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Will Our IHE Community Read Pinker's "Why Violence Has Declined"?
October 27, 2011 - 12:34pm

I'm always curious about what books our IHE community is reading, and how we choose what to read. My dream IHE site feature would be an interactive dashboard that gave real time and historical information of our reading preferences, and provided a method for us to make recommendations and share our thoughts about our books.

We don't have that IHE community book dashboard, and honestly I doubt we will get it.  This is not the mission of IHE, and not where it should put investments.  Perhaps the future will include an IHE site that is open and extensible enough that individuals can choose to plug in modules - Inside Higher Ed as a platform - but maybe this is a bad idea as well (thoughts?).   

In the absence of the IHE platform / book dashboard - what we do have is commenting! I'm hoping that the DISQUS based commenting feature on IHE catalyzes the discussions, by making it much easier to post comments (as the system remembers us), and be notified when the discussion progresses (it looks great also with the new IHE site design).  

The book I just finished is Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

This terrific book (which I highly recommend), has a number of things working against it for readership within our IHE community:

1.  832 Pages:  Dense pages with small type.  I read this book as an audiobook, which ran a staggering 36 hours and 43 minutes.  Audio worked out okay for me in this case, as I had a bunch of travel (EDUCAUSE conference), and an audiobook is the perfect travel companion.  But if you are a fan of Pinker (I'm a huge fan), and the subject captivates you (it should), this might be a book to get in print (digital or paper).

2.  Detail:  Pinker's stated purpose is to marshal every bit of evidence to test the hypothesis that violence, at all levels, has been in decline since the Enlightenment.  This decline of violence accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, and has been particularly dramatic since the end of the 2nd World War.  We have seen declines in state sponsored violence (wars), personal violence (homicides), and non-fatal violence (abuse and intimidation).  Pinker starts with the premise that we will be skeptical, that we will long for a "peaceful" past, and that we will tend to see elevated levels of violence as the price of industrialization and modernity. He believes that we will point to world wars and terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and school massacres and conclude that the world has gotten more violent.  I've read enough about the "progress paradox" to know that we enjoy the fruits of modernism, and that it would be crazy to romanticize the past or want to return to it.  I was more receptive to Pinker from the get go.  His exhaustive description of all the data on violence decline tended run together in my brain, I wanted more analysis.  When Pinker does provide his theories on why violence has declined, however, he is most articulate and convincing.

3.  Audience:   Here I'm hoping that you will help me out.  Not knowing what our IHE community reads, I'm not sure about the overlap between us and the target market for "Why Violence Has Declined".   Might be a decent fit.  I bet we like big ideas, Pinker is something of an academic rock star, and we like participating in the larger intellectual discussion about ideas.

What are you reading?

 

 

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