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Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

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** A 2018 GoodReads Choice Award Nominee in the History & Biography category** A captivating history of the universe -- from before the dawn of time through the far reaches of the distant future. Most historians study the smallest slivers of time, emphasizing specific dates, individuals, and documents. But what would it look like to study the whole of history, from the ** A 2018 GoodReads Choice Award Nominee in the History & Biography category** A captivating history of the universe -- from before the dawn of time through the far reaches of the distant future. Most historians study the smallest slivers of time, emphasizing specific dates, individuals, and documents. But what would it look like to study the whole of history, from the big bang through the present day -- and even into the remote future? How would looking at the full span of time change the way we perceive the universe, the earth, and our very existence? These were the questions David Christian set out to answer when he created the field of "Big History," the most exciting new approach to understanding where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. In Origin Story, Christian takes readers on a wild ride through the entire 13.8 billion years we've come to know as "history." By focusing on defining events (thresholds), major trends, and profound questions about our origins, Christian exposes the hidden threads that tie everything together -- from the creation of the planet to the advent of agriculture, nuclear war, and beyond. With stunning insights into the origin of the universe, the beginning of life, the emergence of humans, and what the future might bring, Origin Story boldly reframes our place in the cosmos.


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** A 2018 GoodReads Choice Award Nominee in the History & Biography category** A captivating history of the universe -- from before the dawn of time through the far reaches of the distant future. Most historians study the smallest slivers of time, emphasizing specific dates, individuals, and documents. But what would it look like to study the whole of history, from the ** A 2018 GoodReads Choice Award Nominee in the History & Biography category** A captivating history of the universe -- from before the dawn of time through the far reaches of the distant future. Most historians study the smallest slivers of time, emphasizing specific dates, individuals, and documents. But what would it look like to study the whole of history, from the big bang through the present day -- and even into the remote future? How would looking at the full span of time change the way we perceive the universe, the earth, and our very existence? These were the questions David Christian set out to answer when he created the field of "Big History," the most exciting new approach to understanding where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. In Origin Story, Christian takes readers on a wild ride through the entire 13.8 billion years we've come to know as "history." By focusing on defining events (thresholds), major trends, and profound questions about our origins, Christian exposes the hidden threads that tie everything together -- from the creation of the planet to the advent of agriculture, nuclear war, and beyond. With stunning insights into the origin of the universe, the beginning of life, the emergence of humans, and what the future might bring, Origin Story boldly reframes our place in the cosmos.

30 review for Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill Gates

    We all have an origin story. In some societies, they manifest as creation myths. In others, they look more like history textbooks. For example, as a kid in the United States, I grew up learning about the group of rebels who stood up to their British overlords and founded our country. Its human nature to be curious about where we come from, and origin stories unite people through a common history and shared sense of purpose. But what if all of humanity shared an origin story? What would that story We all have an origin story. In some societies, they manifest as creation myths. In others, they look more like history textbooks. For example, as a kid in the United States, I grew up learning about the group of rebels who stood up to their British overlords and founded our country. It’s human nature to be curious about where we come from, and origin stories unite people through a common history and shared sense of purpose. But what if all of humanity shared an origin story? What would that story look like? Historian David Christian tries to answer those questions in his new book Origin Story. As the creator of Big History—my favorite course of all time—David is well-suited to write about how we came to be. Big History tells the story of the universe from the big bang to the first signs of life to today’s complex societies. It shows how everything is connected to everything else, weaving together insights and evidence from across disciplines into a single, understandable narrative. Origin Story is essentially the Big History course condensed into a short book. It divides 13.8 billion years of existence into what David calls “thresholds”—moments in history that mark key transition points, like the formation of our solar system and the first appearance of early humans. The chapters about the early thresholds are heavy on physics and chemistry, but it skews more towards biology and anthropology as single cell life evolves into more complex beings. If you haven’t taken Big History, Origin Story introduces you to its concepts in a straightforward, understandable way. David is a very good writer, and he has a way of making complicated subjects fun. If you’re already a Big Historian, Origin Story is a great refresher. It does a fantastic job distilling the latest thinking about the origins of the universe. I learned some things that are simply too new to be included in the course. The book ends with a chapter on where humanity—and the universe—is headed. David is more pessimistic about the future than I am. He gets a little stuck on the current economic and political malaise happening in the West, and I wish he talked more about the role innovation will play in preventing the worst effects of climate change. But he nails the importance of this moment in history: “Things are happening so fast that, like the slow-motion time of a near accident, the details of what we do in the next few decades will have huge consequences for us and for the biosphere on scales of thousands of years. Like it or not, we are now managing an entire biosphere, and we can do it well or badly.” Understanding where humanity comes from is crucial to shaping where we go next. Origin Story is an up-to-date history of everything that will leave you with a greater appreciation of our place in the universe.

