My impression on getting through a third of Enlightenment Now is that it was essentially a summary of Better Angels, followed by running commentary on the graphs from Our World in Data and Gapminder. But I don’t begrudge him for that, since I agree with him (and Lord Kelvin) on the importance of quantifying everything.
A few minor disagreements there and there. For instance, I suspect Pinker overdoes the descriptions of chronic hunger in pre-industrial societies – my impression is that it alternated between feast and famine under Malthusian conditions, though diet quality/variety was generally low for the poor majority.
More importantly, and this criticism extends to Better Angels, I suspect that bold pronouncements on the decline in inter-state violence are premature. For instance, it is claimed that WW2 was a huge outlier to centennial trends in declining wartime mortality, but if you take a probabilistic approach to the dangers of nuclear war , then it translates into the equivalent of a Holocaust every decade or so even in the post-Cold War era (e.g. assume we have 0.1% annual chance of a nuclear war killing 10% of the global population). Conveniently, explaining such a failure would hardly be a priority in the post-nuclear war environment.
Stylistically, it was about 2-3x thicker than necessary, as is usual with Pinker, with an overly pungent whiff of neoliberalism.txt peppered with barely concealed Trump Derangement Syndrome. Still, much of this can be forgiven for the masterful destruction of Luddites, obscurantists, and SJWs in Chapters 3-4.
I was probably going to give the book something like 6/10. So why did it end up plunging to absolute zero?
Because a thief snatched the cell phone on which I was reading it in the center of one of the world’s great metropolises (London). Hilariously, I was on Chapter 12: Safety.
Unreasonable n=1 projection? Sure. Vindictive? Probably. Justified? I believe so.
Because it makes a powerful meta point. Low probability but catastrophic events can, and – if the Many Worlds theory is correct, in some timelines will – completely overturn Pinker’s nice, upwardly trending curves.
For instance, malevolent superintelligence.
Sadly, I will not be able to read Pinker’s take on it, since “Existential Threats” are only covered in Chapter 19.