From The Boston Globe:
Somewhere in the world, every second of every day, people are being beaten, shot, and stabbed. The news is a litany of bombings and political assassinations, deadly riots and gang warfare. The lucky among us merely hear about it. Some days, when the body count is particularly high, it can be hard to stave off the sense that our species is more brutal and more bloodthirsty than at any other point in history.
Steven Pinker used to wince at the carnage like everybody else, and wonder how the human race had managed to lose its way so horribly. Then, in 1989, he stumbled upon something remarkable: a graph in a history book, compiled by a political scientist named Ted Robert Gurr, showing that the homicide rate in England had declined sharply since the 13th century. Pinker was astonished. The rate had fallen in some areas by as much as one hundredfold. Could it be true, he wondered, that humans had actually become less violent with time, as opposed to more? And if so, how had we done it? Pinker, now a psychology professor at Harvard, was then a rising star at MIT known primarily for his work on how the mind processes language and vision. In the years after his eye-opening encounter with the Gurr graph, his interest in broader questions about human nature and the brain would lead him to write a series of bestselling books, including “How the Mind Works” and “The Blank Slate,” which helped establish him as one of the most recognizable public intellectuals of the past 20 years.