Listen free for 30 days

£7.99/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime

Summary

The Samuel Johnson Prize Shortlist Nominees 2011

Over 10,000 years ago, there were fewer than 10 million people on the planet. Today there are more than six billion, and 99 per cent of whom are better fed, better sheltered, better entertained, and better protected against disease than their Stone Age ancestors.

The availability of almost everything a person could want or need has been going erratically upwards for 10,000 years and has rapidly accelerated over the last 200 years: calories; vitamins; clean water; machines; privacy; the means to travel faster than we can run, and the ability to communicate over longer distances than we can shout. Yet, bizarrely, however much things improve from the way they were before, people still cling to the belief that the future will be nothing but disastrous.

In this original, optimistic book, Matt Ridley puts forward his surprisingly simple answer to how humans progress, arguing that we progress when we trade and we only really trade productively when we trust each other.

The Rational Optimist will do for economics what Genome did for genomics and will show that the answer to our problems, imagined or real, is to keep on doing what we've been doing for 10,000 years – to keep on changing.

©2010 HarperCollins Publishers (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Rational Optimist

Average customer ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    130
  • 4 Stars
    44
  • 3 Stars
    15
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    4
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    97
  • 4 Stars
    37
  • 3 Stars
    11
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    3
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    106
  • 4 Stars
    33
  • 3 Stars
    9
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    1

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Hmmmmm .... vast fact-checking is required

I listened with interest (and much hope!) but was left with a lot of 'WHAaaaaT???' on parts where I am an Expert. That left me wanting to speak with a lot of other Experts to validate what appear to be Matt's 'opinions' in many cases, instead of fact-tested viewpoints.

I first became guarded when Matt revealed he was part of the Banking industry during the massive crash - he didn't (couldn't?) reveal whether he was a party-to-it or a whistleblower. But I think anyone who was a party-to that crash has to be someone who has lost their moral compass. I did then wonder when Matt appeared to justify the *horrendous* and a-moral conditions inflicted onto people during the industrial revolution as 'better than' the rural conditions they had arrived from and therefore justified. The question he asked the modern-day lady living in industrial squallor was a twisted question the only answer to which would validate his position. Whilst people *did* flock to industrialised areas to improve their monetary status, I'm not sure they believed the conditions inflicted - totally unnecessarily - upon them were 'ok'/an acceptable part of the bargain. I suggest reading 'Angel Meadow: Victorian Britain's Most Savage Slums' by Dean Kirby to fully understand what this inflicted-life looked like. And I don't believe *any* modern day worker living in industrial squalor would agree that living conditions couldn't be improved and are acceptable to them. Other industrialists like Samuel Greg, Titus Salt, William Lever proved there was a better way to do it that still made them vastly rich (*and even some of them didn't do it so well when you peer into the cracks; eg Samuel Greg was against the bill prohibiting under-age workers with the words 'The Devil makes work for idle hands'). And this is something modern day industrialists should think about - I have my own theory which is that modern day business leaders reduce the productivity of their workforce by *two-thirds* or even more (yep! Honestly), simply because of the way they treat them. And I've proved that repeatedly, over-and-over, in high-performing teams I've created in multiple large and small organisations throughout my career. The problem with modern business leaders is they are still stuck in an industrial revolution mentality.

I listened with interest to his environmental viewpoints but my gut was rather sceptical and I'd really want to justify what he says by speaking to some experts - what I don't agree with is his viewpoint that seems to suggest 'all environmental experts are wrong'. There is disagreement within the field as there is in any other, and I'd want to validate many of his comments.

But where my 'WHAaat??? That's absolute garbage!!' moment occurred was when he uses Y2K as an example of an 'and nothing happened/load of scaremongering'. My entire career has been in IT and, whilst Matt and the majority of others were out partying at the turn of the century, I - and many others - were working. Watching that all our hard work over many years *would* simply tick over the year as 'and nothing happened'. And, if that occurred - as it did - it would be the greatest triumph and the result of people working ludicrous numbers of hours over several years. I was *FUMING* at Matt's dismissive comments, and that has made me wonder about whether the rest of his views have left other Experts outraged.

