The Better Angels of Our Nature takes a place as one of the most fascinating books that I have ever read. It’s a monster of a book with over 600 pages of text and 400 pages of references.
Even though it’s a big book, it’s actually quite easy to read. This is because the chapters and sections are quite short. This serves to break it all down into easy to read chunks to read when you’re on the train, having a dump, or chilling on a Sunday afternoon.
Another thing that makes it easy to read is the information contained within it; it’s really interesting! Like this description of a medieval game:
A pair of players would have their hands tied behind their backs, and then, using only their heads, they had to batter to death a cat that had been nailed to a post.
Sounds like a great night out doesn’t it! See? History can be fun if you read the right stuff!
In addition to being an examination of human violence over the centuries the book serves as a solid history lesson. It tracks human progress from early times to the dark ages, the Middle Ages, the enlightenment, through to our modern era. Everything is covered, from death and torture as a punishment for owing debts of as little as ten dollars through to the many genocides that have occurred through our history. It reminded me somewhat of a book version of Dan Carlin’s podcast Hardcore History.
It is not a light read and is pretty heavy going in a lot of places, but if you’re a history nerd like me, you’ll love it.
It held a special interest for me too. As a former Jehovah’s Witness, the book’s premise of examining if the times we live in are more or less violent than the past caught my eye. This is because JWs believe that the “increase of lawlessness and war” mentioned in the gospels are an indication that we are nearing the end of world. This is an absolute core doctrine; things will get worse and worse on earth until God steps in and cleans things up with Armageddon.
So as an escapee of that religion, what better to show if that doctrinal interpretation is accurate than a 600 page deep dive on this very subject?
Spoiler alert, the JWs are completely wrong in thinking that there has been an increase in violence. The author has painstakingly examined history and has conclusively established that we are now living in the best most non-violent time in human history.
Anyway, I digress, that’s a subject for another day!
I highly recommend this book and if you can take the time to churn through it, I think you’ll find it very fascinating.