The first chapter of this book really made me sit up and pay attention because it kicked me in the rear end. That’s what I call not taking things easy at the beginning.

“Civilized to Death” is a thought-provoking and engaging exploration of the ways in which human societies have evolved over time, and the hidden costs of progress.

Author Christopher Ryan challenges many of the assumptions that underlie modern society, arguing that our obsession with technological progress, economic growth, and individualism has come at a great cost to our mental and physical health, our relationships with others, and the natural world.

Ryan draws on a wide range of disciplines, including anthropology, history, and psychology, to build a compelling case that the so-called progress of modern society has actually led to a decline in human well-being.

He argues that we have become disconnected from the things that truly matter in life, connection to others, a sense of purpose, and a connection to the natural world and that our obsession with material wealth and technological progress has only exacerbated this problem.

Some of the book’s more intriguing ideas that made me pause for reflection are as follows:

  • The idea that pre-agricultural human societies were more egalitarian and cooperative is based on evidence from anthropology and archaeology. For example, hunter-gatherer societies often have more equal distribution of resources and less rigid social hierarchies than agricultural societies. Ryan argues that the shift towards agriculture and sedentary living allowed for the accumulation of wealth and the development of ruling classes, leading to increased social inequality and the emergence of a culture of competition and individualism.
  • Ryan also argues that many “primitive” cultures had sophisticated knowledge of natural medicine, nutrition, and sustainable living practices that could be beneficial for modern society. For example, he discusses the use of natural remedies and plant-based diets in traditional societies to prevent and treat diseases, as well as the use of sustainable farming practices that prioritize soil health and biodiversity. Ryan suggests that these practices could be adapted and integrated into modern society to improve human health and environmental sustainability.
  • Ryan explores how modern societal structures and cultural norms can contribute to a sense of disconnection from nature, leading to environmental degradation and personal distress. He argues that the emphasis on productivity, consumerism, and constant growth in modern society has led to a culture of “busyness” and disconnection from the natural world, which can contribute to mental health problems and environmental destruction. Ryan suggests that reconnecting with nature and adopting more sustainable living practices could lead to greater well-being and a healthier relationship with the environment.

What sets “Civilized to Death” apart from other books on this topic is Ryan’s engaging and humorous writing style, which makes complex ideas and research accessible to a wide range of readers.

He does an excellent job of weaving together a diverse range of sources and examples to support his argument, while also acknowledging the complexity of the issues at hand.

Overall, “Civilized to Death” is a deeply thought-provoking and compelling read that challenges many of the assumptions that underlie modern society.

It is a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of human society, progress, and well-being.



I liked reading this, and I think the ideas are interesting. This can easily be my book of the year, and it’s only February. When he quoted Yuval Noah Harari, I knew it was going to be a good read.

Christopher Ryan is like Malcolm Gladwell in that he will make you think about things in a different way than you did before.

Ryan’s engaging and often humorous writing style makes complex ideas and research accessible to a wide range of readers, and he weaves together a diverse range of sources and examples to support his argument.

The book offers a fresh and compelling perspective on the intersection of human society, progress, and well-being, and challenges readers to reconsider their own assumptions about what it means to live a fulfilling life.

My favourite quotes

  • “When you’re going in the wrong direction, progress is the last thing you need.”
  • “Civilization has never been a particularly good deal for most people.”
  • “As long as we remain disconnected from our true nature as a social, cooperative species, we will continue to suffer and struggle.”
  • “Modern society is like a machine that grinds people down into cogs, and we wonder why so many of us are depressed and anxious.”
  • “The problem with progress is that it often leaves us feeling unfulfilled and disconnected from the things that truly matter in life.”
  • “The history of human society is a story of trade-offs – for every benefit we gain, there is a cost that we pay.”
  • “The more we try to control and dominate the natural world, the more we end up damaging ourselves and the planet.”
  • “The pursuit of material wealth and technological progress has come at a great cost to our mental and physical health, our relationships with others, and the natural world.”
  • “Human beings are not natural predators. We are not strong, fast, or well-armed. We survive by our wits, our social connections, and the tools we create. The fact that we have created a world in which physical strength and speed are less important than other abilities is nothing short of miraculous.”
  • “The problem with progress is that it tells us where we’re going without reflecting on whether we want to go there.”
  • “In our age of anxiety, the pursuit of wealth has become the pursuit of happiness by other means.”
  • “The growth imperative is the central problem of our civilization. It is the logic of the cancer cell.”
  • “By placing ourselves above nature, we have become its destroyer. By failing to recognize the wisdom of the past, we have become the architects of the future’s suffering.”
  • “The point is not to go back to some imagined golden age of the past, but to imagine a better future based on a realistic assessment of what has worked for humans in the past and what is working now for the societies that are thriving.”
  • “As we strive for greater and greater levels of complexity and control, we may be moving farther and farther from the essence of what it means to be human.”
  • “If we are to survive as a species, we need to learn to think beyond our own lives, beyond our own cultures, beyond our own species, and beyond our own time.”

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