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on 1 February 2011
This is a very important book and it will be a shame, perhaps even a tragedy, if it does not command a very wide readership.

Here is a detailed history of our civilization, from ancient to post modern times, but with a twist, as it is written from the perspective of energy flows and empathy surges. It is also an urgent call for the spread of empathy to save the world. Because Rifkin is in no doubt that the world is in serious danger. Climate change is a reality, putting the future of much of nature, including humankind, in serious jeopardy. And we also have the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Calling upon the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics Rifkin shows us why our rate of energy usage is unsustainable, that ever more complex energy consuming economies and social arrangements are using the planet's finite energy resources at an unsustainable rate, a process called entropy. But here also we find hope, because he shows us that, contrary to popular belief, we are wired for empathy, through our mirror neurons. The globalization of empathic consciousness could yet save us from self- destruction, he writes.

The book is in three parts. Part 1 gives evidence for an emerging empathic human nature. The way we bring up our children is crucial to the development of their empathic nature, with far reaching implications. And we also have a genetic predisposition to seek empathic bonds with animals including wild life. Rifkin also demonstrates that widespread and wanton violence has not been the norm in human history. Again this will surprise many. But the ebbs and flows of human empathic development can be linked throughout the history of civilization with the evolution of energy flows. The problem is that philosophical and political thinking is very slow in catching up with these important developments in the understanding of human nature. Part 2 goes into some considerable detail to trace these historical links between energy consumption, humanity's empathic surges and changes in consciousness, to provide, he says, a deeper understanding of where we have come from and to supply a map to help us steer towards a more secure future. He then reports in part 3 on the current race between empathy and entropy. The Empathic Civilization is coming, he tells us. Our empathy is spreading across the globe to embrace all humanity. Indeed I call for more empathy and compassion within all aspects of our lives in my own book Healing This Wounded Earth. But at the same time Rifkin warns that there is a "rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." Will empathy or entropy win? Can the developed West find a workable cultural, economic and political game plan for a sustainable and equitable future at the same time as the poor countries improve their economic conditions, and all this before we fall into an entropic abyss? "Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?"

We have the answer to that in our own hands and we have very little time to spare in averting disaster, perhaps no more than a few decades, or a generation.

Here is an incredibly well written and deeply researched thesis that I recommend to any one who cares for the future of our planet. Rifkin's argument is novel and convincing. He combines frightening facts with fascinating links and persuasive arguments, all related through the history of civilization. What is more he suggests the way forward, which we ignore at our peril.

But I fear that there is almost too much information and too many words in too many chapters; I did wonder whether Part II particularly could have been shorter without losing the message. I became impatient to move on to the most important Part III. My fear is that this could daunt many and lessen the impact of what is an extremely important and urgent message for us all.
Nevertheless, a very good book.
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on 21 August 2015
A massively absorbing book detailing how Empathy permeates our life.it is a most positive reading .
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on 17 March 2014
For everybody engage in shaping the future of societies on this only planet of ours –be their contribution big or small. In the end it’s all about our humanity and how we insist in connecting to each other.
A 21 century must read!
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on 27 November 2017
It is undeniable that the author furnishes us with very interesting information on several contemporary crossroads, but this is very much a book with an agenda, and one that distorts and fabricates information, a book that wants to see the world with pink lens.
The interesting proposition is that an education with more empathic values may have a huge impulse on our planet and may be able to give a leap forward in many important respects.
But the problems of the book is many fold, first the presupposition that the neolithic man was peaceful and thrived under a maternalist society, we have the evidence of the opposite to be true. We have no evidence that any maternalist society to have been successful in any point of our history; And then we can entangle problem number two, several times the author seems to try in please feminists in several points of the book, like he is seeking legitimacy from feminists in order to construct his point.
Point number three, he quotes some research on the Islamic world in regarding to empathy and the role of women in society, well I have very different numbers than the ones he throws, but we should not only relay on those researches and analyse the attitude of the people, and in those it is proven that the Islamic world does not fare well on human rights by any account.
He also portrays globalism and globalisation only as a positive thing and does not delve into any criticism of it, and like in many parts of the book it is very panfletarian and ideological, like making a propaganda. So no, I cannot take it too seriously.
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The author describes how our minds, our beliefs, our freedom changed since the Sumerians, the first urban civilisation,4000 BC; not only how it changed but also the changes in conditions that led to the changes with the main focus on empathy.

