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Ryan's writing is intriguing and entertaining. I feel smarter for picking this book up and was captivated the whole way through. A very fun read that I'll definitely be recommending to family and friends!
I have mixed feelings about this book. I agree with a lot of what the author has to say about the modern era, but I found he cherry-picked a lot of data. This is rather ironic, because he accuses/suggests those who support the whole orthodox position regarding prehistoric humans of doing the same thing.
I was also rather irritated that there were a few places where he leaned heavily on someone else's work, but then basically tells you to go read a book by them. The survey of utopian societies spring immediately to mind. It would have done him well to at least summarize in the notes what the work was about, so the reader can have a better understanding of the point he was trying to make and have some contextual reference. This is not a scholarly paper - it is essentially an intellectual coffee table book. My opinion is that I should at least encapsulate sufficient information in his book so the reader isn't having to go searching for more information in order to understand his point. Perhaps he was relying on the fact that most people *won't*, which doesn't surprise me considering how he manipulates the data.
As a plus, he does have a very engaging writing style and it's a fun and relatively easy read. I would just caution anyone who does read it to cast a critical eye on his arguments and not accept them a face value. While there is merit in many of his arguments, he clearly does have a socio-political agenda which he uses his book to promote.
5.0 out of 5 starsThe most enjoyable & enlightening read I’ve had in a long while
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 23, 2019
I listen to Tangentially Speaking, the author’s podcast, so that very probably makes me bias, but nevertheless I feel compelled to leave a review… This book lends validation to my own feelings & experience, feelings that were very probably suppressed as I was growing up. Society tends to benefit at the expense of the individual, and functions on the assumption that money and time are somewhat interchangeable. Personally, I’ve never considered that a very good deal. Subjugation starts with compulsory ‘education’ and carries on until we’re 65. That’s potentially the whole of our productive life. Our one & only life. Anyway, I agree, wholeheartedly, with the author’s sentiments, sentiments that are presented in a very articulate, and often very amusing, manner. In fact, and I know this probably sounds a bit much, I actually found the book to be consolatory
It was as if I had written this book myself, I couldnt agree more with what the author is trying to convey. We are on a train thats going to be derailed unless we go back to our nature that we have long since lost.
I spent a wonderfull time reading this book, really enjoyed it. It is written in very simple terms that I guess everybody can understand, no real backgrownd on any science needed, but illustrative from the science point of view. It's really funny, with good sense of humor in illustrating how absurd the world we live in, that we've made, is. Totally recomended.
5.0 out of 5 starsIMPORTANT BOOK. All should read. Easy read too.
Reviewed in Spain on January 3, 2020
Such a good writer. His first book greatly deviated my opinion on the world. This one, even more so. I think this is a very important book. Same topic as Sapiens, but more so an opinion piece and shorter and easier. I wish all people could read. Our world would be on a better footing with this information.
5.0 out of 5 starsExplaining the paradox of civilization
Reviewed in the United States on October 6, 2019
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Great book. I recommend reading it whether you are a listener of Christopher Ryan's podcast or not. If you're not, Civilized To Death assumes no prior knowledge and lays out its argument and evidence from the ground up. And, depending on how much of the ideas in the book you've encountered before, you might find it completely upends how you see the world. If you are a regular listener of the podcast, you'll find a lot of familiar ideas, but what's different here is that all the ideas are systematically organized, fully fleshed out, and all the names of researchers and historians and the names of books and research papers, etc, which fly by when you're listening to a podcast and are hard to catch, are spelled out, with pages of notes at the end of the book with all the references so you can check the sources for yourself or learn more about any of the concepts in the book.
