Steven Pinker

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Department of Psychology
Harvard University
Best American Science and Nature Writing The Blank Slate Words and Rules How the Mind Works The Language Instinct Learnability and Cognition Language Learnability and Language Development Edited Academic Volumes

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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 it.
—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 reading.
—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 he covers.
—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 their minds.
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 it.
—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 highly persuasive.
—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 century.
—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 everything-is-a-mixture-of-both-and-it's-all-very-complicated, 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 topics.
—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