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Book Review: It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons For Optimism In An Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook
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Book Review: It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons For Optimism In An Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons For Optimism In An Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons For Optimism In An Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook

The problem with a book like Gregg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear (PublicAffairs, 2018) is that it’s probably preaching to the choir. The pessimist seldom looks to be convinced to change his or her outlook; rather, the pessimist typically seeks evidence to support pessimism.

One supposes there may be a considerable chunk of the population who doesn’t know how to feel about trends in politics, health, the environment, technology, or social issues. For such readers, the book certainly contains sufficient support for an optimistic perspective.

More likely, the book’s audience is optimists hoping for reinforcemnt and affirmation. Casual, daily consumption of mainstream media seems to lead naturally to a general sense of things getting worse; how encouraging it is to find nearly 400 pages of well-researched reasons to believe things are getting better.

There’s a lot here. Easterbrook is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a publication known for thorough, exhaustively researched, well articulated articles. His writing is clear, direct, and at times dry in its factual presentation. In the chapter on technology making humans safer, he writes:

“A watershed was the 1994 introduction in the United States of government star rankings for car safety, which changed the sales dynamic. ‘Automobile manufacturers said star-ranking systems for crash safety would never work,’ says Stefan Duma, a professor of engineering at Virginia Tech University. ‘This turned out completely wrong. Star ratings communicate to buyers in a clear, simple way. The ratings caused automakers to rethink engineering, with the goal of getting five-star safety they could advertise. The result is that driving is less dangerous than it used to be.’”

The paragraph is readable and clear. Yet while it’s certainly not a dense style, imagine more than 300 pages of similar paragraphs and you might get the idea this is not a one-session read. So thorough and organized is Easterbrook’s style in presenting his case, that the reader gets a sense of being bludgeoned by hope.

Still, the case he makes is solid. Chapters cover world health, overpopulation, the environment, the economy, violence, technology, and politics in similar fashion in the first half of the book, while in the second half they support the idea of “the arrow of history,” the concept that history is unidirectional, as opposed to cyclical. Given the evidence presented in the first half, an arrow worldview seems the better bet: that things are getting better and they’ll keep getting better.

If the entire proposition seems a bit much for less enthusiastic readers, the final chapter is worth the price of the book. In “...And It Will Never Be Too Late,” the author presents what could be a commencement speech at every high school or university. “At least 100 billion people have lived on our great spinning globe,” he writes. “Many suffered horribly, their lives rendered sorrowful, short, or both by nature or human heartlessness. Yet more of those 100 billion left society a more welcoming place than they found. That progression is ongoing: a better world is closer than it looks.”

Not recommended for a quick read, but highly recommended for several weekends across a few months. It could also be an excellent candidate for book discussion groups.

 

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Book Review: It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons For Optimism In An Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook - Executive Leadership Articles

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