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The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves Hardcover – May 18 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st Edition edition (May 18 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006145205X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061452055
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #57,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“A superb book…Elegant, learned, and cogent…a far-reaching synthesis of economics and ecology, a triumphant new demarche in the understanding of wealth and poverty…Inspiring.” (George Gilder, National Review)

“A very good book…a rich analysis…Ridley is a cogent and erudite social critic…He bolsters his argument with an impressive tour of evolutionary biology, economics, philosophy, world history.” (Washington Post)

“A fast-moving, intelligent description of why human life has so consistently improved over the course of history, and a wonderful overview of how human civilizations move forward.” (John Tierney, New York Times)

“A delightful and fascinating book filled with insight and wit, which will make you think twice and cheer up.” (Steven Pinker)

The Rational Optimist teems with challenging and original ideas…No other book has argued with such brilliance and historical breadth against the automatic pessimism that prevails in intellectual life.” (Ian McEwan)

“Ridley eloquently weaves together economics, archeology, history, and evolutionary theory…His words effortlessly turn complicated economic and scientific concepts into entertaining, digestible nuggets.” (Barrett Sheridan, Newsweek)

“Invigorating…For Mr. Ridley, the market for ideas needs to be as open as possible in order to breed ingenuity from collaboration.” (Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal)

The Rational Optimist will give a reader solid reasons for believing that the human species will overcome its economic, political and environmental woes during this century.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

“This inspiring book, a glorious defense of our species…is a devastating rebuke to humanity’s self-haters.” (Sunday Times (London))

“Original, clever and …controversial” (The Guardian)

“A dose of just the kind of glass-half-full information we need right now…A powerful antidote to gloom-n-doom-mongering.” (Washington Examiner)

“A mesmerizing book.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Ridley’s dazzling, insightful and entertaining book on the unstoppable march of innovation is a refresher course in human history...Great ideas spring up unexpectedly from every direction, with each new one naturally coordinating with others...” (New York Post)

A fabulous new book... I was so delighted, amused and uplifted by it that I bought a couple hundred copies and sent one to all my clients. (Donald Luskin, Smart Money)

From the Back Cover

Life is getting better—and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down — all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people’s lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years.

Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization—which started more than 100,000 years ago—has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.

This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the twenty-first century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A rare book indeed amidst the torrent of tomes focusing on the familiar horsemen of the apocalypse, whether they are of climate change, peak oil, overpopulation, pandemics or our heading towards the singularity.

The author draws his optimism from the well of accumulated human knowledge and ingenuity. He sees humankind's collective brain as a `problem solving machine' and leads the reader engagingly through the bumpy history of cultural, technological and economic development from earliest Palaeolithic trade and proto-agriculture to our present global economy. He shows with just the right amount of statistical and comparative data the main reasons for the astonishing material betterment enjoyed by the masses today in relation to the times of the Sun King Louis XIV, let alone compared to earlier epochs. He shows how trade contributed to the fertility of ideas, how innovation, specialization, mechanization, division of labour, and so forth, coupled with free exchange of ideas and unfettered entrepreneurship are the foundations which make prosperity possible for the greatest number of people. He is highly critical of ideologies promoting self-sufficiency or top-down engineering, whether social or otherwise, and of those wanting to freeze technologies at a certain level, be they in agriculture or elsewhere. He also demonstrates clearly that all the regularly predicted `turning points' or thresholds, supposedly leading to imminent catastrophe in the past, were proven wrong each time and concludes that this will likely be true for the future too.
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I was surprised by the scope of this book. I expected a book on improvements in the environment. What I got was a book that touches on biology, genetics, agriculture, commerce and energy. In every topic, Ridley calls forth a collection of important facts to build a big picture view. Although always sensible and moderate, he builds a strong, bold perspective. Throughout, he ties human progress to a few recurring themes. (The most powerful being the exchange of ideas systems that encourage the best in societies.)

I was also impressed by his thoroughness. He anticipated every objection I could muster and more. Then he dispatched my worries with facts and research.
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By Vlad Thelad TOP 500 REVIEWER on Feb. 19 2011
Format: Hardcover
Every now and then one comes across a book that picks up a good fight, and unambiguously makes its case. Ridley does exactly that. Exchange, specialization and innovation has brought thus far, and will continue to do so. Humans will continue to prosper; our lives will better and better. Is it a foregone conclusion, a linear development, an ineluctable fate? No. But the case for optimism is overwhelming. Bring on all your truisms, scepticism, and the foundations of your pessimism, by the end of the book little will remain unscathed. What's past is prologue; the future of mankind is even brighter!
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This book is an excellent counterpoint to the horde of folks in the media, political life and in academia who are gleefully proclaiming the end of the world. Just as Malthus in his time, and Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, and Al Gore in ours have found out, we aren't running out of time. As Ridley so eloquently points out, and as Julian Simon did before him, things are constantly improving in terms of literacy, available food per capita, income, life span, decreasing violence, lessening of mortality due to war, access to healthcare and the environment.

And both Matt and Julian rightfully point out, the most important resource, with regards to the human condition, is the grey matter that rests between our collective ears. Given freedom from poverty, decent education and healthcare, and personal freedom, the world's billions have the capability to solve virtually any problem that confronts us.

Using history as his base, and current statistics from recognized institutions, Ridley makes nonsense of the notion that things are steadily getting worse. This is a strikingly important message to pass on to the current generation that is getting ready to take over the reigns of society. Important for two reasons. It can give them hope. And it can also show them how sophisticated groups in our societies can distort the truth so that those particular agendas are accepted, and those groups are given the power they want to promote those agendas.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Ridley is making a case for trade, for the free market, and for it being very much a ground up type phenomenon that is then usurped and used by more powerful forces not neccessarily for good. His thrust is that the free market has led to increasing prosperity for the majority of people and he works hard to explain how this came about.

This is basically a history of human civilization from the stone age on from the perspective that trade is what made us not just survive but thrive. He also makes the case that the discovery of fossil fuels is what allowed the industrial revolution to continue without diminishing returns. He covers a great deal of ground and does so with a clear and crisp style that keeps the ideas interesting throughout.

Not everyone will agree with his premise or his theories but I found them very interesting and I plan on rereading the book because there is just so much information and what he is saying is really relevant to the current political landscape.

This book is a strong defense of the free market and the case he makes for optimism is a very strong one as well. Lefties and environmentalists alike will probably find this an infuriating read.
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