economic, political and social progress has lifted many people out of poverty, out of ignorance, and out of illness. Of course, many of us will point to the threat of climate change, or to the current political instability and suffering in the Middle East, for instance, but Pinker convincingly argues that the overwhelming trends are positive and that the efforts of people to make meaningful change are effective and do produce results that change our lives and our planet. This timely and controversial book is essential reading.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings.