Excerpts from reviews
[A] lucid view of what makes humans human. ... A rich, sophisticated
argument that may leave pious souls a little uneasy.
—Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002
Pinker is a fluent writer, superb at explaining difficult ideas for general
readers. He keeps his writing alive with humour, stories, cartoons, and one-liners
from the movies. I agree with his main position, and admire the way he defends
—Mark Ridley, The Times (London), September 4, 2002.
The Blank Slate is brilliant in several dimensions. It is enjoyable,
informative, clear, humane and sensible. ... It is difficult to be morally sensitive
while treading on people's dreams. But Pinker manages it, while never compromising
on the point that good morals and politics need to acknowledge the truth about
human beings as they are, rather than how we might like them to be.
—Simon Blackburn, New Scientist, September 5, 2002
Pinker's case is convincing and cogent, and he does a service in presenting
the arguments, and the associated scientific evidence, in such an accessible
fashion. Given the importance of the questions he discusses, his book is required
—A. C. Grayling, Literary Review, September 2002
A remarkable and powerful book. Pinker's prose sweeps the reader along
effortlessly, despite the complexity and sheer size of the intellectual territory
—Dylan Evans, Evening Standard, September 10, 2002
Every once in a while, a book comes along that compels us to change our
minds about the world. What better example than one that reconfigures our understanding
of mind itself? Such is The Blank Slate.... Readers ... will find it worth
every effort to take on Pinker's exhilarating text; it will, literally, blow
—Library Journal, September 1, 2002
This is a very positive book, brimming with a new moral philosophy, and
giving great insights into how to understand the causal forces behind our minds.
In his usual eclectic way, Pinker ranges across the cultural landscape—from
scientific journals to cartoons to fiction to Greek philosophy—in search of
ideas and analogies. Written with grace and pace, his book is proof that philosophy
does not have to be boring. It is an original and vital contribution to science and
also a rattling good read.
—Matt Ridley, The Telegraph, Sept. 8, 2002
A magisterial and indispensable book.... A wide-ranging and unfailingly
sensible discussion of the ethical and political implications of accepting that
we have a common nature.
—John Gray, New Statesman, Sept. 16, 2002
[Pinker] makes his main argument persuasively and with great verve....
The Blank Slate ought to be read by anybody who feels they have had enough of
nature-nurture rows or who thinks they already know where they stand on the
science wars. It could change their minds. ... If nothing else, Mr Pinker's
book is a wonderfully readable taster of new research, much of it ingenious,
designed to show that many more of our emotional biases and mental aptitudes
than previously thought
are hard-wired or, to use the old word, innate. ... This is a breath of air
for a topic that has been politicised for too long.
—The Economist, Sept. 19, 2002
An absorbing read and an excellent introduction to the state of play
of the Nature-Nurture debate at the start of the 21st century.
—Susan Greenfield, Spectator, Sept. 21, 2002
Steven Pinker is a man of encyclopedic knowledge and an incisive style
of argument. His argument in The Blank Slate is that intellectual life in the
West, and much of our social and political policy, was increasingly dominated
through the twentieth century by a view of human nature that is fundamentally
flawed; that this domination has been backed by something that amounts to academic
terrorism (he does not put it quite so strongly): and that we would benefit
substantially from a more realistic view. Pinker's exposition is thoroughly
readable and of enviable clarity. His explanation of such a difficult technical
matter as the analysis of variance and regression in twin studies, for example,
would be very hard to better. He is not afraid of using strong language: "boo-word",
"basket-case" and (for the technical term "psychopath")
"evil"; in addition, parts of the book are delightfully funny.
—John R. G. Turner, Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 27, 2002
As a brightly lighted path between what we would like to believe and
what we need to know, [The Blank Slate] is required reading.
—Frederic Raphael, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 29, 2002
The Blank Slate is not dismal at all, but unexpectedly bracing. It feels
a bit like being burgled. You're shocked, your things are gone, but you can't
help thinking about how you're going to replace them. What Steven Pinker has
done is break into our common human home and steal our illusions.
—John Morrish, The Independent on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2002
While managing also to be colorful, lively and entertaining, [Pinker]
constructs a tightly reasoned and thoroughly documented argument that we are
not blank slates at birth ... The Blank Slate deserves to be read carefully
and with an open mind ... This landmark book makes an important contribution
to the argument about nature vs. nurture in humans. Whether or not most readers
end up on Pinker's side of the fence, one can hope that his thoroughness and
reasoning will shed light into the darker corners where research has been suppressed
by taboos, and where freedom of thought and speech have been inhibited by fear
of consequences for asking forbidden questions.
—Nancy Jeannette Friedlander, San Diego Union Tribune, Sept. 29, 2002
A delightfully provocative read. .. A constantly dynamic, if tacit, exchange
between the author and his readers.
—Patrick Watson, The Globe and Mail, Oct. 5, 2002
... Pinker, whose previous work is so lively and thought-provoking,
emerges with fascinating common-sense humanity. He presents, without the usual
heavy political overtones of the genre, his own manifesto on human nature, leaving
readers the opportunity to challenge and debate his cogent arguments. ...
Pinker's thoughts on hot-button issues, especially, can lead to lively and productive
debates about politics, violence, gender, children, and the arts—assuming,
of course, the conversations capitalize on the best of 'that infuriating, endearing,
mysterious, predictable, and eternally fascinating thing we call human nature.'
