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Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

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An introduction to a new way of looking at history, from a perspective that stretches from the beginning of time to the present day, Maps of Time is world history on an unprecedented scale. Beginning with the Big Bang, David Christian views the interaction of the natural world with the more recent arrivals in flora and fauna, including human beings. Cosmology, geology, arch An introduction to a new way of looking at history, from a perspective that stretches from the beginning of time to the present day, Maps of Time is world history on an unprecedented scale. Beginning with the Big Bang, David Christian views the interaction of the natural world with the more recent arrivals in flora and fauna, including human beings. Cosmology, geology, archeology, and population and environmental studies—all figure in David Christian's account, which is an ambitious overview of the emerging field of "Big History." Maps of Time opens with the origins of the universe, the stars and the galaxies, the sun and the solar system, including the earth, and conducts readers through the evolution of the planet before human habitation. It surveys the development of human society from the Paleolithic era through the transition to agriculture, the emergence of cities and states, and the birth of the modern, industrial period right up to intimations of possible futures. Sweeping in scope, finely focused in its minute detail, this riveting account of the known world, from the inception of space-time to the prospects of global warming, lays the groundwork for world history—and Big History—true as never before to its name.


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An introduction to a new way of looking at history, from a perspective that stretches from the beginning of time to the present day, Maps of Time is world history on an unprecedented scale. Beginning with the Big Bang, David Christian views the interaction of the natural world with the more recent arrivals in flora and fauna, including human beings. Cosmology, geology, arch An introduction to a new way of looking at history, from a perspective that stretches from the beginning of time to the present day, Maps of Time is world history on an unprecedented scale. Beginning with the Big Bang, David Christian views the interaction of the natural world with the more recent arrivals in flora and fauna, including human beings. Cosmology, geology, archeology, and population and environmental studies—all figure in David Christian's account, which is an ambitious overview of the emerging field of "Big History." Maps of Time opens with the origins of the universe, the stars and the galaxies, the sun and the solar system, including the earth, and conducts readers through the evolution of the planet before human habitation. It surveys the development of human society from the Paleolithic era through the transition to agriculture, the emergence of cities and states, and the birth of the modern, industrial period right up to intimations of possible futures. Sweeping in scope, finely focused in its minute detail, this riveting account of the known world, from the inception of space-time to the prospects of global warming, lays the groundwork for world history—and Big History—true as never before to its name.

30 review for Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    David Christian's book covers the entire history of the universe - the Big Bang to the universe's eventual descent into darkness - in 500 pages, laying out a text book of "big history." Big history is a response to a perception that history as a field has been becoming increasingly fragmented, as specialists veer off into their own corners and study minute details while the big picture often gets lost in the shuffle. It's a fair point. Christian responds to this with a demand for synthesis, into David Christian's book covers the entire history of the universe - the Big Bang to the universe's eventual descent into darkness - in 500 pages, laying out a text book of "big history." Big history is a response to a perception that history as a field has been becoming increasingly fragmented, as specialists veer off into their own corners and study minute details while the big picture often gets lost in the shuffle. It's a fair point. Christian responds to this with a demand for synthesis, into what he refers to as a new 'creation myth.' His 500 pages include the Big Bang, the geological evolution on earth, the beginnings of life, and human evolution before jumping into the traditional contents of human history. It's very much a bird's eye view, tied together by the loose thematic thread that the universe keeps managing to produce complexity and order, even if it seems illogical and counter to the second law of thermodynamics. Also highlighted, especially in the work's second half, is the importance of language, communication, and networks of exchange to promote increased complexity and development. It's a really fascinating read, and will give a nice introduction to lots of topics from astrophysics to biology to sociology. I'm a bit mixed on big history in general, though. General trends are helpful, and a wider view is often very much needed, but I do think that the details matter in human history and they're pretty absent here. It's a good book for an alternate perspective and a nice reminder that lots of factors are needed when accounting for historical change. But the connection between the Big Bang and the development of trade networks seems pretty loose, and I'm not sure it's all that helpful or necessary to study them in tandem. Christian is big on making metaphorical connections between the levels - the formation of cities paralleling the formation of stars and all that - but it never really develops fully. And I think for big history to have a lasting impact, it has to make a better case for how the study of all these different fields together is more helpful than studying them on their own.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    It took more than two months to read this 500-page book, intensively taking notes. That is to say that it really is worth it. I'm a graduate in history myself, and I like to read detailed monographs, but at the same time I'm very fond of authors that try to see the broader picture. "Big History" (as Christian propagates) requires courage and a talent to filter a storyline out of the chaotic mass of details, whilst respecting a thorough accurateness and a sense of nuance. In this book Christian h It took more than two months to read this 500-page book, intensively taking notes. That is to say that it really is worth it. I'm a graduate in history myself, and I like to read detailed monographs, but at the same time I'm very fond of authors that try to see the broader picture. "Big History" (as Christian propagates) requires courage and a talent to filter a storyline out of the chaotic mass of details, whilst respecting a thorough accurateness and a sense of nuance. In this book Christian has chosen for the highest possible (bird)perspective, beginning with the Big Bang all the way up (though without using the word "progress") to the present, and even looking into the future of coming centuries and millenia. I'm impressed by the literature Christian has digested and his ability to really capture the broader picture and present it in a digestible way. The most interesting chapter was the one in which he describes the big trends in agrarian societies, roughly between 3000 BCE and the year 1500: I've never read anything like that anywhere else. But of course, such an ambitious work also has a lot of weaknesses. The most important to me is that Christian (whilst denying this explicitly) favours a kind of historical materialism: in almost all chapters the economic organisation of society is the driving force behind change or transformation; political and especially cultural developments or attitudes are downplayed or ignored. Secondly Christian is following with a bit too much ease recent trends in historiography: in the chapter on the appearance of modern man (the homo sapiens) the main these is based on just one publication in a science magazine; Christian also almost blindly follows recent (western) publications that state that the Chinese economy from the eleventh until the eighteenth century was manyfold bigger and more intensive than the European/atlantic economy (there are indications that this is plausible, but not so much real proof). And finally, I have some issues with his final chapter, about the centuries and millennia to come: this is nothing less than an ecological pamphlet; and of course there are good reasons to do so, but as an historian, I'm very weary of political statements that use (misuse) the past as proof. See also my review in my Sense-of-History-account: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kimba Tichenor

    David Christian's provides an introduction to so-called Big History -- a type of history that the author defines as interdisciplinary in nature and one which seeks to find "an underlying unity beneath the various accounts of the past told in different historically oriented disciplines. Big History studies the past across physics, astronomy, geology, biology, and human history. As it does so, it seeks common themes, paradigms and methods..." Put differently, it endeavors to provide a modern, secu David Christian's provides an introduction to so-called Big History -- a type of history that the author defines as interdisciplinary in nature and one which seeks to find "an underlying unity beneath the various accounts of the past told in different historically oriented disciplines. Big History studies the past across physics, astronomy, geology, biology, and human history. As it does so, it seeks common themes, paradigms and methods..." Put differently, it endeavors to provide a modern, secular "creation story" based on scientific data to replace the mythic and religious "creation" narratives of the past that the author claims have lost their explanatory power in today's globalized world. In short, this book (and with it, Big History) could be described as a reactionary project -- a response to the global upsurge in fundamentalism in the early twenty-first century. In lieu of a god or gods, it establishes science as a secular religion that can reconnect human history with the history of the universe. As such, like the grand master narratives of the nineteenth century, this book is more about the present than it is about the past -- despite its endless descriptions of dying stars and ice ages. And also like those past metanarratives, it is not free of ideological baggage. This ideological baggage becomes apparent in the book's omissions. It is a history devoid of any reference to slavery and how slavery provided the manpower (or "energy" to use the language of the book) that fueled the European and American industrial revolution. It is a history that includes no reference to the Holocaust or to the countless other genocides of the twentieth and twenty-first century (e.g. Pot Pol in Cambodia, 1975-79 and Rwanda in 1994). It is a history largely devoid of human agency and consequently also devoid of human atrocities. If there is any truth to the maxim: "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it," then this "history" is truly troublesome in its omissions. This is especially the case now that Bill Gates is providing massive funding for the push to teach "Big History" in US secondary schools. Given that several recent surveys have shown that a growing number of secondary and post-secondary students in the United States lack even a basic knowledge of the Holocaust and of slavery in the United States, it would seem gravely irresponsible to dilute the content of high school history courses even further. For example, in a 2018 survey of 1400 Americans by Schoen Consulting, 45 percent of US citizens between the ages of 18 and 34 could not name a single WWII concentration or extermination camp. Among that same age group, 66 percent had not heard of Auschwitz. Similarly, a survey of US high school students conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017 found that only 8 percent of students could identify slavery as a central cause of the American Civil War, and two-thirds did not know that it took a constitutional amendment to put an end to slavery. Given this ignorance of potentially avoidable human atrocities, it would seem a grave error to waste precious class time on natural forces (super nova and dying suns) over which humans have no control. A "history" text or course covering 13 billion years, in which human life makes no appearance until chapter 6 and the twentieth century is reduced to one chapter, is much ado about nothing. Rather than a history, it becomes a narrative of progress and technological advance aimed at defending the economic status quo (neoliberal capitalism), as it both fails to take into account the current system's origins in slave labor or the role of capitalism in producing the very ecological destruction of which the book is so critical.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alli

