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Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,560 ratings  ·  127 reviews
In Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn thinks the unthinkable. We all know there's no one right way to build a bicycle, no one right way to design an automobile, no one right way to make a pair of shoes, but we're convinced that there must be only one right way to live -- and the one we have is it, no matter what.

Beyond Civilization makes practical sense of the vision of Da
Paperback, 208 pages
Published November 7th 2000 by Broadway Books (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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Mar 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I know I gave the book five stars, but that's a very conflicted five stars. Let me explain.

First of all, Quinn's premise (which he sets out in his other books such as Ishmael, Story of B, and My Ishmael {all fiction}) is that our culture's destruction of the Earth is based on our adherence to our belief system (called cultural 'memes') and lifestyle. We may try to limit the harm we cause through gov't programs, until our culture changes, we're going downhill fast. Now, to really understand his p
Kaelan Ratcliffe ▪ كايِلان راتكِليف
Three Stars For The Topic Covered

It's a harsh title, but I display it for a reason. This is the second book I've read this year (and in general) regarding a potential post-civilisation based society, the first being Endgame by Derrick Jensen. While the just mentioned title had some issues - very lengthy in subject being one of them - I was ultimately impressed with the authors proposals and reasoning.

This collection of thought is far shorter (192 pages) than Endgame, and is my first reading
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who like debating the value of heirarchy
Shelves: read-non_fiction
To be fair, I was biased before beginning this book. I had previously tried to read Quinn's "Story of B," which my friends made me put down because I wouldn't stop complaining about it.

Primarily because in that book, Quinn creates a sage character that is constantly blowing the mind of the other character in the book - to the point where they feel like their whole world view is being destroyed. The voice of this sage character is very obviously Quinn's and the whole premise is profoundly mastur
Ken Deshaies
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Daniel Quinn has got to be one of the most innovative and insightful thinkers in the world today. His trio of novels that led up to this non-fiction treatise - "Ishmael", "The Story of B", and "My Ishmael" - were mind blowing in their own right, using metaphor, historical example and downright good research to explain how mankind, instead of creating the best civilization ever, has programmed himself to self destruct in the not-too-distant future. We are the only living beings on earth that are, ...more
Jun 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
While the title implies further instruction we never really get it. Still I have to rate this book quite highly as it shows what a crap culture the world has; and yes the world has one culture and it is all crap. Civilization, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously said, is merely something that aims to cure the diseases it creates. Totalitarian agriculture can do nothing but destroy the eco-systems we rely on. Food under lock and key, overpopulation, mass incarceration, obscene wealth inequality, dr ...more
Feb 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I've read some of Daniel Quinn's other books, Ismael and started Life Of B. I liked the ideas, but was kind of turned off by the talking gorilla. This book's a more concise manifesto. There's some brilliant observations and analogies, which make it worth reading, but as I find with all these dystopian books, the solutions seem totally overshadowed by the problems. I actually wish they'd just leave that stuff out. It's always like the last two chapters, and I guess they throw it in to wash their ...more
Aug 28, 2021 rated it it was ok
normally an 'anarchist' type perspective would appeal to me. I appreciated each component (essay) fit on a page. I didn't buy into people became farmers because they wanted to live in one place, particularily when they could get their 2000 calories with two hours effort as hunter-gathers vs 5 hours as cultivatators (as pointed out by the author).

Page 90 gave a sense of what the book was about "I don't regard civilization as a curse but a blessing that people should be free to walk away from - fo
Jan 25, 2009 rated it liked it
3.5, really, but I rounded down for several reasons.

