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The best-selling coauthor of Sex at Dawn in the New York Times discusses how “change” has perverted the way we live: feeding, reading, thinking, playing, parenting, talking, working and dying.

Most of us have instinctive proof that the world is coming to an end-balmy December days, face-to-face conversation replaced by head-to-screen zomboidism, a nation in constant war, a disarrayed political system. We hear many myths and misconceptions so often that they feel like truths: the greatest achievement of mankind is civilization. There is no question that progress has been made. Count the riches you have. Here and now you’re lucky to be alive. Okay, perhaps we are, or perhaps we are not. Civilized to Death counteracts the notion that progress is inherently good, arguing that the defining “progress” of our age is similar to a progressive disease.

Naturally, prehistoric life was not without serious dangers and disadvantages. During childhood, most babies died. It may be life-threatening to have a broken bone, infected wound, snakebite or difficult childbirth. Yet fundamentally, argues Ryan, were these pre-civilized threats more deadly than contemporary scourges like car accidents, cancers, cardiovascular disease, and a technologically extended cycle of dying? At a time when our environment, our culture, and our own self-sense are increasingly in danger, a detailed understanding of the long prelude to civilization of our species is essential to a clear sense of the ultimate value of civilization-and its expense. In Civilized to Death, Ryan argues that to find our way into a better future, we must start looking backwards.