In the Sumerian cities only 1 to 2% could read their script (the first written script). This literate elite controlled everything. The heads were kings with absolute power derived directly from a god. No freedom for anybody but for the merchants, some of whom became very rich. To day, in the developed countries literacy levels are at present above 90%, citizens vote to elect a government, people enjoy enormous freedom, and we find a wide variety of beliefs and religions. How did humanity reach the present stage and why?

That is a long story excellently presented in the book. Rome was an important step, a huge city with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of which half were slaves. Christendom developed as Roman elite power declined and became powerful when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity One of main reasons of the decline of Rome was shortage of food, less importation and overexploitation of soil in Italy.

In the beginning of the 10th century started an economic revolution with the establishments of small towns that were no longer controlled by local Lords. Horses, wind mills and water mills became important suppliers of energy. The innovation of print presses was a crucial event. This led to the publication of tens of thousands of bibles leading to religious debates and divisions.

The first industrial revolution started round the middle of the 18th century,coal and steam engines delivered heating and power. Locomotives reduced distances and transportation costs. This switch came just in time as wood was becoming scarce. The second industrial revolution started in the middle of the 18th century with the telegraph. The switch from coal to oil, electricity, aircraft, satellites, containerships, PCs, Internet and Google followed. The world in terms of distances was shrinking fast and interdependence between states and people grew even faster, as shown in the financial crisis of 2008.

Throughout the ages freedom of a rapidly growing number of people increased as well as literacy, and prosperity. The author traces the increase of empathy as the result of greater freedom, higher literacy, democratic government, equal rights for women, acceptance of racial equivalence, more enlightened education of children and the acceptance of freedom for people to develop their personality during adolescence. The author also describes the influence of what many "spiritual leaders" thought about the mind, including for example Thomas Aquinas, Montaigne, Descartes, Adam Smith, Freud, Rousseau, Goethe, Schopenhauer and many others. Recent discoveries on how the brains works and psychology experiments are also included.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is an important example of the importance of empathy and the role of parents in developing it. Roosevelt was born in wealthy family. His parents sent him as a young boy to help in a summer camp organised for slum children. Their deprivations and poverty made a deep impression on him. He never forgot and became convinced that this kind of human suffering and exploitation of the poor could not be accepted in America. The New Deal policies contained many elements based on this empathetic experience.

The author arrives at two conclusions. The increasing global interdependence between individuals and nations requires an all out effort to strengthen empathy. That effort has to include poor countries. The second conclusion is that the increase in urbanisation and rapid increase in energy consumption per capita in developing countries requires the adoption of energy production methods that meet demand, is sustainable at a reasonable price. The author presents many interesting ideas on how this can be achieved. The author is convinced, very convinced, that if empathy is not increased and shortages of affordable energy would arise that it will lead to war, may be even collapse.

Comparison with Buddhism. One of the most central concept in Buddhism is compassion. Is there a difference between compassion and empathy? Compassion means to be concerned and affected by suffering of others and relieving the suffering. That requires empathy. Empathy is less exclusively linked to suffering. Empathy also includes helping people to become more capable, more successful. Buddhism puts a stronger emphasis on the necessity to diminish the negative thoughts and emotions like jealousy, craving for fame, greed, ego centeredness by systematically training and disciplining the mind. The author suggest to replace, Descartes," I think therefore I am" by "I participate therefore I am". Buddhism agrees with the author. The Buddhist equivalent is "nobody exists on its own, independent of others". "Therefore there is no independent self."

