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129 of 139 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified 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Businesses, organizations and civilizations fail mainly because they continue to operate on assumptions which a no longer valid...things have changed.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.
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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified 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"
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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
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.
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86 of 112 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified 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.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified 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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a long book - more than 600 pages of text. There are two main themes that intertwine throughout the book. One is on the biological and cultural evolution of empathy and the other is on the evolution of technological revolutions that have intensified the human use of energy. It is one of Rifkin's main thesis that cultural improvements in empathy have gone along with these technological revolutions.

Probably the best part of the book, at least the part that I learned the most, was in chapter two where he discusses twentieth century psychological theories of human nature, starting with Freud's emphasis on sexual drives and contrasting it with Winnicot, Bowlby, and Ainsworth's theory of Attachment.
In chapter three Rifkin introduces the modern scientific studies of empathy and consciousness in primates that have given direct support to attachment theory. I think he should have given this topic more space, and spent less time on the technological stuff, but that's just my bias.

If one reads one of those primatologists that Rifkin cites, namely Frans de Waal you can get a much more fascinating and rigorous view on how empathy forms a part of human nature. According to de Waal empathy is so automatic in human beings that we have limited control over it.

Both authors emphasize the physical nature of empathy, but de Waal is the better observer. Primates are social creatures. They are both cooperative and competitive at the same time. Empathy begins with the synchrony of bodies, mother and child, and all the individual members of a troop. Emotions are socially mediated and some are contagious. Mood contagion serves to coordinate activities and coordination is the key to social existence.

Rifkin's argument, reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan's is that technological revolutions have led to changes of consciousness, which in turn lead to growth and maturation of empathic consciousness.

In a way Rifkin is so enamoured of his theory linking the development of consciousness to the development of empathy that he overemphasizes the mental aspects of empathy. Frans de Waal's book The Age of Empathy, is a good counterweight.

On the other hand, Rifkin makes a fascinating case that developments in consciousness are dependent on technological advances in the processing of energy. The incredibly complex and interdependent social structures that exist today could not exist without fossil fuels. The unstated implication is that when fossil fuels are no longer cheaply available our complex society and our mature civilization may cease to exist.

But Rifkin puts all his eggs in another basket. He believes that the universal development of small scale renewable energy will lead to a third industrial revolution where power is widely distributed - "the democratization of energy".

Rifkin tries very hard to be positive in spite of the fact that he is building a case using concepts such as entropy and thermodynamics which are not conducive to optimism. Perhaps for this reason I find he tends to be biased against agrarian and hunting and gathering cultures. Are people in cities really more empathetic? How about New York?

For instance I take issue with the following quote on page 190 "It's unlikely that anyone in a primitive society would ever perceive another's suffering in a mature empathic sense, any more than a young child today under the age of five or six." Really?

Of course this goes along with his theory that empathic consciousness develops through increasingly complex social structures. I found that throughout the book he often assumes what he sets out to prove.

This book, although flawed is definitely worth reading. It will provoke your mind and get you thinking along new directions.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Humans are born with a pre-disposition to be empathic. Evolution led us down a path that contradicted our caring nature. Jeremy Rifkin's latest book, The Empathic Civilization very effectively makes the case that humanity has reached a colossal tipping point. Just when we are coming together as a species and reconnecting with our empathic nature, our destructive ways have put us on a course that forebodes social and ecological collapse on a planetary scale. Will we get our act together in time to avert our own self-made destruction? The Empathic Civilization sees the glass at least half full. Jeremy Rifkin is a social thinker of the first order. His writing is well researched and very compelling in its evidence. I highly recommend The Empathic Civilization, especially for those who follow the daily headlines and are seeking to renew their sense of hope and possibility.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A review of Jeremy Rifkin: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. N.Y.: Jeremy P Tarcher / Penguin, 2009, 674 pages including 57 pages of Notes and Index.

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 with it informative and valuable. The information alone makes The Empathic Civilization worth reading because of the insights the information brings.

To many people, perhaps, the idea of an empathic civilization is oxymoronic. "An empathic civilization? You have got to be kidding! Any reading of history will tell you that!" "Not so fast," Rifkin says as he leads you back to December 24, 1914 on the fields of Flanders as World War I ground into its fifth month. "Take a look at what's happening." Contrary to all expectations about human nature, beginning with the Germans lighting candles on Christmas trees sent to the front, young men on both sides of the battle line began singing Christmas carols where a few hours earlier they had been killing each other. It ran contrary to what everyone believed about human nature. "[W]hat transpired in the battlefields of Flanders on Christmas Eve 1914 between tens of thousands of young men had nothing to do with original sin or productive labor. And the pleasure those men sought in each other's company bore little resemblance to the superficial rendering of pleasure offered up by nineteenth- century utilitarians and even less to Freud's pathological account of a human race preoccupied by the erotic impulse.

