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About Matt Ridley
Matt Ridley's books have been shortlisted for six literary awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (for Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters). His most recent book, The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture, won the award for the best science book published in 2003 from the National Academies of Science. He has been a scientist, a journalist, and a national newspaper columnist, and is the chairman of the International Centre for Life, in Newcastle, England. Matt Ridley is also a visiting professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.
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Building on his national bestseller The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley chronicles the history of innovation, and how we need to change our thinking on the subject.
Innovation is the main event of the modern age, the reason we experience both dramatic improvements in our living standards and unsettling changes in our society. Forget short-term symptoms like Donald Trump and Brexit, it is innovation that will shape the twenty-first century. Yet innovation remains a mysterious process, poorly understood by policy makers and businessmen alike.
Matt Ridley argues that we need to see innovation as an incremental, bottom-up, fortuitous process that happens as a direct result of the human habit of exchange, rather than an orderly, top-down process developing according to a plan. Innovation is crucially different from invention, because it is the turning of inventions into things of practical and affordable use to people. It speeds up in some sectors and slows down in others. It is always a collective, collaborative phenomenon, involving trial and error, not a matter of lonely genius. It happens mainly in just a few parts of the world at any one time. It still cannot be modeled properly by economists, but it can easily be discouraged by politicians. Far from there being too much innovation, we may be on the brink of an innovation famine.
Ridley derives these and other lessons from the lively stories of scores of innovations, how they started and why they succeeded or failed. Some of the innovation stories he tells are about steam engines, jet engines, search engines, airships, coffee, potatoes, vaping, vaccines, cuisine, antibiotics, mosquito nets, turbines, propellers, fertilizer, zero, computers, dogs, farming, fire, genetic engineering, gene editing, container shipping, railways, cars, safety rules, wheeled suitcases, mobile phones, corrugated iron, powered flight, chlorinated water, toilets, vacuum cleaners, shale gas, the telegraph, radio, social media, block chain, the sharing economy, artificial intelligence, fake bomb detectors, phantom games consoles, fraudulent blood tests, hyperloop tubes, herbicides, copyright, and even life itself.
“A delightful and fascinating book filled with insight and wit, which will make you think twice and cheer up.” — Steven Pinker
In a bold and provocative interpretation of economic history, Matt Ridley, the New York Times-bestselling author of Genome and The Red Queen, makes the case for an economics of hope, arguing that the benefits of commerce, technology, innovation, and change—what Ridley calls cultural evolution—will inevitably increase human prosperity. Fans of the works of Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel), Niall Ferguson (The Ascent of Money), and Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat) will find much to ponder and enjoy in The Rational Optimist.
For two hundred years the pessimists have dominated public discourse, insisting that things will soon be getting much worse. But in fact, life is getting better—and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down all across the globe. Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people's lives as never before.
An astute, refreshing, and revelatory work that covers the entire sweep of human history—from the Stone Age to the Internet—The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.
“Mr. Ridley’s best and most important work to date…there is something profoundly democratic and egalitarian—even anti-elitist—in this bottom-up approach: Everyone can have a role in bringing about change.” —Wall Street Journal
The New York Times bestselling author of The Rational Optimist and Genome returns with a fascinating argument for evolution that definitively dispels a dangerous, widespread myth: that we can command and control our world
Human society evolves. Change in technology, language, morality, and society is incremental, inexorable, gradual, and spontaneous. It follows a narrative, going from one stage to the next, and it largely happens by trial and error—a version of natural selection. Much of the human world is the result of human action but not of human design: it emerges from the interactions of millions, not from the plans of a few.
Drawing on fascinating evidence from science, economics, history, politics, and philosophy, Matt Ridley demolishes conventional assumptions that the great events and trends of our day are dictated by those on high. On the contrary, our most important achievements develop from the bottom up. The Industrial Revolution, cell phones, the rise of Asia, and the Internet were never planned; they happened. Languages emerged and evolved by a form of natural selection, as did common law. Torture, racism, slavery, and pedophilia—all once widely regarded as acceptable—are now seen as immoral despite the decline of religion in recent decades.
In this wide-ranging, erudite book, Ridley brilliantly makes the case for evolution, rather than design, as the force that has shaped much of our culture, our technology, our minds, and that even now is shaping our future.
