From the title, I expected this book to be much like those by Steven Pinker, showing how human life has steadily improved from generation to generation, about how we’ve reduced things like hunger, disease, poverty, crime, and war by implementing the ideas of the Enlightenment. There is some of that in these pages, but Easterbrook isn’t really looking at the broad scope of history here. He is more focused on today, or at least on the last century. His main point is that things today (in general) are far better than politicians, social media, and most news reports might suggest.
Humans, he states, are predisposed by their evolution to suspect threats and be wary of the unknown. Even though most shadows are harmless, treating all as if they are bears hiding in the bushes has survival value because, every once in a while, there really is a bear. Politicians and the media exploit our inherent fears (sometimes intentionally) for their own benefit. His take on how current politicians have done so abound.
This isn’t an objective or scholarly work. There is little statistical data, no graphs, no detailed analysis, and the author freely shares his personal opinions and value judgments (such that Western ideals are moral and that a well regulated market economy is the economic ideal). Despite these differences, he comes to much the same conclusions as Pinker does in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Things aren’t only not bad; they are better than they ever have been. That doesn’t mean we don’t have serious problems. Disease, crime, poverty, and hunger have been reduced, but they haven’t been eliminated. Challenges such as climate change and wealth disparity certainly need to addressed, but history shows that humans are quite good at overcoming challenges. There is every reason to expect that we’ll meet those of today as least as well as we have met those of the past.