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The Empathic Civilization Hardcover – Dec 31 2009

4 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: TarcherPerigee; 1st Edition edition (Dec 31 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585427659
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585427659
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 5.1 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 907 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #135,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"A brilliant read ... that boldly challenges the conventional view of human nature embedded in our educational systems, business practices, and political culture." Huffington Post "The kind of reading fans of Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins can sink their teeth into, with a contagious sense of urgency over whether we can 'reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse.'" Publishers Weekly "A thoroughly entertaining read." Socialist Unity "Many in the scholarly, religious, and political fields praise Jeremy Rifkin for a willingness to think big, raise controversial questions, and serve as a social and ethical prophet." New York Times Rifkin is "one of the leading big-picture thinkers of our day." Utne Reader "Rifkin poses real questions that we've spent too little time thinking about." Washington Post --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

One of the most popular social thinkers of our time, Jeremy Rifkin is the bestselling author of The European Dream, The Hydrogen Economy, The Age of Access, The Biotech Century, and The End of Work. A fellow at the Wharton School's Executive Education Program, he is president of The Foundation on Economic Trends in Bethesda, MD.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Format: Hardcover
Rifkin presents the story of humanity in terms of the evolution of empathy. He compiles mountains of evidence that empathy has always been the driving force of social development. To prove this, he first debunks a series of traditional explanations of human nature -- that we are creatures of the selfish gene, with all civilization an expression of the drives for social superiority, sexual conquest or economic self-interest. To demonstrate the predominant effect of empathy, Rifkin undertakes to recount all of human history, within about 400 pages. He touches, for example on the evolution of literature, sexual love, child raising, relations with animals, communications technology and psychological literacy. At the same time, Rifkin contrasts all this with the story of energy resources. The growth of empathy and the rises and falls of energy resources become competing factors in a race against time. Our survival, he warns, depends on a great leap forward in both technology and empathy at the same time.

Anyone who feels that the importance of empathy in human relations is obvious may wonder why such a huge compilation of evidence is necessary to prove it. But in surveying what still passes for "realism" in human affairs, Rifkin figures he must make his case like a lawyer in the court of world opinion.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9cab6ed0) out of 5 stars 57 reviews
131 of 141 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cae1984) out of 5 stars Must Read for those worry what we're leaving for our kids Jan. 10 2010
By Byron Mccormick - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a serious book. It's well researched, well thought out and articulates the author's thoughts clearly in easy to read fashion. The question Jared Diamond asked, " What did the people on Easter Island think as they cut down the last tree?"
resonates throughout this book, but we're not discussing an isolated island, but the future of at least the developed world and maybe mankind. Unlike many pundits and politicians, Mr Rifkin first delves deeply and broadly into underlying assumptions, historical context, and cultural issues, which while seeming maybe extraneous are the very essence from which we must fashion the future.
Businesses, organizations and civilizations fail mainly because they continue to operate on assumptions which a no longer valid...things have changed. The case is strong that we are at one of those massive inflection points in history where old assumptions are no longer holding true. With the pending sunset of the " second industrial revolution", Mr Rifkin then posits the framework for a "Third Industrial Revolution" which is as remarkably different from today's centralized carbon powered society, as is the IPhone, Amazon, internet world from the mom and pop grocery stores and wire based telephones of our parents. This is a compelling vision and is one which potentially puts mankind on a positive course for the future, taking "the world is flat" to it's logical conclusion with a highly distributed, more equitable form of capitalism, as opposed to the punitive, fine based approach we have so recently seen in evidence in Copenhagen.
One way to test proposition is to check it's sensitivity to the underlying assumptions. The vision presented still seems to remain vaild even when/if some of the assumptions presented turn out in the end to not be true. Readers may disagree with some of the wide ranging assumptions but the vision has the essence of an enduring truth/vision.
After 35 years of arguably no cohesive energy policy for the United States, this reader can only hope that politicians, educators and serious minded professionals and citizens read and consider the proposition that Mr. Rifkin has so carefully crafted.
Our kids and grandkids deserve no less. This book deserves broad readership and discussion....the clock of history is ticking.....this book is thought provoking and is worth the time, effort and serious consideration.
78 of 88 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cdac984) out of 5 stars If you read only one book this year, make it this one! Feb. 26 2010
By Michael Dowd - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I find it interesting that (at least as of the time of my writing this review) all three reviewers who rated this book less than 5 stars didn't actually read it, or by their own admission, didn't read very far. This is not surprising, of course. When we bring preconceived notions and biases to a book and fail to experience the fullness of what it actually says, we will judge it according to our prejudices and find it lacking. That's why I generally ignore such reviews, and discount their ratings.

