The Empathic Civilization
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The Empathic Civilization

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  389 ratings  ·  67 reviews
"One of the leading big-picture thinkers of our day" ("Utne Reader") delivers his boldest work in this erudite, tough-minded, and far-reaching manifesto.
Never has the world seemed so completely united-in the form of communication, commerce, and culture-and so savagely torn apart-in the form of war, financial meltdown, global warming, and even the migration of diseases.
ebook, 688 pages
Published December 31st 2009 by Tarcher (first published January 19th 2009)
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Aspen Junge
Part biology, part psychology, part history, and all philosophy, this is a book that deserves to be read slowly and digested, not raced through. Rifkin takes as his thesis an idea that has been pushed by practically every new-age guru for the last 100 years (in fact, I wonder if Aleistar Crowley and Ayn Rand weren't a backlash against that); that humanity is entering a new social paradigm based not on self-interest and material gain, but on empathy and sharing. Just in time, too, as the fuels th...more
Aug 31, 2010 Marshall rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs
Recommended to Marshall by: NPR
This is an enormous book, covering the entire psychological history of our civilization, positing an argument for the direction we are now headed, what he calls "biosphere consciousness." He makes this case by showing that every paradigm shift in the history of our culture was caused by a simultaneoous revolution in communications technology and energy regime, and with it always came an increased sense of individualism, which in turn led to an increased sense of empathy. He argues that we are on...more
Loring Wirbel
The message Rifkin has to tell is one of the most important in our social and cultural history, and the only aspect keeping me from giving the book a solid five stars is the slight caveat attached to any Rifkin books, which is related to the way he tells a story. Rifkin is a pop-scientist and culturalist, hence his work won't go as deep as, say, Steven Pinker's 'The Better Angels of Our Nature' or Peter Turchin's 'War and Peace and War.' The advantage to taking the 30,000-foot approach as Rifkin...more
This book would be twice as good if it were half the size. The history of humanity is entirely rewritten to retrofit one intriguing possibility, a bunch of studies and polls were tortured into "proving" opinions, and the dead horses just kept being beaten over and over. The funny thing is I wholeheartedly agree with all the major conclusions. We desperately need to reevaluate our rampant, unsustainable, hedonistic consumerism (which doesn't make us happier!) and the best way to do that is to ach...more
Mathew Gross
A delusional fantasy that humanity is evolving toward a higher consciousness, when any evolutionary biologist will tell you that evolution is "dumb" --i.e., it lacks a specific direction. But if you want a classic example of misguided neo-New Age thought, this is at least a well-written one.
Simone Collins
Most books provide an escape from daily life or offer information about a specific subject. Jeremy Rifkin's Empathic Civilization does both, and also has the power to fundamentally change one's entire worldview.

As for escape- The Empathic Civilization removes readers from the specific minutiae of everyday life, encouraging them instead to focus on big, broad issues and consider themselves as part of a larger, extremely powerful whole. As for information- the book introduces readers to a litany...more
Despite being sometimes overwritten, Rifkin's latest contribution to what I like to call "cosmopolitan theory" (starting now) has changed how I see things. I'm not necessarily converted to all his theories or his barely-suppressed optimism, but two experiences, one directly related to reading The Empathic Civilization and one indirectly related show how this paradigm-shifter shifted mine just a wee bit.

1.) Rifkin makes a strong case for an idea I had never considered before, but which rang true...more
Bradley Jarvis
This is one of my favorite kinds of books, one that recasts much of what we know in an entirely new context.

Using the most current understanding of psychology, Rifkin interprets the history of humanity as the development of increasingly sophisticated empathic connection between people, each other, and other species, enabled by civilization's freeing of more and more people from preoccupation with basic survival. He explains how this has come at a terrible cost - the destruction of the Earth's b...more

Rifkin's argument is that as cultures become more complex, consume greater and greater quantities of energy and spend more time exploring their world, they will bump into other cultures and novel ways of ordering life. Through this exposure, the complex civilization will increase their appreciation of, and respect for, diversity.

Huh? My reading of the last 1000 years of Western civ would lead me to a starkly different conclusion.

The flip side of Rifkin's argument -- that native cultures mus...more
Max Nova
I didn't like Empathic Civilization as much as Rifkin's The End of Work. The Empathic Civilizations' basic thesis is that as man becomes progressively more connected to both others and himself (psychologically), he exerts an ever greater pressure on the environment. In this sense, Rifkin shows himself to be an environmental determinist along the lines of Jared Diamond and co. For those of the Buckminster Fuller school of thought (the trend since the 70's of "doing more with less") such as myself...more
Zach S.
OK, this book completely changed my outlook on life. Cliche, I know! Everyone must have that book that does that to them, this is mine. The most important lesson of this book is also cliche, but universally and eternally profound: "We are all in this together". This book is an admittedly lengthy treatise and the importance of that concept, and how we need to band together to face the major problems (think energy and climate) that now confront us.
Randy Elrod
A great book that kept me riveted throughout. Rifkin makes a great case of empathic heritage versus religious doctrine of total depravity. It is a sweeping overview of what it means to be truly human. Http://
Joe Brummer
First, you need to know this book will take you months to read and it weighs a ton. It is also chock full of cool learning about empathy in the world.
I wanted to like this book more, but the author kept making assertions that were either false or not at all supported. It was too rambling, too.
This is the book that pulls it all together! Jeremy Rifkin captures the currents of history and puts our current dilemmas as a global society into perspective. RIfkin's formulation of the core dialectic of the progression of human consciousness through cultural / technological advances balanced by the increasing entropy which results from the increasing technological demands of our increasingly complex civilization is nothing less than genius. Amazingly, Rifkin, a consultant to the United Nation...more
George Polley
At 674 pages, 57 of which are notes and index, Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization is not a book you'll sit down and read in an afternoon or evening. But if you're a person who is concerned about global or local issues, it is a book you will want to read. It is packed with invaluable information and insight about steering a (relatively) safe course through the sometimes rough seas of our rapidly changing, interconnected world. Though it took me a while to read, I find every minute spent wi...more
Kate Lawrence
Rifkin makes a detailed and lengthy--over 600 pages--case that worldwide we are becoming increasingly empathic (able to care about the well-being of others, even others whose culture and language are very different). Recent surveys have shown that we are becoming more accepting of interracial marriage and mixed race children, homosexuality, the disabled, etc. compared to a few decades ago. We're also coming to see that excess wealth beyond what we need to be comfortable does not increase our hap...more
This book lays down the case that we are heading into the age of empathy and biosphere consciousness — characterized by compassion, grace, and a nonjudgmental attitude toward others — which will be critical to sustaining our modern age, but does not speculate as to what this would look like (seek to predict the future). It ends by posing the question: "Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?" Here's the cartoon summary.