  2. 5 out of 5

    J.L. Sutton

    David Christian's Origin Story: A Big History of Everything was my first go at 'big history' (13.8 billion years of it). Christian looked at threshold events the way futurists look at trends and singularities. These thresholds were like transitional mile markers differentiating one order (perhaps by a near extinction event) from the next. Christian looked at the numerous 'Goldilocks' conditions which allowed life to exist as it does today. Christian also brought origins myths into this history, David Christian's Origin Story: A Big History of Everything was my first go at 'big history' (13.8 billion years of it). Christian looked at threshold events the way futurists look at trends and singularities. These thresholds were like transitional mile markers differentiating one order (perhaps by a near extinction event) from the next. Christian looked at the numerous 'Goldilocks' conditions which allowed life to exist as it does today. Christian also brought origins myths into this history, especially at the beginning of his book. However, while big history is, probably by necessity, non-personal, I would have found it more compelling to have explored more mythology in Christian's final chapter of future history. Interesting read!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    loved this. Had the most wonderful sense of the sublime while reading it; I'm tiny and unimportant and my specific life could not matter less. Christian's framing of 21st-century power in terms of cell structures has made me deal better with my anxiety about how fucked the world is, and my fears for humanity in the near future. Excellent writing, about the only topic there is, really.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Geevee

    Big bang, Big (and some very small) science, Big history. David Christian takes his big approach to life, the universe and everything to provide a very readable and interesting book. Origin story will take the reader from billions of years ago up to the information age. He does this in two ways: the first using thresholds to define leaps and...well thresholds in space and evolution; second by accessible and engaging prose. For me the big bang, and how that developed along with its universes, • Big bang, • Big (and some very small) science, • Big history. David Christian takes his big approach to life, the universe and everything to provide a very readable and interesting book. Origin story will take the reader from billions of years ago up to the information age. He does this in two ways: the first using thresholds to define leaps and...well thresholds in space and evolution; second by accessible and engaging prose. For me the big bang, and how that developed along with its universes, galaxies and solar systems was a riveting story. Couple this with how these things behaved, and how they continue to do so, underpinned by chemistry and physics explained through human understanding of sciences gave me a better grasp of not just how but the what and why. I was more clear too with this big and complex subject thanks to the high-quality writing on how man is able to use his intelligence to map, explore, investigate and then prove the origin story. The history of our own solar system and our planet is clear and easy to digest. As Mr Christian moves through the Earth's phases and changes the reader is given easy to understand information and when needed excellent explanation and helpful analogies. As for humans and the impact we have had on Earth, the last threshold and phase in the book, the story is well told. Oddly it was this point I lost a little interest; perhaps because it is contemporary and not new to me? I chose this book because it was a shiny new one begging me to take it home from my library. I was glad I did - for what is sub-400 pages narrative it takes you on a stellar journey that packs a big punch.

