Title

'Progress' and the 'Rational Optimist' Genre of Nonfiction

What other books belong in this category?

February 23, 2017
 
 

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg

​Published in September of 2016.

When Matt Ridley published The Rational Optimist in 2011, he not only gave the world a great book, he created a new genre. This is the world-is-getting better book.

Other entries into this genre are Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, and Diamandis and Kotler’s Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.

Johan Norberg’s new book, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, is a worthy addition to this collection.  

Progress is all about how long-term positive trends - such as improvements in food security, life expectancy, sanitation, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, etc. - take decades to play out.  

Front-page newspaper stories, CNN specials, and social media tsunamis are always about the bad news of the day - and never about the long-term trends.  Terrorist attacks, housing bubbles, and bizarre electoral results occur in real time.  

The fact the number of people living in extreme poverty throughout the world has dropped by more than half since 1990 is little known, or understood, by even the most educated of citizens.  

Progress does a good job stepping us through each of the big areas of human life where rates, outcomes, and levels are dramatically improving.  

This is the sort of book that I think that every college freshman should be required to read.  So much of modern campus intellectual life focuses on what is wrong with the world.  An historical understanding of where and how things have improved is an important element in developing the critical thinking skills that we want our students to possess.

What books would you add to a Rational Optimist genre of nonfiction?

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