This book will attract some hammering itself: It contains something to upset almost everyone. When not attacking the populist right, Pinker lays into leftist intellectuals ... Pinker’s book is full of vigor and vim, and it sets out to inspire a similar energy in its readers ... Enlightenment Now strikes me as an excellent book, lucidly written, timely, rich in data and eloquent in its championing of a rational humanism that is — it turns out — really quite cool.
Pinker is as interested in how to think as what to think. Worried about the big, global, existential threats — overpopulation, resource depletion, nuclear war and climate change? Pinker urges us first to change the way we think about them. They are not apocalypses in waiting but problems to be solved … The Enlightenment is a notoriously fuzzy concept — pretty much every historian has their own version — so it is no criticism of Pinker to say that his Enlightenment is a kitchen pantry for the modern ideas that interest him …. Pinker wants progress to be a law of nature, what he calls a ‘reality’ that numbers and charts can show. Yet he finally settles on surprisingly religious arguments about progress … Pinker’s gift is to challenge us not only to update the Enlightenment but to think beyond it.
The great writers of the Enlightenment, contrary to the way they are often caricatured, were mostly skeptics at heart. They had a taste for irony, an appreciation of paradox, and took delight in wit. They appreciated complexity, rarely shied away from difficulty, and generally had a deep respect for the learning of those who had preceded them. Enlightenment Now has few of these qualities. It is a dogmatic book that offers an oversimplified, excessively optimistic vision of human history and a starkly technocratic prescription for the human future. It also gives readers the spectacle of a professor at one of the world’s great universities treating serious thinkers with populist contempt. The genre it most closely resembles, with its breezy style, bite-size chapters, and impressive visuals, is not 18th-century philosophie so much as a genre in which Pinker has had copious experience: the TED Talk (although in this case, judging by the book’s audio version, a TED Talk that lasts 20 hours) ... what Pinker has actually crystallized in books like Enlightenment Now is our anti-intellectual era, one in which data and code are all too often held to trump serious critical reasoning and the wealth of the humanistic tradition and of morally driven activism is dismissed in favor of supposedly impartial scientific and technological expertise.