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Civilized to Death: What Was Lost on the Way to Modernity

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  2,051 ratings  ·  235 reviews
Progress, the basic illusion of our age, is exhausted. Kids typically no longer expect their lives to be better than their parents’ were. Dystopian scenarios loom ever larger in public consciousness as fisheries collapse, CO2 levels rise, and clouds of radioactive steam billow from “fail-safe” nuclear plants that failed. Despite the technological marvels of our age—or perh ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published 2018 by Simon and Schuster
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 ·  2,051 ratings  ·  235 reviews

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Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There are a couple of things that separate me from your average loony, left-wing atheist. One is my distaste for both Pinker and Dawkins who are more generally held to be the heroes and even linchpins of modern-day rationalism. The reason why they both bother me so much is that I can’t help feeling that their genetic determinism smells a little too much like eugenics. This book criticises them on much the same terms I do. That said, if I was to offer one piece of advice about how to read books, ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m conflicted about this one. It was a fun read and the “Narrative of Perpetual Progress” definitely deserves the type of debunking the author is attempting. The lives of our hunter/gatherer forbears were not as nasty, brutish, or short as the proponents of the myth of progress would have us all believe. However, their lifestyles were not as idyllic, peaceful, and sustainable as the author would have us believe either. He rightly takes scientists like Steven Pinker to task for cherrypicking dat ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
An intellectually dubious argument for taking life like a buffet: Ryan would take some of the 21st century, and some from the 20th century plate and mostly from a fairy tale that exists only in his mind.
David Meyer
Most of my reviews are short and sweet, but this book made me want to take notes as I went. The author is clearly passionate about the subject which I respect, but the arguments made throughout the book felt so poorly made that they rubbed me completely the wrong way. The funny thing is, there is plenty that the author said that I agree with, but often even these things were annoying. Some of these complaints will flow poorly as they were taken from various chapters and moments in the book, whil ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“An era can be considered over when its basic illusions have been exhausted.”

— Arthur Miller

Modern civilization is seen as necessary for “progress.” With every breakthrough in technology, science, medicine, and so on, with every new comfort and convenience, advancement and novelty, what is the cost?

People often assume that progress is steadily increasing, and at a linear pace, believing that the livelihoods of the hunter-gatherers were primitive, dangerous, and simple, despite their survival for
David Zaidain
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book is basically a rant. It would have been better as a short New Yorker article. Maybe.

I fundamentally believe in the central premise- our advancing progress and industrialization has not produced healthier or happier people. But this book rants about the symptoms without really getting into a “why are we like this”....these systems were created by humans as a reaction to something. That something is not explored and seems to be because we are just selfish dicks, i guess. Industrializatio
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Author Christopher Ryan has provided a clear and compelling argument against what he calls the Narrative of Perpetual Progress, or NPP.

In 2016, I dropped away from traditional life, leaving Seattle, WA to wander Mexico and Central America. It was due to many of the ailments listed in this book that I found life in Seattle so intolerable; but I wasn't ready to face the idea that Modern Life wasn't great. It took awhile for that realization to set in.

I was raised in a fundamentalist religion. I re
Adam Bell
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’m a long time listener of Dr Ryan’s podcast Tangentially Speaking so the arguments presented to me in this short and sweet treatise on why progression isn’t inherently positive, aren’t new. I’d however recommend this book to anyone that has contemplated the necessity to participate in the “rat race”, why we aren’t necessarily better off now than our ancestors and how to re-imagine a better life for yourself. I listened to this on Audible and it was read by the author which I’d highly recommend ...more
Andrea McDowell
There were some parts of this book that were ok.

Unfortunately, this was constantly undercut by the many parts of this book that are ableist, sexist garbage, verging on eco-fascism.