  5. 5 out of 5

    A Man Called Ove

    The first thing I have done after finishing the book is to unlike Bill Gates' review (4/5) of it. I also suspect if he reviewed and recommended this not because he personally found it great, but because he wanted others to read it as a good, lucid introductory book on Big History. The first half of the book is a poor cousin of "Cosmos" or "A Short history of Nearly Everything". It deals with the origin of the universe to the origin of human beings. The book has more information than insights and The first thing I have done after finishing the book is to unlike Bill Gates' review (4/5) of it. I also suspect if he reviewed and recommended this not because he personally found it great, but because he wanted others to read it as a good, lucid introductory book on Big History. The first half of the book is a poor cousin of "Cosmos" or "A Short history of Nearly Everything". It deals with the origin of the universe to the origin of human beings. The book has more information than insights and for this part, the book felt a bit better. Couldnt help comparing the second half, the story of humans, to the magnificient "Sapiens" by Harari. Instead of insights you have a lot of children's general history level facts thrown at you here. It was so uninteresting that I skimmed the last chapter. Avoid, unless this is the first book you will be reading on this subject. And my level of disappointment is bcoz I have read some fantastic books on related topics.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tucker

    Many thanks to Little Brown, and Company for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review Bill Gates blurbed this so | Goodreads | Blog | Twitch | Pinterest | Buy

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maria Espadinha

    The Implications of the Unified Whole Bacterias, baboons, rocks, oceans, auroras, meteors, planets, moons, stars, quarks, photons, supernovas, black holes, slugs, cell phones... they are all part of the Enigmatic Whole the infinite parts of Infinity, interacting and making History in a Cosmic Web where a butterfly flaps its wings in Chicago and a tornado occurs in Tokyo. Everything is connected. Every tiny, atomic event has an implication in the Mysterious, Unified Whole I have written this book The Implications of the Unified Whole Bacterias, baboons, rocks, oceans, auroras, meteors, planets, moons, stars, quarks, photons, supernovas, black holes, slugs, cell phones... — they are all part of the Enigmatic Whole — the infinite parts of Infinity, interacting and making History in a Cosmic Web where “a butterfly flaps its wings in Chicago and a tornado occurs in Tokyo.” Everything is connected. Every tiny, atomic event has an implication in the Mysterious, Unified Whole “I have written this book in the optimistic belief that we are not doomed to a chronic state of fragmentation and meaninglessness. Within the creative hurricane of modernity, there is emerging a new, global origin story that is as full of meaning, awe, and mystery...” — The History of Everything

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jaya

    This was good, definitely good but just so. Felt more of a concoction of already familiar works of some of the famous historians, scientists, biologists and anthropologists. Was hoping for something more insightful...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Susan in NC

    I want to read more good nonfiction, and came across this intriguing title - it fit the bill nicely, giving me a new cautiously optimistic outlook and taking my mind off of the dreadful news headlines for a bit. First of all, I really enjoyed the dry humor and interesting observations of the author. He uses the term Goldilocks to refer to the just right evolutionary conditions planet Earth possessed which allowed life to develop. The following passage is typical of his engaging style, in which he I want to read more good nonfiction, and came across this intriguing title - it fit the bill nicely, giving me a new cautiously optimistic outlook and taking my mind off of the dreadful news headlines for a bit. First of all, I really enjoyed the dry humor and interesting observations of the author. He uses the term Goldilocks to refer to the just right evolutionary conditions planet Earth possessed which allowed life to develop. The following passage is typical of his engaging style, in which he discusses these ‘evolutionary ups and downs’: “These changes did not take the smooth, stately forms that Darwin and his generation expected of evolution. Instead, the history of big life was an unpredictable and dangerous roller coaster ride… Like the cliché about the life of a soldier, evolution in the Phanerozoic meant long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror and life-threatening violence. The violence is most apparent in periods of mass extinctions.” Or these observations on agrarian civilizations: “Viewed ecologically states and their rulers represent a new step in the food chain, a new trophic level. We have seen how energy from sunlight enters the biosphere through photosynthesis and travels from plants to herbivores to carnivores. And we have seen how most of that energy is wasted at each trophic level, in a sort of garbage tax.… Rulers and nobles and officials begin to squeeze wealth in the labor and produce of peasants, who in turn got their energy in food for farming.… Thinking about such processes in ecological terms reminds us that wealth never really consist of things; it consists of control over the energy flows that make, move, mine, and transform things. Wealth is a sort of compressed sunlight, just as matter is really congealed energy.” See? Different and intriguing, yet accessible. And I admit, when I read the above statement about nobles squeezing peasants, I thought of my favorite scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur (Graham Chapman) is treated to a lecture on human rights from a peasant! I found Christian’s Big History ideas a fascinating, clear-eyed, intelligent way of getting a big picture of where humans have been and where we may be going; maybe not always a rosy picture, but an impressive and important way to organize our history thus far. I love how beautifully he weaves together so many disciplines and narratives! So much of current news coverage is breathless and cataclysmic and, I feel, takes our eyes and minds off the real, larger issues covered here. I am going to continue to seek out well-written and well-researched non-fiction that helps me grasp the important issues and try and make sense of our world!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ron Quartel

