My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I like to succinctly summarize the main plot of a story for these short reviews, but this one is a bit tough. Anyway, for what it’s worth….
There are two hereditary lines of alien beings of the same species living on Earth. Each is represented by only one “family.” They’ve been here for about 3,000 years. One is male and wants to bring the aliens to Earth, and the other is female and wants to prevent that in order to save humans. (I think it’s actually about human nature and gender and such, but I don’t want to presume or analyze. That can take all the fun out of a story.) Some chapters are from the male perspective, and focus on dark and destructive instincts. They think the female line has some kind of transmitter that will call the rest of their alien species to come here and invade the planet, and they really want to get their hands on it. The female line stresses protection and progress. The female goal is to “take them to the stars,” meaning that they are subtly attempting to get humans to understand and venture out into the wider universe. How this might prevent an alien invasion wasn’t clear to me, and I had other questions, but all in all, I really like this book. Mainly this is because of the underlying hope in human potential that resonates with it but also because of all the embedded history of science type stories it includes. Actually, I think my favorite chapter was the nonfiction “Further Reading” bit at the end. If you’re a fan of stories about human progress and the history of science, you may really like this series.
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Has the human condition gotten better over time? In this book, Steven Pinker argues that it has, mainly by showing how dreadful it was in the past. People still intentionally inflict unspeakable harm upon one another, but compared to the atrocities of the past, (some of which, such as animal cruelty, genocide, torture, and rape as a spoil of war, they did not even considered atrocities at the time) we have made considerable progress. In this lengthy book, Pinker provides details, data, and analysis demonstrating his point. At times, it seemed almost too much. Despite the almost painful level of detail, I found this a thoughtful and persuading mixture of history, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. I highly recommend it as a much-needed counter for the mistaken idea that humanity has somehow digressed from an idyllic past.