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6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimism in the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Finding Hope in a Turbulent Modern Sea of Negativity.

6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimismin the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity
Image Credit-Midjourney

Apocalyptic predictions sell like drinks on a Friday night.

‘The world is ending’ is a prediction we have heard many times. From the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 to various environmentalists predicting the end.


We are still here and still going strong.

What is the doom-and-gloom camp missing? These books will tell you exactly that.

6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimismin the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity

The graph of human enlightenment is going up.

Thanks to the news, our brains overestimate the likelihood of negative events occurring.

This book gives us an overview of human progress. From ‘health’ to ‘wealth’ and from ‘quality of life’ to ‘peace’, the author tells us how we are doing way better than our ancestors. He uses facts to back up his claims.

“As we care about more of humanity, we’re apt to mistake the harms around us for signs of how low the world has sunk rather than how high our standards have risen.”

The reason for this, to him, is the rise of enlightenment values which are, reason, science, and humanism.

‘Reason’ helps us ask questions and stay grounded in reality. ‘Science’ has helped us overcome disease, decrease infant mortality rate, and elongate human life span.

Due to our commitment to ‘humanism’, we have secular societies where the individual is celebrated, regimes can be criticized, and hate crime rates have gone down.

To Pinker, counter-enlightenment values are religious faith, nationalism, and declinism.

“…an anecdote is not a trend.”

I can’t help but wonder about the social nature of humans and their need to belong. Much of what binds large groups of humans together is either grounded in faith or nationality which the author discounts as counter-enlightenment.

This book is ‘enlightening’. It makes you feel happy for what humans are and what they have accomplished.

6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimismin the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity

Peace not war, how are we doing better than our ancestors?

Steven Pinker puts forth the hypothesis that violence among humans has declined over time.

He discusses the reasons for the decline in violence by citing different trends. From hunter-gatherers to becoming farmers, from World War 2 to humanitarian movements, and the increase in focus on human rights.

“As one becomes aware of the decline of violence, the world begins to look different. The past seems less innocent; the present less sinister.”

Why does violence occur anyway?

Due to 5 inner demons. They are practical violence, dominance, revenge, sadism, and ideology.

We now use our violent urges in sports and video games. These demons balance themselves as well, for example, knowing that a victim can seek revenge curbs violence in the first place.

“No one has ever recruited activists to a cause by announcing that things are getting better…”

The author also discusses the flip side of the demons. They are the four better angels in us, which are empathy, self-control, moral sense, and reason. It is due to them, he argues that violence is going down.

At times Pinkers falls victim to his own biases. He simplifies the reason for territorial conflicts to terrorism, for example, Kashmir, (a region of contention between Pakistan and India), and Israel vs Palestine. In my opinion, this inclination might be attributed to the author’s Jewish background.

Despite my discomfort at his simplification of issues, I believe that as a cognitive psychologist and psycholinguist, Pinker has much wisdom to offer.

6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimismin the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity

Soon every child will have food on his plate if we use technology wisely.

Elon Musk called this book an “essential reading for anyone looking for a better tomorrow.”

Diamandis and Kotler talk about the great power that modern technologies like AI, robotics, and synthetic biology hold. In the coming 20 years, these technologies will help us create resources way more than in the past 200 years. They put forth their prediction based on data charts and tables.

“Today Americans living below the poverty line are not just light-years ahead of most Africans; they’re light-years ahead of the wealthiest Americans from just a century ago.”

The authors discuss various human needs like food, water, health, and education. In each of these areas, they introduce us to brilliant minds who are coming up with innovative products. Concepts like vertical farms and hand-held medical diagnostic devices are being introduced.

Soon we will have enough for everyone and then some.

“Teaching kids how to nourish their creativity and curiosity, while still providing a sound foundation in critical thinking, literacy and math, is the best way to prepare them for a future of increasingly rapid technological change.”

If we are so better off and will continue to go in this direction, why is there a shadow of pessimism over us? The culprit is our amygdala, the flight and fight center in our brain. It hones its attention on things that spark fear.

The future will be brighter and better, thanks to technological advancements.

The lesson for us is to foster creativity, and innovation in our future generations, so we may solve all of humanity’s issues.

6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimismin the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity

Want to end world hunger? We are already doing so.

Growing older, I myself am becoming somewhat of a ‘In our times’ person. Whenever I see kids glued to phones, I can’t help but think back to my childhood. No phones, no rush. Just us and our friends playing without a worry in the world.