    Scary stuff. Really scary, and important, and informational. This is science that everyone needs to understand. If you follow creationist theories, just skip over the bits on evolution. There is still some good information in here that won't go against your beliefs.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Priyam Roy

    Wow - Where to begin? When I first started reading Origin Story, I had absolutely no idea that this book would grow to become one of my favourites. Trust me when I say that it is a nail-biter, I found it excruciatingly challenging to put down! Origin Story takes you on a journey through time, from the beginning of the universe at the Big Bang, to present day, and onwards into some likely scenarios for the future. It's difficult to praise this work without spoiling its contents, but I especially Wow - Where to begin? When I first started reading Origin Story, I had absolutely no idea that this book would grow to become one of my favourites. Trust me when I say that it is a nail-biter, I found it excruciatingly challenging to put down! Origin Story takes you on a journey through time, from the beginning of the universe at the Big Bang, to present day, and onwards into some likely scenarios for the future. It's difficult to praise this work without spoiling its contents, but I especially appreciated Mr. David Christian's discretion to explain complex scientific processes in layman's terms. As a POC, one aspect of the book I applaud is the due diligence the author gives to the atrocities committed by Europeans in the name of "progression". This book is factual, impartial, and thoroughly informative. I would recommend it to everyone.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brandy

    Multidisciplinary look at the modern origin story of humankind. It begins with the big bang (astrophysics, quantum mechanics, etc.) and talks about star formation and planet formation. Then it goes on to discuss the history of earth and of life on earth (biology, chemistry, geology, etc.), all the way through present times (economics, history, sociology, etc.). It finishes up by looking at possible futures for us and the universe as a whole. I don't normally get as engaged with non-fiction books, Multidisciplinary look at the modern origin story of humankind. It begins with the big bang (astrophysics, quantum mechanics, etc.) and talks about star formation and planet formation. Then it goes on to discuss the history of earth and of life on earth (biology, chemistry, geology, etc.), all the way through present times (economics, history, sociology, etc.). It finishes up by looking at possible futures for us and the universe as a whole. I don't normally get as engaged with non-fiction books, but this one was fascinating and truly puts the world and the universe into a different perspective for me. I highly, highly recommend this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    MaryBeth

    I'll be honest--it was a little difficult to concentrate on this as one of my summer selections, but I'm glad I did. The author is an engaging writer and I found myself carried along once I started. History and science are fascinating. Glad I picked it up.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    Very similar to his lecture series. My review of that can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gene

    Fascinating, well written, & full of information that you probably dont know, but should. Makes you think, wonder, & want to learn more. Fascinating, well written, & full of information that you probably don’t know, but should. Makes you think, wonder, & want to learn more.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Iman Shabani