To wit:

High infant and child mortality in prehistoric cultures isn't as bad as it sounds because they were just killing disabled children, and those kids don't count: (p. 118) "While a significantly greater percentage of infants died in prehistory than today, even that point isn't as unambiguous as it seems. First, man
Ailith Twinning
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
I rather enjoyed this read, and find the ideas rather compelling.
Except one. The "sharing" economy is bad, a scam, throwing all the risk of the employer onto individuals while some tech startup rakes almost everything, and doesn't even make a profit doing it because it's dumping so much into expansion and stock buybacks to drive finance capital to just keep the damn ponzi scheme rolling. Uber, Air BNB, "Uber for dogwalkers", Task Rabbit and all the rest are vile - and Ryan bought the advertising
Robert Kenny
Jan 23, 2020 rated it did not like it
Are you interested in hearing arguments based on how an author “feels” about the world, with nothing but personal biases and anecdotes supporting them? If so, this might be the book for you. But, if you’re like me, and prefer books that support a thesis with statistics and research, you probably won’t enjoy it. The closest thing to factual support Christopher Ryan offers for any of his arguments is one or two counter-examples for a generalized belief. For instance, when arguing against the opini ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
I read about 10% of the book. I agree with Ryan that if we started as a “wolf pack” then we are mostly poodles and pigs, and we need to look at and provide for our psychological needs in light of our origins as foragers. But I won’t get my desire for confirmation fulfilled by this book. He seems to not understand natural selection, and he lacks precision and science when considering human evolution and the human condition. There are many better popular science books out there. Start with De Waal ...more
Igor Pershin
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've always felt that our way of life doesn't feel natural and that it is simply because it isn't, but it has always been hard to put my finger on exactly what was at fault. This scathing critique of everything our society holds to be important yet what we know fails to meet our fundamental needs is both fascinating and entertaining.

Chris takes us on a journey through how we got to this point of mutually assured destruction we call development, prosperity and 'progress'. The more 'developed' we
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just finished my advance readers copy. Waited a long time for this one to finally be released. The wait was worth it. I also recommend The New Human Rights Movement by Peter Joseph and The Spell of The Sensuous by David Abram if you enjoyed this book. I love books that turn my conventional ways of thinking upside down in ways that make sense
Joseph L.
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at:
Katy Koivastik
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is one of those books easily read annually to remind one of what is important in life.

I jotted down at least 10 of Christopher Ryan’s most salient points. Here are three:

“Our desperate peregrinations are in search of a place much like the home we left when we left The Garden and started to farm”.

“We live in a world created by and for institutions that thrive on commerce, not human beings that thrive on community, laughter and leisure”.

“We are trapped in an economy that is killing us. Human
Kai Inkinen
Authors don’t make good readers (of audio books). There’s probably exceptions, but this isn’t one of them. The author takes the habit of ”acting out” the opposing views, often in a voice that exaggerates and ridicules the other party. Feels petty and childish.
As much as I’d like to give it 4 stars, I cannot due to the deficiencies. The book is full of interesting facts about ”primitive” life, and really takes a fresh view in looking at the individual and psychology, rather than at the bigger nar
Elizabeth The Wicked
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've been waiting for this since 2014 when I first read Sex at Dawn. Chris has been talking about this book on the podcast since then. If you're a fan of the podcast, much of the material here will be familiar. many of the same references, stories and points are repeated.
Chris isn't saying anything new here, so much as saying it in an entertaining way that is still well researched. If you have read the works of Marshall Sahlins, Jared Diamond and Frans De Waal there is nothing new to learn here,
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I like the authenticity of the author.I listen to his podcast (Tangentially speaking) more often than not and share the same concerns and similar critiques. The point of divergence is the nihilistic undertone and that of impending doom in the form of large scale climate crisis that the author tends to take for granted. The future may pan out this way and we might be completely helpless but firmly believing it to be the case wont help us in whatever efforts we may be capable of mustering collecti ...more
Devil bill would despise this book with rough stand
each day turns to the magic mirror in the hand,
asks:" who is the fairest of the land?"
replies back:" we are with the vigor of progress,
but some verities must be banned"
So he and the masters of the woods and sand
Mobilize huntsmen, err-visioned, dreadful band
Pinker, ridley and et al, hunting the minds to the depth
Echoing their preach in ears of us bland:
"the best of all possible worlds", you live grand"

I'm not in
Nov 15, 2019 added it
The key takeaway for me: Civilization is not our natural environment. We act and live poorly within its confines.

