The best books with hope for the future

Gregg Easterbrook Author Of It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear
By Gregg Easterbrook

Who am I?

As an author, I write both serious nonfiction and literary fiction. As a journalist, I have lifelong associations with The Atlantic and the Washington Monthly. I didn’t plan it, but four of my nonfiction books make an extended argument for the revival of optimism as intellectually respectable. A Moment on the Earth (1995) argued environmental trends other than greenhouse gases actually are positive, The Progress Paradox (2003) asserted material standards will keep rising but that won’t make people any happier, Sonic Boom (2009), published during the despair of the Great Recession, said the global economy would bounce back and It’s Better Than It Looks (2018) found the situation objectivity good on most major issues.

I wrote...

It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

By Gregg Easterbrook,

Book cover of It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear

What is my book about?

Millions are anxious or depressed about the condition of the world. Surely, “Troubles are many they’re as deep as a well.” But despite everything, the direction of society is mainly positive.  

Social media and legacy media report only what goes wrong. How about what goes right? In the main, for two generations environmental harm, war, discrimination, and developing-world poverty have been in decline. There is a hopeful narrative rarely heard. It’s Better Than It Looks presents the case in detail. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

Why did I love this book?

It’s fashionable to think doomsday is coming, so fashionable that young people’s mental health is being harmed by relentless negativism in education, politics, the media, and Hollywood. 

Yet all previously predicted doomsdays did not happen! 

Historically, optimists have proven right far more often than pessimists. In this book Ridley makes the case that a revival of intellectual respectability for optimism would be good for society. Pessimists think there is no hope. Optimists believe reforms will succeed and society can improve.

By Matt Ridley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rational Optimist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction 2011.

Life is on the up.

We are wealthier, healthier, happier, kinder, cleaner, more peaceful, more equal and longer-lived than any previous generation. Thanks to the unique human habits of exchange and specialisation, our species has found innovative solutions to every obstacle it has faced so far.

In 'The Rational Optimist', acclaimed science writer Matt Ridley comprehensively refutes the doom-mongers of our time, and reaches back into the past to give a rational explanation for why we can - and will - overcome the challenges of the future, such as climate…

Book cover of The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World

Why did I love this book?

Maybe you think Asia and Africa are mired in depressing immiseration. Certainly that’s what the mainstream media sell us. Yet in the last 25 years more progress has been made against poverty in these places than in all of previous human history combined! Radelet, a professor at Georgetown University, shows that the improvement – still a long way to go, of course – of the developing world is the most important thing happening in our spinning world. 

By Steven Radelet,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Surge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The untold story of the global poor: "Powerful, lucid, and revelatory, The Great Surge...offers indispensable prescriptions about sustaining global economic progress into the future" (George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management).

We live today at a time of great progress for the global poor. Never before have so many people, in so many developing countries, made so much progress, in so short a time in reducing poverty, increasing incomes, improving health, reducing conflict and war, and spreading democracy.

Most people believe the opposite: that with a few exceptions like China and India, the majority of developing countries are hopelessly mired…

Book cover of Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice

Why did I love this book?

Nussbaum, a philosopher at the University of Chicago, is among the great minds of our era. In this book she shows – admittedly, at a slow pace – that ability to forgive is essential to individual love, political justice, and the smooth running of society. Today’s politics and social media cultivate recriminations, downplay the moment in which we forgive. Nussbaum describes a better way.

By Martha C. Nussbaum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anger and Forgiveness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anger is not just ubiquitous, it is also popular. Many people think it is impossible to care sufficiently for justice without anger at injustice. Many believe that it is impossible for individuals to vindicate their own self-respect or to move beyond an injury without anger. To not feel anger in those cases would be considered suspect. Is this how we should think about anger, or is anger above all a disease, deforming both the personal and the political?

In this wide-ranging book, Martha C. Nussbaum, one of our leading public intellectuals, argues that anger is conceptually confused and normatively pernicious.…

Book cover of The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography

Why did I love this book?

Finished in 1907, this famed book is worth rereading today for awareness that its pervasive pessimism proved totally wrong. Adams declared that western democracy was doomed, that freedom had no chance if forced into war versus dictatorship, that the pace change was overwhelming, that the U.S. educational system could not possibly teach science. A century later, democracy prevailed in both world wars, free nations out-produce dictatorships 10 to 1, and America has won more Nobel prizes in the sciences than the next five nations combined. Pessimism has long been with us – and almost always been wrong.

By Henry Adams,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Education of Henry Adams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic autobiography includes accounts of Adams's residence in England and of his "diplomatic education" in the circle of Palmerston, Russell and Gladstone.

Book cover of The Winter of Our Discontent

Why did I love this book?

Steinbeck is one of my favorite novelists (Willa Cather, the other) but boy did he run off the rails with this, his final book.

He describes an American society locked in irreversible decline, with everything getting worse and our polity doomed. Sixty years later the United States remains the envy of the world and almost every America today lives better materially, with more freedom and security, than almost everyone of 1961.

The novel is a reminder of the extent to which ideological negativity is ubiquitous in literature.

By John Steinbeck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Winter of Our Discontent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Nobel committee claimed that while giving John Steinbeck the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature that he had "resumed his place as an independent expounder of the truth, with an unbiased feel for what is authentically American" with The Winter of Our Discontent.The main character of Steinbeck's final book, Ethan Allen Hawley, is a clerk at a grocery shop that his ancestors formerly ran. Ethan's wife is restless now that he is no longer a member of Long Island's aristocratic society, and his teenagers are pining for the enticing material comforts he is unable to supply. Then, one day, in…

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