    A pretty nice read indeed. Connecting the dots that we already know of, was done nicely in this book. Give it a read and you won't be disappointed.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Said AlMaskery

    A good topic, but written as an essay which makes it difficult to follow up. The introduction though was really nice.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    Every culture and tradition has had its origin story, its understanding of how the world came to be as they knew it, which formed the basis for their further understanding of how to live, interact with others, get food, make clothes. Our origin stories are the basis of how we understand everything. Now, in the early 21st century, we know far more about the origin of the universe, our sun, our planet, and life on Earth. We live in a society of unparalleled complexity, and in the last two hundred Every culture and tradition has had its origin story, its understanding of how the world came to be as they knew it, which formed the basis for their further understanding of how to live, interact with others, get food, make clothes. Our origin stories are the basis of how we understand everything. Now, in the early 21st century, we know far more about the origin of the universe, our sun, our planet, and life on Earth. We live in a society of unparalleled complexity, and in the last two hundred years, we have gained the ability not just to support more human beings, but to improve the daily lives of most humans on the planet, not just an elite 10% or so. What we haven't done yet is integrate this knowledge into a new, shared origin story that helps us cope with this new, complex, and rapidly changing world. Christian intends this as at least a first pass at a modern origin story. In a lively, highly readable or listenable style, he lays out the basics of our new knowledge of the origins of the universe, our planet, and life on Earth, as well as an overview of the evolution of our species and development of our societies, right down to how we made the transition from strictly agrarian societies to today's high-tech, rapidly changing world. And he looks at the challenges as well as the benefits of that transition and our current power to affect our planet. Christian makes the point, as others have in the last few years, that we now have, in essence, the controls for our only habitable planet. We decide what species live and which ones die, and we are playing with the climate controls. If we understand and master those controls in time, we have the potential to give our species the best and most comfortable lives we have ever had. Or we could make the planet uninhabitable for such an energy-consuming culture, and drive ourselves back to the early agrarian or even hunter-gatherer level. Or we could render the planet uninhabitable for our species altogether, and leave Earth to start over again, with other species in a climate unlike any that has existed since the first primates evolved. Despite that potential grim outcome, I found this overall a lively and interesting book, well worth the time I spent listening to it. Recommended. I bought this audiobook.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rajesh Goradia

    The Origin Story is a great summary of David Christian's Big History Project - a field of study that integrates concepts from diverse silos of knowledge in order to explain the rising complexity in the universe the pinnacle of which is represented by the human race. Through this story we come to terms with our chance existence, despite the law of entropy which predicts that disorder of a closed system should only increase. Each threshold where something new emerges requires more energy and a The Origin Story is a great summary of David Christian's Big History Project - a field of study that integrates concepts from diverse silos of knowledge in order to explain the rising complexity in the universe – the pinnacle of which is represented by the human race. Through this story we come to terms with our chance existence, despite the law of entropy which predicts that disorder of a closed system should only increase. Each threshold – where something new emerges – requires more energy and a more improbable set of goldilocks conditions. This book takes us on 13.8 billion year journey through several thresholds - from the big bang, to the creation of the first atoms, to the biological formation of the first cells and DNA, to the evolution of cultural complexity resulting from the industrial revolution. Each step is marked by an increased need for free energy flows and increased fragility because of the more stringent conditions within which their existence is possible. The book highlights the common thread connecting all of us with the universe. We are all made up of congealed energy (atoms) – just like the stars, the planets, the oceans, the animals and the devices we create. We simply represent a more improbable and energy intensive arrangement of particular atoms. Our death may be the end of our story, but not the end of the parts that make us. In the broad narrative of the universe, we may be the most complex creatures, but we occupy an insignificant slice of time in the journey of the universe. Our continued existence is far from certain – in fact it is highly improbable. An asteroid or a volcano could destroy us. We could run out of energy. A biological virus could destroy our civilization. Humanity may evolve into a super race or be destroyed by one. The climate may run amok – like on Venus. The challenges that face us are immense, but so is our ability to find solutions. This book is not simply an attempt to look back at the evolution of the universe and locate our place in it. It is a bold attempt to create a radical sense of shared responsibility among humans in face of unprecedented challenges. It is an attempt to create a common origin story – a story shared by all humans regardless of their race, ethnicity and religion – in a daring effort to unite the human race in its quest for survival.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tamim Ansary

