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Summary

The New York Times best-selling coauthor of Sex at Dawn explores the ways in which “progress” has perverted the way we live — how we eat, learn, feel, mate, parent, communicate, work, and die — in this “engaging, extensively documented, well-organized, and thought-provoking” (Booklist) book.

Most of us have instinctive evidence the world is ending - balmy December days, face-to-face conversation replaced with heads-to-screens zomboidism, a world at constant war, a political system in disarray. We hear some myths and lies so frequently that they feel like truths: Civilization is humankind’s greatest accomplishment. Progress is undeniable. Count your blessings. You’re lucky to be alive here and now. Well, maybe we are, and maybe we aren’t. Civilized to Death counters the idea that progress is inherently good, arguing that the "progress" defining our age is analogous to an advancing disease.

Prehistoric life, of course, was not without serious dangers and disadvantages. Many babies died in infancy. A broken bone, infected wound, snakebite, or difficult pregnancy could be life-threatening. But ultimately, Christopher Ryan questions, were these pre-civilized dangers more murderous than modern scourges such as car accidents, cancers, cardiovascular disease, and a technologically prolonged dying process? 

Civilized to Death “will make you see our so-called progress in a whole new light” (Book Riot) and adds to the timely conversation that “the way we have been living is no longer sustainable, at least as long as we want to the earth to outlive us” (Psychology Today). Ryan makes the claim that we should start looking backwards to find our way into a better future.

©2019 Christopher Ryan (P)2019 Simon & Schuster

What listeners say about Civilized to Death

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This book is life changing

I wondered why at 23 I still felt trapped, inadequate, not good enough. But this is the message our modern world drills into us. Work more, consume more, chase money, chase power, more more more. So this is moment I decide to go back to what matters. To live on purpose. To not live to work. To be human

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Absolutely outstanding.

Simple and clear. Outstanding work Doc. I have followed Dr Chris Ryan for while now and his take on life has changed my outlook in so many ways. Thank you for that.

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awful

Such a waste of time. incredibly negative outlook. Do not bother buying this book. Feel worse than before listening to it

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Utterly enthralling. This makes my all-time top 5

Erudite and engaging without the pomposity of most academic tomes. I can't stop talking about this book.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

An interesting view but not the whole story.

Some interesting points about what we can learn from hunter gatherers but completely ignores the astonishing progress made in recent times. If you read this be sure to also read Hans Rosling's Factfullness so you are aware of the other side of the argument.

1 person found this helpful

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c19 : Read during selfisolation from corona virus

haha well I now think civilisation is a pretty good thing Christopher Ryan.

When you are cut off from it you star to appreciate the finer details of what made life in London with its fast public transport, meuseums, art galleries, dating in romantic restaurant and music festivals in Hyde park so extraordinarily CIVILIZED.

c19 is hell of a virus.

Appreciate westerner civilisation.

I've had a tiny taste of life without it and it even that was hell.

This book is well written but wow did I disagreed with most of it sitting indoors with food and essentials running low during self-isolation from covid 19.

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Back to the Past in the Future

Great conclusion. I'd love to see some references for other writers talking about how to rewild and hunter gatherer your life up.

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Nice

Most listen at least 2 times. A great experience and great story telling nice work

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Most Important Book I have ever read/ listened to

Wow...what can I say about this book .

Civilised to Death should be a must read for most of us.

Confirms and Validates what I have always suspected.....we are doomed.

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All you ever needed to know.

Excellently made, irrefutable points. I just need to see a live debate between Steven Pinker and Christopher Ryan to settle this for sceptics.

I have long felt like a grasshopper surrounded by locusts. (Read the book to get the analogy) And it hurts in 1,000 ways. With this book, I was able to understand my human sensibilities and how they clash with a dehumanising civilisation. That has been healing. There are very few spaces people like us can feel seen.

Thank you Chris and collaborators for this book. I will never forget it and the influence it’s had on me. Felt emotional and teary at its conclusion. I just want to go home.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-10-19

Brilliant

The one negative review I have seen was written by someone who clearly hadn’t made it to the first chapter because Chris patiently and eloquently walks through all possible angles and perceptions of what he is discussing. This is a great book for our current crossroads and important listening/reading for locusts and grasshoppers alike.

13 people found this helpful

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  • JEMUMN
  • 23-06-20

Littered with misrepresentations/misrepresentation

This is the first review I have ever written in 8 years of using Audible. I have a PhD in psychology from a large well-respected state university. As such, I'm well-positioned to spot the many misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the psychological literature cited in this book. They're all over the place. Honestly, I'm amazed how Ryan, who apparently earned his PhD in psychology from Saybrook University (a largely online program based in San Francisco from what I can tell), could so butcher the literature he cites in this book, without it being intentional. Skip this one. This isn't science. This is a polemic based on cherry-picked data and a poor understanding of actual science. You can hear in his narration that this man has an ax to grind. Scientists, at least good scientists, don't grind axes.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Andrew in Ohio
  • 08-10-19

I couldn't stop listening.

