Having liked all Ridley’s science books, I was worried to hear about this one. I suspected that he, a Tory peer, was lurching into political writing in defence of climate-change denial. So I put off reading it for three years; but I wish now that I hadn’t. Though presenting an optimistic view at odds with most scientists, it produces a shipload of facts, data and evidence in support – enough to have me questioning my own assumptions. If you’re convinced that the world’s going to hell in a handcart and you won’t hear otherwise, stay well away. But if you can entertain conflicting ideas simultaneously, this one’s for you.
As for Ridley’s thesis: hearing the historical evidence, I found it hard to dispute his case that the world's never had it so good. His argument that pessimism is over-cooked is also convincing - in principle. For me, the big flies in the ointment are his PC beliefs that all people are the same, and that you can’t get enough of them. And some of his suppositions already look doubtful. Since the book was written, the UN has admitted that its estimated 9bn population peak was wildly optimistic. It’s also clear that the regions where populations are exploding are the very least equipped to engage in the trade- and innovation-led salvation Ridley proposes. Despite all that, it makes a change to hear a dissenter rattling Al Gore’s cage.
I disliked the choice of reader, L J Ganser. Ridley, an Eton- and Oxford-educated aristocrat, talks in an appropriately understated manner. To hear him narrated like a New York car-salesman feels all wrong, especially as the text gives many clues to its English provenance. Some homework wouldn’t have hurt: not knowing that Samuel Pepys rhymes with ‘keeps’ is one of many crass blunders; but, for a real laugh, you’ll need to hear the economist Jeavons’s moniker mangled yourself.
In short: get it. You’ll be either entertained or exercised, and certainly informed. And you’ll never take the doomsayers’ word at face value again.
I'm only part-way through listening, but I'm absolutely hooked. I must disagree with a previous reviewer in that I find Bryson's narration much better than the reader of A Short History of Nearly Everything; I love his reading here. Like that book though, this will be one I anticipate returning to re-listen to several times. Wonderful!