    Christian really puts the "big" in "big history". Somehow this book achieves both sweep and detail. He gives us the universe as a story of energy and information interacting to generate ever-increasing complexity, and I'm sold. By the time he's done, I'm thinking, "Yeah: that's a pretty good way to look at it. Hard to think of any aspect of history that doesn't fit into that schema." As for meticulous, illuminating detail, look at his account of how life forms emerged from non-living matter: Christian really puts the "big" in "big history". Somehow this book achieves both sweep and detail. He gives us the universe as a story of energy and information interacting to generate ever-increasing complexity, and I'm sold. By the time he's done, I'm thinking, "Yeah: that's a pretty good way to look at it. Hard to think of any aspect of history that doesn't fit into that schema." As for meticulous, illuminating detail, look at his account of how life forms emerged from non-living matter: wow. I got this book from the library but after I read it I bought it: I wanted to have it around.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andy Klein

    This book is much overrated as is the so-called field of Big History. I kept thinking that this total is not the equal of the sum of its parts. This was a combination of Cosmos, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Sapiens, but not even close to the equal of any of them. It succeeded best in its description of the creation of the universe, the sun, and Earth but went steadily downward as it shifted to sociology to be quite jarring. The book tried to do too much and succeeded in delivering This book is much overrated as is the so-called field of Big History. I kept thinking that this total is not the equal of the sum of its parts. This was a combination of Cosmos, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Sapiens, but not even close to the equal of any of them. It succeeded best in its description of the creation of the universe, the sun, and Earth but went steadily downward as it shifted to sociology to be quite jarring. The book tried to do too much and succeeded in delivering too little.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Martin Smrz

    Great book. Especially the history of Earth is delivered in very cohesive and clear way. The one star down is for a bit repetitive covering of industrial era. Otherwise this should be a history book in school to understand the history of our planet.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah (WorldOfWonders)

    I needed this book in my life! I knew most of it already, but to read the entire story as a whole was terrific!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Angelique Simonsen

    This is one that makes you think especially the last chapters

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vassiliki

    Very enjoyable read! Easy to follow, informative, and dense without being overwhelming.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Arun

    excellent book that condenses the entire knowledge on universe into a delightful read

  27. 5 out of 5

    Buzdugan Alexandru

    I took my time reading this book. After watching a Bill Gates documentary on how he reads, I tried adopting some of his methods with this book and found the result very pleasing. I really tried to understand what I was reading and that paid off throughout the book. I felt that there were some ideas that stuck with me, ideas that I would be using from now on to mold my understanding of the world. I found the ideas of energy flow (and how entropy takes an energy tax) and the parallel between I took my time reading this book. After watching a Bill Gates documentary on how he reads, I tried adopting some of his methods with this book and found the result very pleasing. I really tried to understand what I was reading and that paid off throughout the book. I felt that there were some ideas that stuck with me, ideas that I would be using from now on to mold my understanding of the world. I found the ideas of energy flow (and how entropy takes an energy tax) and the parallel between microorganisms and the state eye-opening. As a remark, I recommend this book to anybody as long as they read it thoroughly and really try to grasp the complexity of the ideas within