Thanks to Chris Ryan for writing this.

You confirmed deep suspicions in my psyche that something was off about how I was raised, how life is planned, and how I relate to others. I don't need drugs or therapy to numb me out. I need the kind of therapy, relationships, and lifestyle that brings me closer to my natural state. As I've been doing this over the past couple years, my depression has waned, my anxiety has lessened, my discontent has subsided more and more. I am much happier eating an avocado than crembule. Happier with a beach bonfire than a loud club. More at peace with a hike than with the treadmill. We need the message in this book of simplicity, of acceptance of our nature, and the acknowledgement of our animal nature. These don't need to be damned, but understood and celebrated. Hopefully we all take the wisdom of taking a step back from all this "progress" to see what we have lost in the process.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 13-12-19

Half-Baked Rousseau

I thought Sex at Dawn was one of the most insightful books I've ever read, so I was willing to stay with this one until the end, but it's terrible. Ryan extrapolated way too much from his expertise and passed on Sahlins and Diamond in an uncritical and hyperbolic way. Too bad.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Damian
  • 18-12-19

A Book that make you rethink life

Civilized To Death is an amazing book! Each chapter, after chapter kept me engaged, and interested in learning more of the reality of our past, and how our society control us. However, there were times in this book that I completely disagree with the author, but regardless, I appreciate it thinking. I would highly recommend this book to everyone!!!

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  • Ciaran O'Regan
  • 11-12-19

We need to think deeper about our own Zoo.

This is a book I have been looking forward to for years due to Ryan's podcast and it did not disappoint. Ryan has produced (and narrated here) what I imagine will be the cause of a very big ripple in Western culture. We are in the midst of a meaning crisis with some symptoms of the crisis being a toxic divisive political circus, mass distraction through consumerism, and environmental destruction. Recent books like this one, "Tribe" by Sebastien Junger, "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari, along with evolutionary theory (and some might say common sense) point to the possibility that the cause of our meaning crisis may simply be the fact that the meaning and purpose we all need to thrive may be found by trying to live in accordance with our nature as a social ape who craves acceptance, belonging, and a collective to whom we as individuals can contribute to the wellbeing of.

To nit pick on some issues I had due to my current knowledge base and subsequent biases I docked a star each for Story and Overall. To provide some balance to a few of the brilliant arguments put forward by Ryan here I would highly recommend curious people who liked this book to check out "Stubborn Attachments" by Economist Tyler Cowen and also "The Beginning of Infinity" by Physicist David Deutsch.

Bravo Chris. This is an astounding piece of work that is very much needed.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Ian Frand
  • 10-12-19

Well presented case for the common man's malaise

This was a well presented, well written, and very interesting argument. I appreciated the constant references found therein and also the fact that the author was skeptical of himself throughout. I really appreciated his way of crafting sentences and ideas. You can tell he's a fan of literary work. Science based that incorporates humanity unlike most books on scientific subjects that seem to ignore the human condition. Looking forward to more from this author.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Konnor C
  • 06-12-19

Congintive Dissonance

While the premise of the book is excellent, the pessimistic view of the modern world is down right depressing. I agree that our genetic make up has not yet caught up with the modern world. But the author, while condemning civilization, proposes “solutions” to society’s ills via left wing big government programs that only “civilization” can provide. So he offers more “civilized” solutions, yet whines about modern society? Cognitive dissonance much? I bought this book to read a critique on modern civilization and not to read some anti-free market, anti-rich, socialist rant by some rich author from California. Note to the author: people can cooperate in a free market society. Denmark is one of them.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Utilisateur anonyme
  • 15-11-21

Waste of time

Got drawn in by the title. It's trash. This book is just a shallow far left take on how society is bad. Socialism is good. Private property is exclusionary blah blah blah. Then depicts the "uncivilized" as these carefree characters from Pocahontas talking to wolves. It's basically a conservative's satire of what a liberal would say about progress. Don't waste your time.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Josh
  • 02-11-21

Just go talk to a Nihilistic Emo teenager from rich parents

Very excited about this book after hearing about it on JRE. Really gave it my all to try and learn some key takeaways. Christopher narrates it himself quite well however it felt like all of the arguments he makes to prove his controversial claims consists of reading quotes from other people on a mocking tone and making a quick jab before moving on without discrediting anything they’ve claimed.

The entire writing simply is dripping with this “we’re all going to die because of Western powers and capitalism so screw it all we’re doomed anyway”. I would really have liked to see this book have been a resource to how to navigate the landscape we now find ourselves in from technology but instead it’s just the ranting of a modern liberal who is mad at the world.

2 people found this helpful