Christopher Ryan wants you to reconsider the lives of our foraging ancestors. Perhaps, like me, you’ve never much considered their lives at all, and just assumed that any humans living before the advent of agriculture slogged through grim existences that — to the extent that they can even be imagined — were short and miserable. In Civilized to Death, Ryan makes a compelling case that whatever modern miracles prehistoric humans may have lacked, their lives had a quality that ours decidedly do not: a sustainability that leads to contentment. And, all told, maybe those modern miracles aren’t so miraculous after all. Whether or not you’d choose to return to a prehistoric level of interdependence with nature, this book will have you reassessing our civilization’s core tenet that constant expansion is both inevitable and good. If you’ve ever found yourself contemplating a paleo diet, Christopher Ryan offers the logical extension of that culinary premise. Like his previous book, Sex at Dawn, Civilized to Death will challenge received wisdom and launch a thousand conversations. Recommended By Keith M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The New York Times bestselling 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.
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, Ryan argues, were these pre-civilized dangers more murderous than modern scourges, such as car accidents, cancers, cardiovascular disease, and a technologically prolonged dying process? At a time when our ecology, our society, and our own sense of selves feels increasingly imperiled, an accurate understanding of our species' long prelude to civilization is vital to a clear sense of the ultimate value of civilization — and its costs. In Civilized to Death, Ryan makes the claim that we should start looking backwards to find our way into a better future.
"This book takes on 'progress' as a guiding ethos — and does so with gusto." The Stranger
"Christopher Ryan is one of the most interesting and provocative thinkers of our time. Everyone should read him — you might well disagree but you'll definitely think differently." Johann Hari, New York Times-bestselling author of Lost Connections
"Every great once in a while, a book comes along that makes you rethink everything you thought you knew. Civilized to Death is without question one of them." Jesse Bering, PhD, author of The Belief Instinct
"[A] prescient book about the nature of progress . . . Civilized to Death will make you see our so-called progress in a whole new light." Book Riot
About the Author
Christopher Ryan, PhD, and his work have been featured just about everywhere, including: MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Times of London, Playboy, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Outside, El Pais, La Vanguardia, Salon, Seed, and Big Think. A featured speaker from TED to The Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House to the Einstein Forum in Pottsdam, Germany, Ryan has consulted at various hospitals in Spain, provided expert testimony in a Canadian constitutional hearing, and appeared in well over a dozen documentary films. The author of Civilized to Death and the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Sex at Dawn, Ryan puts out a weekly podcast, called Tangentially Speaking, featuring conversations with interesting people, ranging from famous comics to bank robbers to drug smugglers to porn stars to authors to plasma physicists.