Y2K is becoming like the moon-landings; where ignorant nay-sayers - who make statements but don't fact-check their tiny-brain-thoughts - start to dismiss it as nothing. There are comments like 'no-one could possibly check every single piece of machinery and software in the world!' ... well, they did. And the reason they did is that - although tiny-minds think that job is 'too big' - the top-bottom of the situation is *every single piece* of machinery and software in the world is manufactured and therefore has a root 'Owner'. The Y2K testing process was simple and went as follows - End-Users undertook testing from two angles: (1) full actual roll-forward testing in a lab-environment of as much of your own infrastructure as was possible, (2) obtaining Test Certification from the manufacturers of every piece of hardware/software in your organisation (*manufacturers were running roll-forward testing on everything they manufactured). If a manufacturer certified successful roll-forward testing, End-Users knew that part of their infrastructure was ok. Where there was a cut-off - things fell into a bracket of being too old to be tested, or they failed testing - End-Users had to rip-out/upgrade all those parts of their system. This is where the nay-sayers laugh and say 'rubbish! They just binned/replaced huge parts of ... 'X''. Well, that happened because if even one part of 'X' was found to fail, due to the timescales available (*it was probably the first Project in history that had an immovable end/Delivery date!) decisions were made to cast them into the 'bin/replace' bucket because time was not available to troubleshoot and fully test repairs. Where an upgraded version that had been tested/proven to successfully roll-forward was available, you don't tinker about with an old version. On the night of Y2K, all major manufacturers (including Microsoft, Cisco, Netware ... all major manufacturers including airline manufacturers, manufacturers of banking hardware/software - you name it) had set up dedicated help-desks where they expected to be swamped with calls about things not working. The *biggest* success of the Y2k project was that very little happened. We had one/two minor problems and I phoned our support desks and everyone was overjoyed that at the witching hour on the whole the phones had been silent. We jumped around rooms as did they; we ran outside and let off fireworks to celebrate 'nothing happened' not the turning of the century. Everything had been tested to within an inch of its life (because everything is manufactured and can be traced back to its source, and if certification couldn't be achieved it was ripped out or replaced - it's that simple) and all those years and hours of exceptionally hard work had paid off. Dismissing Y2K as one of the century's biggest cons is the biggest red-rag to my bull, and *immediately* shows a massive height of ignorance in people who express that stupid view - because it's easy to find the truth of what happened: just ask people like me.

And so ... this left me thinking if Matt could be so *incredibly* wrong about one small sentence in his book, what did my counterpart Experts on the other areas make of his views.

But all that said this is a good book/audio to listen to because we should all challenge our views - it is only by doing so that we actually find the truth. So I do recommend people to read/listen but then to fact-check through proper experts in the field. In terms of the audio, I wish I'd read the book ... sorry, L J Ganser sounded like a dodgy used car salesman/Computer salesman who read words from a script but have no idea what they mean. The audio would have been so much different if it had been read by someone who understood/believed in Matt's words. I'd suggest reading the book instead of listening to the audio.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Optimism makes sense

A book that will challenge and change your attitudes and opinions. Refreshing, forthright, and above all encouraging. All politicians should read it, but they won't dare to espouse it. Most people are 'part smart' and this book goes to the heart of so many issues. It takes a positive view of the world and the future, and is an antidote to the relentless pessimism we are being fed most of the time.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A truly inspiring and uplifting story.

The rational optimist gives a thorough and fascinating account of the history of human progress. Moreover, it makes a extremely robust case for hoping that the best it is still yet to come thanks to the human promiscuity for exchange of ideas, goods, knowledge...
Full of arguments to use in fighting the pessimist waves that seems to inundate everyday conversations about progress and the future. Unmissable

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great Book, important information

This book is a must read to all people, is balanced and we'll researched. excellent!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A breath of fresh perspective

A great book to read in today's pessimistic world, great analysis of today's major chalnnages and how we can solve

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Rational optimism. A tonic for our times

Listened to this a year into the pandemic and as Uk prepares to host CoP 26.

