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The Empathic Civilization: The Race To Global Consciousness In A World In Crisis

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  760 ratings  ·  91 reviews
In this sweeping new interpretation of the history of civilization, bestselling author Jeremy Rifkin looks at the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development–and is likely to determine our fate as a species. Today we face unparalleled challenges in an energy–intensive and interconnected world that will demand an unprecedented level of mutu ...more
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published January 19th 2010 by Polity Press (first published January 19th 2009)
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Leonard Gaya
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It took me a couple of months to go through this book (some 600 pages with rather tight reasoning threads all the way through). But in the end, I find this to be a truly remarkable work, worth every minute of my time. In a nutshell, it's a game changer for the whole of the human species. Okay, so let me try to summarize this:

Hard fact #1
The whole of our civilization at this time (with a few exceptions) relies on fossil fuel (oil, coal, gas) for about everything we do, everything we have: consume
Apr 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
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
Aug 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is another inspiring book by Jeremy Rifkin, the second of his that I've read. It draws on similar themes as The Zero Marginal Cost Society, in that the world is experiencing a revolution is energy and communication in a massive way. The Internet is only one example - another inspiring idea is the decentralization of energy into renewables that can be harvested by individuals and communities and fed back into a responsive grid.

The author traces the history of empathy back to the beginning o
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
Simone Collins
Apr 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Bradley Jarvis
Apr 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Zach S.
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mathew Gross
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Randy Elrod
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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://
Carlos Puig
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tremendo libro. Y no lo digo por las 600 páginas que tiene. Rifkin construye el relato de la historia de la humanidad, atendiendo al desarrollo de la empatía, característica esencial de la naturaleza humana, según lo que se desprende de los estudios de la neurociencia y otras disciplinas afines. Con claridad, precisión y una serie de información relevante se va desplegando la historia de las civilizaciones, relacionando aspectos como la economía, el pensamiento, la cultura, la ciencia y la tecno ...more
George Polley
Oct 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 w ...more
Fons Jena
Mar 26, 2015 rated it did not like it
I hesitated to give this book 2 stars because some (small) parts where OK but I have to admit that at the end of the road I simply 'did not like it'. Here is why:

I cannot support the main argument of the book which is that our civilization is getting more and more empathic. I would even say that it is the other way around. We are slaughtering at a much larger scale and our reference frame has evolved from a relatively ecocentric one to the nearly pure anthropocentric one of today. Yes our increa
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 25, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction

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
Phoebe Gilpinwright
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating interpretation of the evolution of consciousness and empathy in humans. Rifkin analyzes humanity in a refreshing and comprehensive analysis of social structures and the underpinnings of human nature. This book took months to read, partially due to its sheer volume, but mostly because the ideas need to be processed meaningfully rather than blown past. As an excerpted chapter, I'd recommend Chapter 6: The Ancient Theological Brain and Patriarchal Economy.

By retelling and reshaping o
Sep 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociedad
Jeremy Rifkin es un investigador que se dedica a analizar el impacto de los cambios científicos y tecnológicos en la sociedad. Para hacerlo en este libro, toma elementos de la historia, de la psicología, la filosofía y otras disciplinas que ayudan a explicar algunas influencias clave para la cultura de la humanidad.

Tiene un estilo extraño, que va de ser muy ameno a tedioso en cuestión de párrafos, pero más allá de eso, presenta conceptos interesantes, que se prestan para el debate, la discusión
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
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
amazing, inspiring. A nicely supported book about how empathy has evolved over time.
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loving it!
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.
Fred Rocha
Dec 08, 2010 marked it as to-read
Eye opener on how society depends strongly on the first two laws of Thermodynamics.
Jul 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Wendy Capron
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love the idea of this book - the entire history of civilization in just 616 pages. Rifkin has an interesting take on the role of empathy in the development of civilization, even his prolonged sidelines are engrossing (soil salinity, the French decimal calendar, Stanislavski, etc.). A good portion of the chapter, The Emerging Era of Distributed Capitalism, is dated - turns out a lot's happened in the last decade. Unfortunate that at this critical time in history, there's a sociopath in the WH w ...more
Ajeje Brazov
"La coscienza empatica si fonda sulla consapevolezza che gli altri, come noi, sono esseri unici e mortali. Se empatizziamo con un altro è perché riconosciamo la sua natura fragile e finita, la sua vulnerabilità e la sua sola e unica vita; proviamo la sua solitudine esistenziale, la sua sofferenza personale e la sua lotta per esistere e svilupparsi come se fossero le nostre. Il nostro abbraccio empatico è il nostro modo di solidarizzare con l'altro e celebrare la sua vita."
Shannon Tessier
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thought provoking ideas. I felt like he did drone on unnecessarily at times and could have made his points more succinctly but overall, recommended.
Alexander Ally
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Rifkin's 'The Empathic Civilization' provides a great sense of optimism and happiness in regards to the future of mankind. This is a beautiful and uplifting work.
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American economic and social theorist, writer, public speaker, political advisor, and activist.
“The most important question facing humanity is this: Can we reach global empathy in time to avoid the collapse of civilization and save the Earth?” 7 likes
“Every religion holds forth the promise of either defeating time, escaping time, overcoming time, reissuing time, or denying time altogether. We use our religions as vehicles to enter the state of nirvana, the heavenly kingdom, or the promised land. We come to believe in reincarnation, rebirth, and resurrection as ways of avoiding the inevitability of biological death.” 2 likes
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