"The men at Flanders expressed a far deeper human sensibility - one that emanates from the very marrow of human existence. ... They chose to be human. And the central human quality they expressed was empathy for one another" (page 8).

Still not convinced? Think about it - if the central human quality is aggression, would we have survived this long as a species? If an empathic impulse is embedded in our biology, why doesn't it show up in our history? It doesn't because "tales of misdeeds and woe surprise us. They are unexpected and, therefore, trigger alarm and heighten our interest" (emphasis mine) (page 10). What captures our attention and interest is expressions of empathy. It just might be, Rifkin suggests, that aggression, violence, selfish behavior and acquisitiveness - long considered basic human drives, "are in fact secondary drives that flow from repression or denial of our most basic instinct", which is empathy (page 18). Reading my facebook page on an average day, it is empathy that is most often expressed, even when the emotion expressed is frustration and anger. What we seek is connection ... and this is the key to creating a global consciousness - the sense of belonging to a world, and not just to our own little part of it and our own little "tribe".

As a species, we are embedded in the life of the entire planet. What you and I do in our small part of it, affects every other part. Like it or not, we are all interconnected as a part of a living global ecosystem. Tamper with one part, we affect every other part. (A great companion book to this one is E. O. Wilson's The Creation, which is reviewed in a separate post. A biologist, Wilson explains the biology of our global ecosystem in a way that this non-scientist easily understood it.)

Because of the Internet we are already interconnected. What we need to do with that comprises the bulk of Rifkin's book, which is divided into three major sections: I Homo Empathicus; II Empathy and Civilization; and III The Age of Empathy.

"By rediscovering our cognitive past," Rifkin writes, "we find important clues to how we might redirect our conscious future. With our very survival at stake, we can no longer afford to remain unmindful about how empathic consciousness has evolved across history and at what expense to the Earth we inhabit" (page 178). E. O. Wilson would heartily agree with that. So do I.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book has some good ideas, useful information, and broad scope, but the middle chapters are unnecessarily redundant, and it reads a bit too much as a polemic (as opposed to analysis). The final chapter, which I read first, is a bit naive. Still, I wouldn't have missed the book, because it provides a useful structure for assessing future information and a context for thinking about where we are going as a species and a society.

Rifkin needs a good editor.

Unfortunately, the book appears to have been written just a bit before the tea party movement, and, thus, may be a bit more sanguine than it would have been had the author confronted the impact of that movement on the trend toward an "empathic civiization."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This is a very rich and informative book. Its major thesis is that Mankind is by its very nature 'empathetic' that is able to understand the other, feel for the other and act toward the other in such a way as to improve both other and self. This great idea does describe one side of human nature. Rifkin argues that this side of our character and nature has been developed and enhanced through our whole life as a species. And that there are leaps forward in this which occur at times when the old frameworks for living in and understanding the world are breaking down. His most urgent message relates too what is happening today. He sees mankind as being more empathetic than ever before, opening itself to understanding and feeling for all kinds of previously discriminated groups and even the animal kingdom as a whole. At the same time he sees us in what he calls the Third Industrial Age endangering ourselves by misuse of our Energy resources, threatening the whole of our civilization by global- warming. His book is an urgent appeal for greater wisdom on the part of mankind and its leaders, a wisdom that will enable us to avoid self- destruction.
It seems to me , and I have in this short review of course not touched on the great mass of material in the work, that however detailed the evidence Rifkin brings the basic idea is too all - encompassing and simplistic. I just do not believe one idea or one set of problems can really describe the full complexity of the human situation.
I would however point out that Rifkin's optimism has in a way been seconded by another book I found very simplistic, which is presently extremely popular. Steven Pinker's thesis that mankind has become through its history a less violent creature would seem to somehow be in support of, in synerge with Rifkin's work.
However again I would argue that there is just too much evidence on the other side, too much evidence supporting the idea that mankind is cruel and unfeeling, capable of murdering in the most evil and humiliating ways. Rifkin's great example here of what human nature truly is , is taken from the First World War incident where German and British soldiers threw down their arms and embraced singing together Christmas Carols. Unfortunately that was one small incident in a murderous war in which neither side hesistated in killing the other. The Second World War would even be a more horrific , if possible, display of human aggression, cruelty, delusion, ability to demonize the 'other'. The Nazis were not I am afraid very 'empathetic' creatures.
However this book does balance those views of human nature in which the negative side alone stressed.
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