So what is the book about? Well, if you've ever wondered about this seeming paradox, that we live in an age of space age wonders -- we can go to the moon and all have supercomputers in our pockets -- and yet, it somehow still feels cold and meaningless, like there's a nutrient missing, that as our technology advances, life should be getting better and better, yet, rather than descending down towards zero, rates of depression and anxiety are actually going up (and lest you think that this is simply a change in measurement and reporting, actual suicides are going up as well), and that our efforts to find solutions, such as our society's political discourse, seems the flounder all over the place and always miss the mark, as if everyone trying to talk about our issues can only draw from a limited, boxed-in set of ideas, this book is for you. The central premise of the book, which explains these mysteries, is that we humans are the only species that has domesticated ourselves. We all live in what is essentially a zoo -- a world built for us by other humans -- instead of living in the natural world like animals. Everything from the food we eat to the houses we live in to the social institutions that shape our lives to the electronic communications systems that form so much of our waking life experience these days all follow designs and rules invented by other humans, much as how zoo animals live in a world that is totally built and controlled by the zookeepers. If it was a perfect zoo, with a built environment that suited our species perfectly, this wouldn't be a problem, but it is a very imperfect zoo, and the mismatch explains the ailments listed above. So as not to spoil any of the surprises in the book (and there will be a few, I can pretty much guarantee, even if you are already familiar with ideas from psychology, anthropology, and archaeology) and to keep this review short and to the point, I'll just say that Christopher Ryan pokes and prods the zoo cages to see what they're all about, and also delves very deeply into the question of, "What kind of animal is the human species?" Human nature probably isn't what you think it is, because the zoo itself, which we call "civilization", feeds us completely wrong information about who we are, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because the wrong story serves the interest of "civilization" better. If you want to know who we really are, and what the evidence is, read this book.
The book is clear and fast-paced, and even though it references a lot of science, it never gets bogged down in details or scientific jargon. All the ideas are presented directly (with occasional humor) and in a way accessible to everyone. You'll probably find you zip through the book in a matter of days, but the ideas will stay with you and you'll think about them for years to come.
5.0 out of 5 starsI feel armed with the knowledge of how to navigate my life properly
Reviewed in the United States on October 8, 2019
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Chris has done a wonderful job of delicately explaining the precarious position we humans have found ourselves in after almost 2 million years of evolution, and particularly since the dawn of the modern era ~10,000 years ago. In a time when we are told that we have it better than ever, there is strong evidence, laid out in a very well organized manner in this book, that this isn't the case. From modern diseases that cropped up after agriculture, to things like stress, anxiety, isolation/loneliness- these things simply didn't exist in the premodern era. Sure, it wasn't like people lived immortal lives completely devoid of worry or care, but they worked way less, loved way more, and were generally more free than the freest "civilized" person alive in the modern era.
Chris pulls no punches in letting us know why we should question the dogma of progress. Far from being the liturgical equivalent of a buzzkill, this book is as entertaining as it is enlightening.By cleverly injecting wit at appropriate times, Chris has a wonderful way of softening the blow of truth that he has laid at our feet. At the very least, you will come away with a deeper appreciation for nature, a more compassionate view of our fellow humans running around in the modern zoo of society, and less of an attachment to the frivolous trappings of a society telling us we are not enough. I cannot recommend this book enough!
The ills of society are easily identified, but society won’t fess up. Fortunately for us, anthropologist Christopher Ryan decided he’d had enough of the whitewashing. His latest book describes why the world we live in is not in alignment with our true nature. Witty and enlightening, this book will open your eyes and make you appreciate your true nature and your better angels. Thank you, Chris.
This book is something I will revisit for years to come. It was difficult to put down. It challenges concepts and notions that shed light on why so many of us in the industrialized world feel unsatisfied even though we have such a materialistically comfortable life.
If you were going to read one book this year, this is it.
The author starts with the premise that we can't have infinite growth in a finite universe. A good start. He then goes through all of society's ills that progress has brought pointing out how we have lost our humanity in the name of perpetual progress. He questions whether all of our "stuff" has really benefited us as humans. For the most part I agree with his opinions about our progress and like him question it's value, but he lost me with his claims about our ancestors. He claims that the hunters and gatherers that predated civilization were happier more content and led a more satisfying life than we do today. A ridiculous theory. I often think of the good old days with a sense of nostalgia, sometimes thinking about what it was like before electricity the internal combustion engine and gunpowder. I even think about biblical times. But of course we have knowledge of the civilized past through history,writing archaeology etc. This author attempts to compare what goes on in the head of a person today with what went on in the heads of our ancestors more than 10,000 years ago. Unlike us he claims they were peaceful, loving, free of greed, lust, envy and all the evils of modern society. And how does he know? He doesn't . He ignores so much of our behavior that is hard wired and doesn't take into consideration the genes we share with the foragers. He has fantasized a paradise for our prehistory brethern.