he Rational Optimist is an unfashionable and contrarian trumpet blast for the notion that things are, and will go on, getting better for people and their planet. In the author's first 50 years of life, global income per head has more than tripled, while lifespan and calories per head have increased by a third and child mortality has fallen to one-third of what it was. All this while the population of the globe has nearly tripled. More people have been raised out of poverty in recent years than in all of human history before, and the commercialization of life has coincided with expanding kindness, not growing selfishness.
But Matt Ridley's optimism is based on more than extrapolating recent trends; on more than discovering that reactionary pessimists (blue, red, and green) who dominate intellectual discourse in every generation have been wrong again and again for two centuries. It is based on a brand-new understanding of how human culture evolves by exchange and specialization-a process that began more than 100,000 years ago in Africa. The book covers the entire sweep of human history and human life, from the old stone age to the internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident and reasoned assertion that, despite inevitable disasters along the way, the twenty-first century can and probably will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity improved.