I carefully read every page of this book (616 pages, not counting footnotes). I marked it up extensively. I re-read some sections. My bottom line recommendation: IF YOU ONLY READ ONE BOOK THIS YEAR, MAKE IT THIS ONE! I have read hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books in my 51 years of life on this planet. I must honestly say that I consider Jemery Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization to be one of the 5 most significant and important (and realistically hopeful) books I've ever read. I cannot recommend this book too highly. The history of cosmic, biological, and human evolution understood meaningfully is my field of expertise. This book does it all. It integrates humanity's best collective intelligence regarding human nature and human history and does so in a way that is a pure delight to read. Mid-way through the book I thought to myself, "How can one person know all this?!" That's when I went back and re-read the acknowledgements. Rifkin had a director of research working on this project for 4 years, with two dozen interns. No wonder it's so complete! I promise that if you give this book a good reading (it's worth taking the time to truly do so!), you will never see human nature, human history, or our prospects for a healthy future in the same way again.

Another wonderful book along similar (but by no means identical) lines is bestselling primatologist Frans de Waal's latest, The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. The two complement each other fabulously.

-- Michael Dowd
Author of "Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World"
47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cdacee8) out of 5 stars insightful and thought-provoking Jan. 12 2010
By Janie - Published on
A wonderful book which offers a very cogent analysis of the perilous state of the world. The root of our problems is that we have a mindset which is unsuited to the present era of instant global communication - we are still operating according to an outdated view of the world. The book is written with a great deal of passion and energy, and despite all its urgent highlighting of problems, still offers hope for the future.
87 of 113 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cafd5a0) out of 5 stars HUGE Book, Deep Look From One Perspective Jan. 14 2010
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a society-changing piece of work.

This is a magnum opus from a very specific point of view that overlooks both major consciousness figures and major biosphere figures. Herman Daly gets one note, Tom Atlee, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Steve McIntosh are not in this book. Buckminster Fuller, Paul Hawken, the Meadows, E. O. Wilson on Consilience, J. F Rischard on HIGH NOON, etcetera, are not in this book. My review begins after the Table of Contents, which the publisher failed to provide using standard Amazon tools for publishers.

Table of Contents

I The Hidden Paradox of Human History


2 The New View of Human Nature
3 A Sentient Interpretation of Biological Evolution
4 Becoming Human
5 Rethinking the Meaning of the Human Journey


6 The Ancient Theological Brain and Patriarchal Economy
7 Cosmopolitan Rome and the Rise of Urban Christianity
8 The Soft Industrial Revolution of the Late Medieval era and the Birth of Humanism
9 Ideological Thinking in a Modern Market Economy
10 Psychological Consciousness in a postmodern Existential world


11 The Climb to Global Peak Empathy
12 The Planetary Entropic Abyss
13 The Emerging Era of Distributed Capitalism
14 The Theatrical Self in an Improvisational Society
15 Biosphere Consciousness in a Climax Economy

- - - - - - - -

If this book is reprinted, it should be single-spaced. The massive bulk (675 pages) is pretentious and not necessary, especially for those of us that read when traveling, and for students having to carry books around. As noted earlier the author leaves out a great deal and I will offer ten links below (and over 300 links at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog where I have posted "Worth a Look: Book Review Lists"). This review focuses on the righteous theme the author has pursued across multiple literatures.

The book's bottom line is well summarized in the jacket flaps and comes at the very end as the author aspires for a combination of biosphere consciousness and distributed capitalism, the latter made possible by a combination of backyard energy and global information and communications technologies (ICT). Early in the book the author discusses how the wealthy dominated water power in the Medieval Period, but the poor were able to use windmills anywhere--this makes an impression on me as it did on the author.

The author has a story to tell and as I go through the book I am constantly reminded of books and points not in this book, but I abandoned my first draft of my review because it focused too much on work by others and not enough on the enormous task this author has taken on. In a nutshell, the author believes that the same revolutions in energy and communications that lead to a growth in human consciousness also lead to a commensurate crisis in earth or biosphere viability. In today's era the potential crisis (widely anticipated in the 1970's and deliberately ignored by the White House and the Senate for selfish corrupt reasons) is playing a forcing function, potentially catalyzing the rethinking of philosophy, economics, and our social models.

There are three negatives to this book that for any other author or theme would have dropped the book to a four, but I feel a five is still warranted for both the heroic personal effort of the author, and the importance of the theme.

#1. There is no appreciation that I can see of the fact that we are returning to the wisdom of the indigenous cultures that we have genocided since 1941, not only in the USA but in Australia, Africa, and elsewhere. This is not new wisdom that the author is bringing to bear, but old wisdom that is being rediscovered.

#2. The author fell prey to the Climate Change manipulation of data and hyperbole as well as nine documented errors in the British law suit against Al Gore, who has been asked to return his Academy Award. I won't belabor this now that the fraud of Climate Change has been adequately exposed, I will just say this: the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenge, and Change is the more honest and substantive endeavor, and Environmental Degradation, #3 of 10 after Poverty and Infectious Disease, is properly ranked. Climate Change is less than 10% of that, and within Climate Change carbon emissions are 10% at most, and much less important than sulfur or mercury. Carbon trades are fraud--a form of phantom wealth engineered by Maurice Strong and shilled by Al Gore, with the International Panel on Climate Change director--a railway engineer, not a scientist--happily lining his pockets by making the science fit. Learn more at the ClimateGate Rolling Update at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.