Will society embrace the innovation required to grow and lift millions from poverty as Lord Ridley suggests and hopes? I hope so but fear not.

Some great ideas in this book and some great tools and data to pave the way. Let’s hope post CV19 the ‘new normal’ embraces innovation, free exchange and commerce - not regulation, central planning and authoritarianism.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

I'm an Optimist

An excellent listen, book covers a variety of topics and looks at our current world using the past as perspective. Positivity is vest. A must listen.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent

A very informative and insightful view into the human existence thought-out time past, present and predicted future. The narrator's tone of voice very compelling that keeps you listening to the very end.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Adictiive listen

Outlines a robust pattern in human progress that gives one a greater belief in the future of mankind. Despite of all the worlds bad actors.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Could have been even better

This is a great subject - why we should be optimistic about the future, after all, the human race has not done too badly so far, from hot baths to antibiotics - and there is much to enjoy in this book. I was particularly amused by the section that reviewed calamities that never happened (e.g. acid rain, Y2 bug, Malthusian starvation). There is also a serious and thoughtful message about eco-friendliness and 'green' politics: technology and going forward may be a better solution than trying to put the clock back to an idyllic rural past that never really did or can exist. Green policies, driven by emotions, can lead to mistakes and errors (e.g. the disaster of bio-fuels and the folly of wind farms). However, I also found the book rambled a bit and would be improved by a good edit. Also, some of the material seemed a bit derivative – but it was possibly just out of date, since the book was written in 2008. I have read several books in recent years - Pinker's 'Better Angels' and 'Why Nations Fail' that cover many of Ridley's points, but a do a better job.

Narration: Awful! Matt Ridley mentions in the book that he 'grew up in London in the 1970s' He does not, therefore, have a grating American accent. I could not get over this contradiction. I like it when the author reads - Tony Blair, George Bush, Sarah Palin, Christopher Hitchens - but if you don't have the skills to do that then get somebody who sounds like the author would. Am I bigoted to want that?

3 people found this helpful

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for N
  • N
  • 21-08-18

Strong opinions

Strong opinions, some challenging and interesting, some hackneyed and now proven wrong. Overall I feel it was worth listening to.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Tim
  • Tim
  • 21-02-18

If you're pessimistic, this is a required read.

This book is so bloody good I wrote this review. (the first of 73- had to check my stats). 👌

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Kindle Customer
  • Kindle Customer
  • 25-09-16

Excellent

Good story and narration. challenges one to be optimistic in thinking. nice detailing of history given. loved it.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Stephen
  • Stephen
  • 13-01-15

Such a welcome perspective!

Thoroughly interesting, well researched and intelligently presented perspective. I shall be considering and further studying the information given in this book for a fair while.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for David
  • David
  • 11-12-13

Breathtakingly Hypocritical

This book was highly recommended by a friend. Despite a persuasive argument, Ridley's book cannot be considered in the absence of context, for Ridley chaired the English bank Northern Rock, a bank which, due to its high-risk lending practices, went to the wall during the GFC with red ink to the tune of twenty-some billion UK pounds, and was subsequently nationalised to prevent a 'run' on the banks and the collapse of the British financial system. Thus, while I'm a conservative who is naturally sceptical of the size and role of government in virtually every economy, I find it extremely ironical that Ridley, at the outset, states that he cannot refer to the collapse of Northern Rock 'for legal reasons' yet it is, in the style of other libertarians such as Ayn Rand, the free market which serves as the bedrock for virtually every subsequent argument. Ridley should have withdrawn the book and rewritten it in the very context of his own aristocratic background (he is now a Viscount!) and on the basis of the events which occurred at the bank of which he was Chair. In addition, I would have thought a UK narrator more preferable to a US narrator given Ridley's own background. With reality incorporated into the narrative rather than rationality, Ridley may have been onto something.

1 person found this helpful