—Fred Bortz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 6, 2002
Steven Pinker has written an extremely good book—clear, well argued,
fair, learned, tough, witty, humane, stimulating. I only hope that people study
it carefully before rising up ideologically against him. If they do, they will
see that the idea of an innately flawed but wonderfully rich human nature is
a force for good, not evil.
—Colin McGinn, Washington Post, Oct. 13, 2002
Pinker's thinking and writing are first-rate; maybe even better
than that. The Blank Slate is much-needed, long overdue and—if you are interested
in what might be called the human nature wars—somewhere between
that old stand-by, required reading, and downright indispensable.
It is unlikely to change the minds of those who are rigidly committed to the
blank slate perspective, but for anyone
whose nature includes even a modicum of open-mindedness, it should
prove a revelation.
—David Barash, Human Nature Review, Oct. 14, 2002
A feast of a book. Pinker's analytical and impish mind ranges from Charles
Darwin to Abigail Van Buren, from scientific studies to Annie Hall. ... It
will be a rare reader who agrees with everything in this book. But it is an
intelligent book that says what it means and thinks about what it is saying.
... Though much of the book is about human differences, the bigger idea is
inherited similarity—the "psychological unity of our species."
It is not a blank slate but a slate with a face—a face that might be called
human nature. When Pinker starts describing it, the reader will surely recognize
—Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times, Oct. 14, 2002
The nature-nurture debate is as old as the species, but rarely has it
received as sophisticated and masterful an exposition as in Steven Pinker's
new book... The Blank Slate is an exceptionally brilliant, unusually lucid and
surprisingly entertaining exposé of a dangerous illusion at the heart
of contemporary political debate and intellectual culture.
—James N. Gardner, The Oregonian, Oct. 20, 2002
A deeply fair-minded effort to follow the politically incorrect implications
of the life sciences to their logical, seemingly dismal end— which turns out
to be, in Pinker's view, a fresh start for a clearer-thinking species. ... The
essential elements of this story have been aired before, but it all seems surprisingly
new when assembled here in one hefty but manageable text. Reading it will warm
you and leave you cold, sometimes in the same sentence, as Pinker rubs our fuzzy
noses in the uncomfortable facts of biology.
—Carl T. Hall, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 20, 2002.
This book is a modern magnum opus. The scholarship alone is mind-boggling,
a monument of careful research, meticulous citation, breadth of input fro diverse
fields, great writing and humour.
—Tom Paskal, The Montreal Gazette, Oct. 26, 2002
Anyone who has read Pinker's earlier books—including How the Mind Works
and The Language Instinct—will rightly guess that his latest effort is similarly
sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, richly footnoted and fun to read. It's also
—Michael Lemonick, Time, Oct. 28, 2002
Pinker is one of those rare writers who is at once persuasive and comprehensive,
informative and entertaining.
—Kevin Shapiro, Commentary, Dec. 2002
For sheer exhilaration, ... The Blank Slate would be outstanding in any
year. ... Another typically sizzling performance in the role of St George slaying
the dragon of denatured sociology.
—Hugh Lawson Tancred, The Spectator, 2002
This may be the most important book so far published in the twenty-first
—David Buss, Pathways, 2002
We academics are too sophisticated to fall for taboos, which only excite
our curiosity. Officially, nothing is off-limits to investigation. Sensitive
topics are protected from scrutiny not by challenging walls of prohibition but
by uninviting quagmires of received wisdom. Surely 'everyone knows' that the
nature-nurture debate was resolved long ago, and neither side wins since
so let's think of something else, right? Wrong, as Steven Pinker shows in The
Blank Slate. [Pinker] wades resolutely into the comforting gloom surrounding
these not quite forbidden topics and calmly, lucidly marshals the facts to ground
his strikingly subversive Darwinian claims—subversive not of any of the things
we properly hold dear but subversive of the phony protective layers of misinformation
surrounding them. ... My reservations with Pinker's view [will be resolved]
in the bright light of rational inquiry that [he] brings to these important
—Dan Dennett, Times Literary Supplement , 2002
The Blank Slate is ... a stylish piece of work. I won't say it
is better than The Language Instinct or How the Mind Works, but
it is as good—which is very high praise indeed. What a superb thinker and
writer he is: what a role model to young scientists. And how courageous to buck
the liberal trend in science, while remaining in person the best sort of liberal.
Pinker is a star, and the world of science is lucky to have him.
—Richard Dawkins, Times Literary Supplement, 2002
The fight for a separation of politics from science is an eminently sensible,
logical, and ultimately humanistic task, and it took someone as brave as Pinker
to dedicate himself to it. ... [This is a] necessary book, a book that in a
more truthful intellectual climate—one open to the idea that any knowledge
about ourselves can only enhance our ability to act well and compassionately—would
not have had to be written. In this climate, however, we should be grateful
that it was.
—Daniel Smith, Boston Globe, Dec. 22, 2002
The Blank Slate brilliantly delineates the current state of play in the
nature/nurture debate. Read it to understand not just the moral and aesthetic
blindness of your friends, but the misguided idealism of nations. A magnificent,
and timely work.
—Fay Weldon, The Daily Telegraph
There are books that come along every few years which change the way
you see the world. Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate is almost such a book. It
is a passionate defence of the enduring power of human nature and the grave
dangers of the denial of its very existence by intellectual ideologues. The
book is both life-affirming and deeply satisfying.
—Tim Lott, The Daily Telegraph
This is a brilliant book. It is beautifully written, and addresses profound
issues with courage and clarity. There is nothing else like it, and it is
going to have an impact that extends well beyond the scientific academy.
—Paul Bloom, TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, Dec. 2002