There is a downside to this way of thinking. One overlooks the amazing progress that has happened in the past centuries.

An example is world hunger. Hunger was a major issue in the seventeenth century. One-third of the Finnish population died due to famine between 1965 and 1967.

“A child born today is more likely to reach retirement age than his forebears were to live to their fifth birthday.”

Due to advancements like artificial fertilizer and combined harvester machines, food production increased manifold. Far more children have their bellies full in today’s world as compared to history.

Norberg gives similar examples for education, equality, peace, and health. He paints a positive picture of what we have achieved so far.

“So it seems that the only way for terrorists to win is if its victims overreact, dismantle civil liberties and blame whole groups for the actions of a few.”

The author reaches the conclusion that fear is largely used by political entities to enhance their own agendas.

This book will show you hope when the most around you are hopeless.

6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimismin the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity

We are victims of our own biases.

This book breaks down human biases and makes them easy to understand. This can help us circumvent their effect when we perceive the world around us.

For example: People were asked about the level of poverty in the world. The right answer was that poverty has halved over the last 20 years. Only 7% got the answer right. The majority believed that poverty has remained the same or even doubled.

What is the reason that even the brightest minds get such questions wrong?

Our brain filters information. The most dramatic gets the most attention. This is due to our 10 dramatic instincts.

“More children now survive because they don’t get ill in the first place.”

The 10 dramatic instincts are as follows:

  1. The Gap Instinct — Oh no! Look at the difference.

  2. The Negativity Instinct — This is so bad.

  3. The Straight Line Instinct — This will continue.

  4. The Fear Instinct — This is frightening.

  5. The Size Instinct — It is huge.

  6. The Generalization Instinct — They are all the same.

  7. The Destiny Instinct — It will always be this way.

  8. The Single Perspective Instinct — This is the way to see it.

  9. The Blame Instinct — They are the problem.

  10. The Urgency Instinct — We have to act right now.

These instincts make us see the worst possible scenario.

“ Wouldn’t you rather have few opinions that are right than many that are wrong?”

The solution to this is to always ask questions and find facts. Only after that, you should make an opinion.

This book will give you a clear view of the world, which is by and large very positive.

6 Books that Will Shift Your Perspective Towards Optimismin the Maelstrom of Modern-Day Negativity

The witch hunt for evil is misguided.

Bregman offers a fascinating account of human history taking a totally different approach than all the other books in this list.

He argues that humans by nature are good. And we have been for most of our history. Hunter-gatherers and nomads were better off in terms of equality. They didn’t have one key authority figure.

By contrast, today’s civilizations are built on hierarchies and the results are bad because ‘power causes people to lose the kindness and modesty that got them elected.’

“People are social animals, but we have a fatal flaw: we feel more affinity for those who are most like us.”

He calls into question the reporting of a famous 1964 murder of a woman named Kitty Genovese. While it was widely reported that no one came to help, it was apposite to the truth.

People had indeed called the police. A woman named Sophia risked her safety and cradled dying Kitty in her arms.

What’s the reason?

We fall victim to sensational clickbaits and emotionally tumultuous headlines, “News is to the mind what sugar is to the body.” In order to grab our attention, the news is exaggerated or worse, faked.

“The news, according to dozens of studies, is a mental health hazard.”

He also questions the authenticity of the famous psychology experiments that showed the dark side of humans. These studies are proven wrong, he says. In these, the scientist used manipulation and coercion to receive desired results.

The recreation of the Harvard prison experiment in 2001 went nowhere. Milgram’s subjects thought they were contributing to scientific knowledge by participating, according to Bregman.

“Psychologist Roy Baumeister calls the fallacious assumption that our enemies are malicious sadists ‘the myth of pure evil’. In reality, our enemies are just like us.”

Whether you agree with the author’s optimism for human nature or not, this book will make you look at news, history, and famous psychology experiments very differently.


Since I learnt so much from the books above, I feel it is very important to offer positivity and hope to all. Hence here is a list of recurring themes:

  1. Human brain is wired to focus on the negative.

  2. Get rid of the news if you want to approach the world with a realistic mindset.

  3. We have come a long way in improving all that plagued our ancestors like hunger, diseases and violence.

  4. Ask questions and search for the facts and statistics to make an informed opinion.

  5. Humans have amazing qualities with which they have accomplished a lot and will continue to do so.


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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog- Affiliate Disclaimer: This post features Amazon affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links.


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