Those familiar with Quinn's thinking will find little in here that is unique or new, however it is probably the most concise manifesto representing his beliefs to date. It is mostly a rephrased and fictionless abridgment of his previous works. This works in some ways, but it underdeveloped at many points, begging the reader to look elsewhere for depth in philosophy. That said, the facts themselves, as he presents them, are equally profound and
Jill Furedy
Jan 31, 2013 rated it liked it
I read Ishmael probably fifteen years ago. I remember being fascinated by the impact of agriculture on civilization, and enjoyng the story, even if it does fall into the category of stories that beat you over the head with their message. I'm pretty sure I read at least the sequel to that, if not both of the follow ups. But as you can see, they added nothing to my impression of Ishmael and faded away themselves. It's entirely possible I read this one years ago as well and have forgotten it. Becau ...more
Randall Wallace
Aug 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Tribalism worked for millions of years and was replaced by civilization which introduced the idea of hierarchy and putting food under lock and key. Today, thinking of a time before hierarchy or putting things under lock and key is unthinkable; to think beyond civilization is unthinkable. At their height, the Maya took up less land than Arizona. The Mayans had ample time to conquer others if they had wanted to; they could have brought “civilization” to others at spear point but they didn’t. They ...more
Kellie Williams
Dec 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This book didn’t quite land with me. I understand the concept Quinn is trying to introduce but I’m not sure how it can be done or why it’s a good idea. I’m sure he would then say I’m an “Old Thinker,” which is how he disregards anyone who challenges his ideas. For someone who is promoting free thought, I feel like he’s also stifling those who disagree.
Francesca Hampton
Jul 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Still some good ideas, and a neat way of putting them, that help with a perspective on ourselves and our hell bent society. But Mr. Quinn's answer to the powerful questions he raises are still less than satisfying. How do we get back to the sanity and satisfactoriness of a non-destructive tribal way of life from within this modern context? His answer still seems sketchy and undeveloped - since all his proposed examples of neo-modern tribal living seem to live, not separate from "mother culture" ...more
Jul 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
I read this at the suggestion of someone I regard very highly. So, when I started reading the book and thinking to myself "the author is crazy", I felt the book must have been beyond my comprehension.

Each page has its own title, and it is in the form of an ongoing monologue. This put me off, as did some passages that the author offers as why his point of view(found in the book) were shaped in that way.

Throughout the book the authors "craziness" waxed and waned. I read the entire thing, and ulti
Christopher Packard
Jan 06, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: spirituality
I was very excited to see what solutions Quinn would present for our "taker society" after expertly pointing out it's flaws in his first three books, sadly he presents essentially none. Very lame. The first three books in the series are amazing though. ...more
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
My slowest read of Quinn's books, and not as full of aha moments or mind shifting ideas, but it was just as valuable as I basically nodded throughout the entire book. A clear and concise collection of Quinn's ideas that are formatted in a way that you can pick it up here and there and just think about it for a few days. Another winner for sure. ...more
Alex G
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Ah, Quinn... the green Ayn Rand: fond of wrapping up a shallowly conceived philosophy in stories borne out through just as shallowly developed characters. I finally read this after going through Story of B a while back, because I really wanted to believe he had a coherent philosophy behind his writing. A lot of my friends gush over ideas he expresses in his books. I have not been similarly impressed.

Throughout Beyond Civilization, Quinn builds up a strawman of what he considers to be civilizatio
Crossett  Library
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Reviewed by Jared
Excerpted from an e-mail to my sister:

Each page is individually themed. It'll include either his thoughts or a short parable, as you know he's prone to use! But more accurately, it comes across as a lecture. And the lecture he's giving is the Vision he suggested our civilization would need to continue forward. Whereas in Ishmael, etc. he showed the memes we follow, and told us we'd need to break those memes, he never gave his ideas on the big question: what's next? Beyond Civili
Beth Lamborne
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I liked this book. I liked that he finally expanded on some ideas he had left floating in the air for years. I don't know if I am sold completely on his definition of "beyond" or how we go about getting there, but I appreciate the hand holding and the glimpse of a different type of future.

However, I also found the book to be very scattered and not entirely cohesive. This, combined with some mild condescension of reader, may prove to alienate some. It is also very built on all previous books ("I
Sep 25, 2016 rated it liked it
I think the biggest problem here, as mentioned already, is the redundancy. Quinn talks and talks and talks, but what he really had to say could have been limited to 40 pages.

Another problem I had was that while he had definitions for different subjects, he had nothing for tribalism, which was his biggest point. You could get the gist, of course, but the way Quinn talks, you need his specific definition.