#3. This is a book for the one billion rich, and it does not really address the five billion poor, and so I felt a continuing sense of annoyance as I read, recognizing this as a "salon" work for funders and the well-off, rather than a grass roots books focused on bottom-up social change. For that, see the books I list below.

Having disclosed those three "nits," I am hugely positive on this book and its theme. The author observes that historians tend to document the negatives--the wars and the conflicts--and gloss over the periods of peace and prosperity and I buy into that. We don't do enough to isolate and extend the "good news."

Here are other fly-leaf notes:

+ Empathy is rooted in selfhood, enables dialog that in turn allows reconciliation.

+ Today transparency and cooperation are displacing secrecy and competition.

+ Importance of touch, of reversing the isolation of the individual as a cog in the machine.

+ Herding of humans began in 4000 BC with hydraulic civilizations, not with the Industrial Revolution as some have suggested

+ Energy advances appear to stimulate changes in communications (including computing and intelligence)

+ Mothers and mothering matter, root of selfhood and stability that enables exploring and innovation

+ Darwin's later work looked at empathy among animals and between different species

+ Faith and emotion are an important part of "humanity" and of "intelligence"

+ Religions are NOT inherently empathetic, tend to both focus on the other worldly and to exclude those not of the same religion

+ The author does well as a single individual researcher but there is a lot in this book that is simplistic for lack of access to deeper works by others

+ Soil salinity has collapsed civilizations before ours including the Romans

+ Nice discussion of the Gnostics who felt that the real sin of man was in not understanding self and the human potential for divinity (Barbara Marx Hubbard and Buckminster Fuller have focused on this in more recent times)

+ Medieval Period ran out of wood the way we are running out of oil

+ Interesting discussion of print as a facilitator for both individuality and the scientific method

+ Light discussion of schools, not connected with the broader literature on pedagogy and mass instruction.

+ Energy changes impact on space and time perceptions. Electricity and Morse code took global communications and connectivity to a whole new level

+ Child development runs throughout this book in an interesting manner

+ Disconcerting notes include English as the universal language (Chinese over-taking fast followed by Hindi); everyone is a tourist (this would be news to the five billion poor); no more aliens, decline of religion (not from where I sit).

+ Author is excessively dependent on Climate Change as a stimulus, I totally agree with the author's sense of urgency, but all ClimateGate has done is set science back in the public esteem by at least a decade.

+ The author provides an engaging discussion of the coming 3rd Industrial Revolution in which we will further embrace new indices of immaterial wealth and move from property to access and from co-optation to cooperation.

+ The book closes with a discussion of how social skills are changing and now half theater and half authentic, which may not be as odd as it sounds, as individuals must master both deep multi-cultural empathy and the ability to project open authenticity despite violent disagreement with "the other."

This book is absolutely worth buying and reading--it would be better if it were single spaced and much less bulky. I hope the paperback version goes to single space; there is no justification for doubling the bulk of this content.

Ten links as allowed by Amazon:
Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change
Radical Man
Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing Our World
The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness
Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential
Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century
Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

See all my other reviews relevant to this specific books and its focus at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cdaca20) out of 5 stars Visionary? Aug. 3 2011
By sicyon - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book after seeing a 30-minute-interview with Jeremy Rifkin. In the interview he managed to explain the book very well and it gave me the hope that this would be a good book. I was expecting the overview of the history of human consciousness and empathy to be much shorter while in fact it consumed the whole book. I was expecting much more about the current problem and a more coherent vision for the future. That vision for the future wasn't really there. I assume that will be part of his new upcoming book "The Third Industrial Revolution".

This book was very broad in scope and although interesting, I did want for him to get to the point and stop repeating himself.

His vision of the third industrial revolution isn't a vision for the future. It's a vision of the present. In my country there is legislation and there are subsidies for promoting energy neutral housing, solar panels on roofs and CO2 reduction in cars. It is just a matter of time until there are more of these new houses and cars than old ones. Nevertheless, the idea that distributed energy production and storage will democratize energy and will be an end to the elitism of oil, is a joke. Solar cells are on course to cause silver shortage, wind turbines and electric power trains require rare earth metals for their permanent magnets and the up and coming solutions for energy storage will also rely on materials that aren't found in everyone's backyard. Even if we won't have to fight for oil, we might have to fight for a range of other resources and quite frankly, China is winning that race at this very moment. All photovoltaic companies are feeling their margins drop due to Chinese competition and they will lose if nothing is done. Rare earth mining is already a predominantly Chinese story. So if the high oil price is going to mean the end of globalization and cheap transport, what are we going to do when China is the only one with the resources and infrastructure to have a third industrial revolution? Rifkin's optimism is nice but simplistic. He has no answers and no pragmatism. No real vision.