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lissa

    4.5 stars Basically, this an in depth exploration of life from the big bang to current humans. At times, it took some careful re-reading of the physics portions of this book but really this book is immensely readable and I found so much of it incredibly fascinating. I think the most important idea to take away from this book is that it really is a miracle that we are here, living the life that we do, because it took a lot of extremely ideal conditions for us to get to this point. I received a 4.5 stars Basically, this an in depth exploration of life from the big bang to current humans. At times, it took some careful re-reading of the physics portions of this book but really this book is immensely readable and I found so much of it incredibly fascinating. I think the most important idea to take away from this book is that it really is a miracle that we are here, living the life that we do, because it took a lot of extremely ideal conditions for us to get to this point. I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Thomas L. Fenner

    The difficulty with taking such a broad view of history is that you lose your focus as you move closer in time to the present. The first half of this book - with its descriptions of of the Big Bang and the beginnings of complex life forms - is excellent. As the story moves closer to the present and begins to speculate about the future, the focus or analysis becomes less clear.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Origin Story is historian David Christian's valiant effort to cram the history of the universe into 300 pages. Historians typically trace the beginning of human history to the time some 5,000 years ago when people started committing language to writing. After all, history as practiced in academia is the study of primary and secondary sources, nearly all of them written. And without a written record there is presumably no history. But doesn't it seem shortsighted to limit ourselves to a mere 5,000 Origin Story is historian David Christian's valiant effort to cram the history of the universe into 300 pages. Historians typically trace the beginning of human history to the time some 5,000 years ago when people started committing language to writing. After all, history as practiced in academia is the study of primary and secondary sources, nearly all of them written. And without a written record there is presumably no history. But doesn't it seem shortsighted to limit ourselves to a mere 5,000 years when the human race has walked the Earth for at least 200,000 years and the planet has been in existence for some 4.5 billion? It's not as though our only source of information about the past is what has been written. Geology, archaeology, genetics, and climate science can all shed light on the forces that have shaped human affairs. To understand where we've come from and how we got here, why should we confine ourselves to the silos of academia? Origin Story: a comprehensive approach to the study of the past That was the question historian David Christian asked himself thirty years ago. An Oxford-educated American then teaching in Australia, Christian developed a course he called "Big History." He enlisted the help of colleagues in other departments to employ the full range of academic tools in exploring the past. In fact, he began at the very beginning, with the Big Bang. With help from astrophysicists, chemists, exobiologists, and other scientists and social scientists, Christian surveyed the full 13.8 billion years in the history of the universe, with a focus on humankind's place in this much wider context. And today, he is recognized as the creator of the emerging field of Big History, an interdisciplinary field that has given rise to the International Big History Association and the Journal of Big History. "An origin story for all modern humans" In Origin Story, Christian's most recent book in the field, he shoehorns into barely more than 300 pages a survey of Big History. As he notes in an Introduction, "This is an origin story for all modern humans, and it builds on the global traditions of modern science." The first half of the book encompasses the Big Bang, the formation of stars and galaxies, the creation of the solar system, and the emergence of life on Earth. The human race appears between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago, midway through the book. The eight thresholds of Big History Christian finds all 13.8 billion years of Big History marked by eight Threshholds: Threshold 1: The Big Bang Threshold 2: The creation of stars and galaxies Threshold 3: The Periodic Table expands Threshold 4: Molecules, moons, planets, and solar systems emerge Threshold 5: Simple life first appears on Earth Threshold 6: Life grows more complex, and eventually humans first walk the Earth Threshold 7: Humans set out on the road to agrarian civilization Threshold 8: The Anthropocene: the fossil fuel revolution As Christian notes, this is a story of ever-growing complexity. At each of these key transition points, "more complex things appeared." The eight Thresholds "highlight major turning points, when already existing things were rearranged or otherwise altered to create something with new, 'emergent' properties." Christian's writing is strong and clear. But when explaining in detail what transpired at each of these turning points, he makes liberal use of scientific language. It's rough going without a solid, college-level grounding in science. But there's no end of insight in this fresh and provocative approach to the study of the past.

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