I wonder what an update of this book would be like, with the knowledge that the ozone has ac
Feb 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
Haven't read any other Daniel Quinn books, but this was something of a revelatory experience. There's comfort in the idea that running the rat race (or as Quinn says, "building pyramids") may not necessarily be the best way for humans to live/work and could, one day, be a thing of the past. It's rare that a book makes me feel so optimistic about the future (although maybe this just means I should lay off the dystopian novels). ...more
Rui Coelho
May 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
In order to produce good theory one has to familiarize oneself with what others have said before on the same issues. It's painfully obvious that Quinn as never read any anarchist literature. The result? He ends up suggesting some of the most tired anarchist projects (worker's cooperatives and dumpster-diving) as a "New Tribal Revolution"! ...more
Cindy Duffin-carlson
Feb 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I love this book! I believe that we need to concede to the fact that we will not end homelessness, and by conceding we will then be free to actually do something to help.
Paul Riker
Nov 04, 2010 rated it did not like it
Horrible. Illogical, inaccurate, over-simplified pseudo-philosophy.
Tabby Powell
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love this book! It is a must read, I am a Christian and I can still get a lot of great information from this.
Nick Kroger
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it

Okay. After that horribly sensationalist headline, I will say: if you haven’t read “Ishmael” & “My Ishmael”, then I would read those first.

Basically, this is a nonfiction approach to sketching out the ideas that Daniel Quinn proposed in his fiction. After reading, I would hesitate to say that Daniel Quinn is actually an “Anarcho-Primitivist” (as he was earlier described to me).

Most of his social critique comes from the fact that human beings ha
Greg Talbot
Sep 15, 2021 rated it did not like it
Hoodwinked by a book.

I have to admit, the only of this book, starting to discuss how civilizations end, and how memes and genes build culture sucked me in. I imagined a work as thoughtful as "Collapse" (2005) by Jared Diamond or Elizabeth Kolbert's revered "The Sixth Extinction" (2014). But all we have here is the rambling of a circus performer.

Quinn's book is not so much as 'beyond civilization' as it is 'beyond sanity'. Playing fast and loose with sweeping statements about humanity. Some of t
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment
I suppose it is too much to expect a solution to the predicament of humanity - how to curb our excessive growth and impact on the planet, even if it is from a man who wrote so powerfully about the problem. After detailing the wrongs of our dominant global culture at length in the prior three allegorical novels, Quinn gives us his answer, which is to 'walk away' from civilization. What he means is to become 'tribal' in our organization, living in small self-supporting groups just as humans were l ...more
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Daniel Quinn is a visionary. Enough said

Okay, maybe I'll add a bit more. Quinn wrote this book in 1999, when I was a young and innocent 16 years old. He wrote about issues that only seemed to raise alarm bells to society starting in the early 2000s, mounting intensity in the most recently completed decade. His visionary work is even more relevant in the time of Covid, when people are facing the fact we live in a broken society and wondering what is the new way forward

Beyond Civilization is writt
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-read
Mr. Quinn's books are popular in the eco-woo-woo movements. I find his research to be less-than rigorous and he puts forward theories that sound good to his audience but don't pass the smell test. This book was barely a book. However, I read it because I agree with him that "Tribalism" is needed again (it never really left) and I wanted to see what arguments he put forward.

Again, his research was thin. He makes the ubiquitous error in thinking that he's going to "save the planet (for humans)." H
Jim Thompson
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Decided to re-read this. Read it the first time roughly ten years ago. Since it's a fairly quick read, and since I remember being a bit disappointed with it the first time around, I wanted to give it another chance, see if I could get something different out of it a decade later.

I'm a fan of pretty much all of Quinn's books. They all create a sense of longing, a sense that things are not working and that there hasn't been a different way, but in most of the books he doesn't offer any clear guida
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I had and did the usual things -- childhood, schools, universities (St. Louis, Vienna, Loyola of Chicago), then embarked on a career in publishing in Chicago. Within a few years I was the head of the Biography & Fine Arts Department of the American Peoples Encyclopedia; when that was subsumed by a larger outfit and moved to New York, I stayed behind and moved into educational publishing, beginning ...more

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