When I first began struggling with the material in Beyond Civilization, I tried to organize it in what might be called the usual way–as one long, continuous argument, beginning at A and ending at Z. The result was like a very dense weaving of ideas, facts, theories, assertions, and explanations (so dense as to be nearly opaque)–nothing I would want to read or to write.

Finally I came up with an entirely new approach, which consisted of providing the materials in small, discrete chunks and letting the reader do the weaving. Remarkably enough, the result was a text that early readers consider amazingly lucid and “easy to read.”

As a side benefit, this approach also produced a text I believe to be ideally suited to the classroom. I’m no classroom teacher–I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about teaching my novel Ishmael, for example–but I feel sure that even I could teach this book.

Some teachers will want to deal with Beyond Civilization in conceptual units consisting of several pages (as presented here), but it doesn’t have to be dealt with that way. A page can be squeezed in anywhere, anytime, and make sense as a separate unit. There’s not even any necessity to “finish” the book (unlike a novel, which must be “finished” at all costs). Three minutes of reading or listening and you’re ready to start a discussion that will be valuable whether it lasts ten minutes or two hours.

One thing I’ve learned in visiting classrooms is that 12-year-olds ask the exact same questions and express the exact same anxieties and concerns as 20-year-olds. Grade-leveling is all but meaningless when it comes to the subjects and issues explored in my books, including this one. For this reason, I’ve made no effort to grade-level the activities and discussion questions offered here. Some may be too easy for older students–but few, I think, will be too hard for younger ones.

Daniel Quinn