“A terrific book, witty and lucid, and brimming with provocative conjectures.” (Wall Street Journal) from the author of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Genome
Brilliantly written, The Red Queen compels us to rethink everything from the persistence of sexism to the endurance of romantic love.
Referring to Lewis Carroll's Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass, a character who has to keep running to stay in the same place, Matt Ridley demonstrates why sex is humanity's best strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators. The Red Queen answers dozens of other riddles of human nature and culture—including why men propose marriage, the method behind our maddening notions of beauty, and the disquieting fact that a woman is more likely to conceive a child by an adulterous lover than by her husband. The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved.
“Ridley leaps from chromosome to chromosome in a handy summation of our ever increasing understanding of the roles that genes play in disease, behavior, sexual differences, and even intelligence. . . . . He addresses not only the ethical quandaries faced by contemporary scientists but the reductionist danger in equating inheritability with inevitability.” — The New Yorker
The genome's been mapped. But what does it mean? Matt Ridley’s Genome is the book that explains it all: what it is, how it works, and what it portends for the future
Arguably the most significant scientific discovery of the new century, the mapping of the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes that make up the human genome raises almost as many questions as it answers. Questions that will profoundly impact the way we think about disease, about longevity, and about free will. Questions that will affect the rest of your life.
Genome offers extraordinary insight into the ramifications of this incredible breakthrough. By picking one newly discovered gene from each pair of chromosomes and telling its story, Matt Ridley recounts the history of our species and its ancestors from the dawn of life to the brink of future medicine. From Huntington's disease to cancer, from the applications of gene therapy to the horrors of eugenics, Ridley probes the scientific, philosophical, and moral issues arising as a result of the mapping of the genome. It will help you understand what this scientific milestone means for you, for your children, and for humankind.
Francis Crick—the quiet genius who led a revolution in biology by discovering, quite literally, the secret of life—will be bracketed with Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein as one of the greatest scientists of all time. In his fascinating biography of the scientific pioneer who uncovered the genetic code—the digital cipher at the heart of heredity that distinguishes living from non-living things—acclaimed bestselling science writer Matt Ridley traces Crick's life from middle-class mediocrity in the English Midlands through a lackluster education and six years designing magnetic mines for the Royal Navy to his leap into biology at the age of thirty-one and its astonishing consequences. In the process, Ridley sheds a brilliant light on the man who forever changed our world and how we understand it.
“Bracingly intelligent, lucid, balanced—witty, too. . . . A scrupulous and charming look at our modern understanding of genes and experience.” — Oliver Sacks
Armed with extraordinary new discoveries about our genes, acclaimed science writer Matt Ridley turns his attention to the nature-versus-nurture debate in a thoughtful book about the roots of human behavior.
Ridley recounts the hundred years' war between the partisans of nature and nurture to explain how this paradoxical creature, the human being, can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. With the decoding of the human genome, we now know that genes not only predetermine the broad structure of the brain, they also absorb formative experiences, react to social cues, and even run memory. They are consequences as well as causes of the will.
There are certain things best not discussed with neighbours over the fence, at barbeques and at gatherings of the extended family; these topics used to include sex and politics, but more recently climate change has become a sensitive issue and has, consequently, crept onto the best-to-avoid list. At the same time as climate change has assumed this status, it has become a topic more likely to be included in a church sermon. Indeed, while once considered the concern of scientific institutions, climate change is now increasingly incorporated into faith-based initiatives with even Pope Francis weighing in, issuing an encyclical on the subject as explained in chapter 16 by Paul Driessen.
There are those who believe Pope Francis, and admire another climate change exponent, Al Gore – who marketed An Inconvenient Truth with comment, ‘the fact of global warming is not in question’ and that ‘its consequences for the world we live in will be disastrous if left unchecked’. And then there are the die-hard sceptics who dare to doubt. Many claim that these climate sceptics and their support base have an undue political influence, successfully thwarting attempts to implement necessary public policy change.
This book is a collection of chapters by so-called climate sceptics. Each writer was asked to write on an aspect of the topic in which they are considered to have some expertise. None of them deny that climate change is real, but instead, they point out how extremely complex the topic of Earth’s climate is, with some of the contributors also querying the, often generally accepted, solutions.
As you will see, this is not a book with just one message, except perhaps that there is a need for more scrutiny of the data, and of our own prejudices. This book’s reason for being is to give pause for thought, and to throw some alternative ideas and considerations into the mix.