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).
Like a TED Talk, Enlightenment Now is easy to summarize. Despite all the doom and gloom bandied about today, Pinker argues, things are good—in fact, the best they’ve ever been. More specifically, human beings today lead longer, safer, healthier, wealthier, and indeed happier lives than at any point in recorded history, and they do so thanks to the Enlightenment. The nay-saying that is so prevalent in our culture is simply an error, the product of cognitive biases compounded by the influence of foolish intellectuals and ignorant politicians.