"What fueled the Spaniards cruelties wasn't human nature. IT WAS CIVILIZATION." p 57

"Modern diseases...are largely, not total, due to misalignment between the world we've created and the one our bodies were EXPECTING TO INHABIT." p 110

Can we go back to the garden? No, but we can adopt as many foraging traits as we can, such as barefoot running shoes, spending time in nature, and expl
Enrique Incle
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sobering and realistic

This was a great way to help us reconnect with our ancient roots, our true nature. The author used many vivid examples and sources that brought lucidity and clarity to describe the current identity crisis we are all experiencing as a species. The author and his dead helped me shaped and be able to turn a lot of this concerns and my angst into a more tangible concept. Now I have better understanding of what I been missing.
David Moynihan
Nov 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Ugh! I gave up after two chapters of the audiobook. The author narrates the book and his sanctimonious drone killed whatever pleasure might be found in the book.

Save hours of your life for better purposes. Here is the gist of it:

People living ‘civilized lives’ are less happy than hunter-gatherers, generally speaking.
Change is inevitable; progress is not.
mat lee
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eye opening

Love tangentially speaking, sex at dawn and now civilized to death. Great read, very eye opening to a lot of the issues humans face today.
Randall Wallace
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
For well over 95% of our history, we humans existed in “small bands of 150 or fewer people” in a system of egalitarianism, mobility, and gratitude. Sebastian Junger explained why hoarding and selfishness were not tolerated: “Subsistence-level hunters aren’t necessarily more moral than other people; they just can’t get away with selfish behavior because they live in small groups where almost everything is open to scrutiny.” Jared Diamond called the transition to agriculture (civilization) the “wo ...more
Kent Winward
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Is the world going to hell, literally a hot hell of carbon dioxide? What makes life worth living? Are we all going to lose our jobs to robots? Are humans basically good or corrupt horrible human beings? Are we going to destroy ourselves in our arrogance or will our brilliance save us? And given the lifespan we are all inflicted with upon birth, what does it matter anyway, we will be gone before there is an answer.

Which is why I sometimes question my reading choices, a mad dash for answers always
To a whole degree, the book challenged a lot of my thoughts and beliefs. I was wondering on which basis he was basing his argument, which goes as follows: The greater woes of man,—cancer, depression, diabetes, STD's, anxiety, wars, greed, loneliness, chronic disease, (even tooth decay)—are products of civilization, of agriculture and modern societies. He compares the status quo with the pre-historic simplistic groups of people living off the land in hunter-gatherer societies.

I said, well-and-goo
Benediktas Raulusonis
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book explains in detail what it states in its title - that civilization and modern lifestyle is slowly killing us. Sort of "A death by a thousand cuts".

Which is kind of true. Modern life is a novelty and neither our body nor mind is designed to live in it. Screens, sitting all day, social media - it is very, very new things.Book provides number of examples, let me list a few:
- Caesarean section, unless it's necessary, should be avoided - but it is increasingly avoided for the convenience
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
First, a correction: Toads were not licked for DMT by indigenous peoples of the americas. I'm pretty sure the origin of this was in the last 50 years, as described in Michael Pollan's book How to Change your Mind.

Second, one of the best things about this book is that it is full of wry humor. Phrases such as "As with sex, drugs and decorative pillows, there can be too much of a good thing". (copied from memory)

Now, my big thoughts about this book. I read it eagerly in a few sittings. This is a bo
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this.
It was scary, thought provoking, interesting, and very informative albeit fairly grim at times.
It definitely kept me interested and it absolutely got my gears turning.
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