Paradoxes of the human condition include that as we live longer we grow more impatient; as we thrive we are smitten by ingratitude; and as we learn more we become impervious to reason. As the writer GK Chesterton, the prince of paradox, phrased it: "The things we see every day are the things we never see at all." Steven Pinker wants to open people’s eyes. In Enlightenment Now he presents a statistical barrage and information overload about human flourishing in the 250 years since the Enlightenment took hold. Life expectancy, per capita GDP, education and dozens of other indicators have an identifiable factor underpinning them. "We even have a name for that factor: progress," he writes.

Pinker, a Harvard professor of psychology and cognitive sciences, is renowned for seeing half-full glasses. His latest book is his most stridently optimistic and aggressively assertive, as though he has awoken to a realisation that, Atlas-like, he must hold up the world’s Progress lest it is tor...

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