Paul F Diehl
University of Texas at Dallas
Humans by nature are fundamentally good. That is the initial postulate of this work, designed to challenge prevailing views that people are born evil or at least are predisposed to violence and bad behavior. The book is written in a style similar to the template of New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedmann (e.g., The World is Flat): begin with a simple but important proposition and illustrate it with story-telling and extended anecdotes that support the basic point. Here, Bregman offers an entertaining treatment, accessible to a broad audience, but does it make for a compelling case? The first chapters are devoted to dismissing many old studies and ideas in psychology and anthropology about human depravity (e.g., Stanley Milgram experiments, Stanford Prison Experiment, Easter Island myths) that subsequent studies have long ago debunked, but perhaps remain embedded in the public mind. These are better for rejecting the supposed evil nature of humans (or at least the conventional wisdom about it) than demonstrating their inherent goodness. Later chapters include a sweeping array of academic research references (e.g., on the effectiveness of non-violence) with some well-worn stories of positive human acts (e.g., Christmas truce in World War I). The epilogue is devoted to 'Ten Rules to Live By', designed to promote a more optimistic existence, and contains twists on long-standing principles, such as 'Love your own as others love their own'. The assumption of goodness in humans is a different departure point for understanding peace. If scholars are looking for convincing empirical evidence, it won't be found here, but the book does succeed in getting us to consider examining peace in another way.