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Empathy, Christendom, Leadership. Franklin Roosevelt. World collapse. Franklin Roosevelt, Buddhism, Compassion
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on 5 September 2015
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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on 15 April 2014
This is a very well written and outstandingly important book. One can only marvel at the degree of scholarship that went into it. Indeed, its message could hardly be more important and I have no hesitation in giving it 5 stars. Survival of humans on earth might well depend upon taking the message of this work seriously. If there is any single hero that emerges from its pages as foundational to the author’s perspective, then it is surely John Bowlby with his postulation of a basic process of attachment formation. This is one process underlying the control of behaviour but there are also others. Given the depth and breadth of the author’s work, it might seem churlish to point to omissions but I would mention two other names, each of whom championed a process underlying the control of behaviour. Like Rifkin, B.F. Skinner described links between the control of behaviour and our global problems. Also like Rifkin, he had a ‘utopian’ vision. Skinner argued that, for life to survive, we need to stop reinforcing socially maladaptive behaviour and start reinforcing socially sustainable behaviour. For recent discussion of his work, including an appearance of his daughter, please see here: [...]. The other theorist that I have in mind is Bruce Alexander and his work ‘The Globalization of Addiction’, in which he addresses the role of addiction at the basis of our problems. A combination of the work of these 3 authors would make for a particularly potent answer to our global crisis. I strongly recommend Rifkin’s book.

Frederick Toates, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Open University, England.
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on 16 August 2013
I'll begin by saying i loved this book. The admiration i have for the author and his work however does not necessarily root from the conceptual quality and accuracy of the content of his book, rather from his admirable intentions that i felt radiated through his work.

"The mind is like a fertile garden in which anything that is planted, flowers or weeds, will grow."

I'll begin by agreeing with the quote above, explaining what i felt about the "conceptual quality and accuracy" of the book, then i'll finish with explaining the relevance of the quote.

I sometimes felt that perhaps he may not be sketching reality, as in drawing over what is really there. I felt he may have he have made additions and subtractions to the picture that were projections as opposed to observations. I mean, "psychological consciousness" isn't a reality, its his conceptualization of way the human mind processes information. Although there is substance, there is the possibility of his map not necessarily covering all aspects of the territory- particularly those aspects which may have created challenging contradictions and created uncertainty regarding the assumptions underlying the content.

With regards to his conceptualization of human nature, he presumes we are predisposed to be good, social creatures. Basically that we are empathetic & therefor affectionate, caring, sociable & co-operative by nature. I'll suggest discovering human nature is an unfinished journey that is likely to have as many twists an turns in the path ahead as it has had in the path that we've taken to get where we are now. As we discover more about nature & our relationship to it, we discover more about our own nature. Although cognitive psychology & all its allies have renovated, renewed and improved our understanding of our own nature, its inevitably incomplete.

So, i feel although his ideas and concepts may not adhere to the rigorous scientific measures of quality, in that his model may not be a 100% accurate representation of reality, (if there is such a thing), i think there is a lot of substance that merits recognition and investigation rather than disregard.

Now, why i love the book and admire the author.

He's written a story about the human journey. Like many have done in the past. These stories in the past, have had monumental impacts on humans self and "other self" perception, the way we see ourselves, others & the relationships we share.

These stories plant seeds in the psyches that make up society. The rampant competitivity we see in Western materialistic, consumer culture, began as a seed in sociological interpretations of Darwinism, which has been nourished by our daily bombardment by advertisement. This seed has now become a weed that is strangling the roots of our social solidarity, its fragmenting & disconnecting us from one and other and the planet we inhabit. The results of this are revealed in climate change, stupendous disparities of wealth, excessive crime, horrific violence and war. We're divided from one another.

Jeremy Rifkin has done his absolute best to write a story that encourages the growth of love, care, compassion, affection, co-operation and the selfless pursuit of happiness. I respect him and his work just for that.

The way i see it, he is planting the seeds of self-perception that are necessary prerequisites to the transformation of humanity. A desperately needed transformation. It is his admirable intention to polish the gems of human nature till they shine in every one of us that for me makes this book a brilliant work. I hope his story of human nature, nourishes the fertile minds of humanity- from the academic community into parenting, politics, education and deeper into the psyches of every innocent child that enters the world.

Being 19, i feel directly affected by this book. Some of the changes Rifkin suspects to occur in my generation are evidenced in myself, my family and friends. I feel inspired and humbled for the opportunity to participate in the transformation of our society. Many will disagree with the conceptual content of the book, those who do however must credit his attempt to really plant a seed in the fertile youthful minds of today, a seed that if watered will help society grow into to something beautiful..
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on 10 March 2011
I have nothing much to add to the other reviewers' stance, for fear also of becoming too verbose: as such there is enough word-noise in our time. This work is brilliant and lucid to the highest degree! Read it, feel it, think 'it', and then live it. Thank you, Mr. Rifkin!
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