The book is an excellent...more
Tony Heyl
Rifkin proposes the hypothesis that empathy is a first order driver of human actions on par with what we consider more primal instincts and he makes a very good case. He goes into detail explaining how communications have evolved in a symbiotic relationship with energy revolutions, for example writing was necessitated by the need to create complex instructions for hydraulic civilizations, printing presses helped with the industrial revolution, etc. As civilizations grow, they use more energy whi...more
I'm taking my time reading this book because this is the most comprehensive, detailed, sophisticated, wide-ranging, all-encompassing books I've far it has given me more than several plates full of food for thought. It leaves no stone unturned and goes at religion, government, and our energy crisis with gusto. All the while adding to my vocabulary words I rarely hear or use in daily life and giving me a greater from self-interest and loneliness to a view that is more...more
So often we confront a world built on the seemingly foregone conclusion that humans are violent, aggressive, etc and thankfully Mr Rifkin has presented a cognizant, current and thoroughly researched refutation of this argument. He builds his argument starting with the simple yet unappreciated truth that at birth we are all connected or desire and are nourished by human connection, ie. empathy.

If you are feeling cynical or perhaps the opposite, you are tired of defending your optimistic point of...more
Alain Monney
(1) Empathy dates back to 1909. Before that, people never looked at themselves and others in terms of emotions and feelings which certainly explains a few things about the evolution of human kind.

(2) When we read history texts, we're often lead to believe that history is filled with war, death, disease, misery, hatred, poverty, etc. We rarely find history books that convey happy stories about history. The reason for this is for the exact same reason that in the present, the focus of the news is...more
Vismund Cygnus
Jeremy Rifkin ideas are inspiring for anyone in technology.

The thesis that the dynamic between communication and energy techonlogies basically shaped human consciousness gives soul and purpose for engineers and scientists, repleacing the goal from progress based on material acumulation and consumption, to empathic bonding and human fulfilment.

That being said, it's a repetitive book, the same ideas are stated again and again. The main substance of the book is the background to support the thesis...more
Rifkin is a brilliant guy, who portrays his ideas in a very clean and enjoyable writing style. The majority of this book is a retelling of human history with the focus being on how our consciousness has grown and been shaped by certain events. He ends with some great ideas on how we are and how we can continue to improve society while ensuring the safety of the planet we reside on. I enjoyed every page of this book, and I caught myself wondering a few times how much better the world might be if...more
An argument for inclusive collaborative systems over authoritarian competitive ones. Rifkin charts the evolution of human consciousness, showing that as communications technology evolves, so too does human empathic awareness. He argues that compassion, reciprocity and cooperation are natural instincts that allowed human civilization to arise and will be required to successfully deal with the entropic costs of that civilization. Well reasoned and researched.
Sandy Tracy
Sep 04, 2011 Sandy Tracy marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
this book actually has 616 pages, not 224, like programmed in to the site. More later as I progress through. I am enjoying it thoroughly.

I am temporarily abandoning this book because he takes more time than necessary to make his points and I can't seem yto stick with it. Maybe sometime in the future. he has given me wonderful food for thought about how we need to treat each other better, but I still have a difficult time explaining his viewsx to others.
Professor Rifkin does an excellent job in sketching out the history of humanity's ever-expanding empathic consciousness and the, seemingly, inevitable conclusions to which one is led regarding future human development. I can affirm that this book has challenged my prior notions of the "proper" construction of the human person and encouraged me to view my social interactions, personally and professionally, in a new light.
Yes, I'm giving this five stars and I haven't even finished it yet.

TEC is a wondrously interesting worldview that tries to re-examine history and culture and our place in the world and with each other.
This video sums it up quite nicely as an introduction, but I am enjoying the ride and research this book offers.... I'm such a nerd.
This is one of the most inspiring books that I have ever read. The author places empathy and compassion at the very center of both individual and societal advancement. He refutes the old concept
of social Darwinism and, indeed, illustrates that civilization is more complex - and benevolent - that that theory allows. I wanted to take whole paragraphs Rifkin wrote and send them to friends and put them up on my office walls!
Heard the author interviewed - this is not the type of book I would normally pick up. It explores how interconnected empathy, energy and the climate are--and how dependent we are on them for global survival in the 21st century.

What is empathy's role in shaping our civilization? Rifkin is an advisor to several European heads of state and the best-selling author of The Hydrogen Economy and The European Dream.

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