    I was just glancing through the other comments as I finished reading this this morning, and there was one about how this was a well written book but it was obvious that the author wasn't Christian, and therefore was wrong/the commentator didn't agree with him because other books about "big history" have been written by Christians that fit the Biblical story and have "science" to back them up. To them I say, this book was not written to support the Christian/Creationism/Intelligent Design worldvi I was just glancing through the other comments as I finished reading this this morning, and there was one about how this was a well written book but it was obvious that the author wasn't Christian, and therefore was wrong/the commentator didn't agree with him because other books about "big history" have been written by Christians that fit the Biblical story and have "science" to back them up. To them I say, this book was not written to support the Christian/Creationism/Intelligent Design worldview. This book was written to explain, through the research and the science, what we know, right now, to be the history of us. Us the universe, us the planet, us the human race. Just because Christians believe that the world was created in 6 days, no more than ~6000 years ago, doesn't make it true. Christianity is not the only religion out there, is not the "right" religion (in that all others are wrong), and just because someone doesn't agree with the Christian world view does not make their world view any less relevant. The author's goal was not to prove that there was (or was not) in fact some deity out there who created the universe, whether the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Yehwa/God/Allah or the turtle who carried North America on it's back (the Iroquois creation myth) or Vishnu commanding Brahma to create the world. Anyway, back to my review. I enjoyed this big picture look at history. After many school years learning about perhaps a 500 year span of history, it's easy to forget that there is so much more out there. Physics and astronomy classes give you the first chapter of this book, the creation of the universe, and museums generally give you the Neanderthal/early Homonines, and then, in the west at least, you get the Greek/Roman history on up to present, in some form or another, in school. So often we get histories that are biased either to the European/American perspective or the Christian perspective, and I liked that, when he was looking at the modern human eras, he looked at all of it, be it Asia, Australia, America (continent, not country), not just Europe. There were times when he focused more on one area (Britain) than others, but then, if you look at the time period he was talking about, Britain was the major player. Overall, a very good read, has made me interested in reading more about big history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erisa

    Big History is a synthesis of knowledge from different scholarly disciplines that makes for one fascinating story about our universe. Most people will probably be familiar with a lot of the information in the book, but it’s when that information is put into a new contexts that you start seeing things differently, and that’s what I enjoyed the most. Also, I really enjoyed professor Christian’s explanation of the evolution of the universe, from the simplest structures to growing levels of complexi Big History is a synthesis of knowledge from different scholarly disciplines that makes for one fascinating story about our universe. Most people will probably be familiar with a lot of the information in the book, but it’s when that information is put into a new contexts that you start seeing things differently, and that’s what I enjoyed the most. Also, I really enjoyed professor Christian’s explanation of the evolution of the universe, from the simplest structures to growing levels of complexity and organization, from quarks to stars to galaxies, from long carbon chains to living organisms and the biosphere, to human beings with brains capable of inventing language and science, of writing poetry and composing music, and filling their lives with symbolic meaning, and so on. There are no boundaries between philosophy and science and specific disciplines within science like, anthropology, sociology, psychology, history …. the facts of the cosmos don’t obey these boundaries we have created, which are very useful, of course, but can also hide information that is only visible from a bird’s eye view. Reality is one. If we want to know it better, we have to look at the big picture as a whole and Big History does a great job at that.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Wesley Jackson

    Beautiful, it sweeps from the origins of the universe to the very present, from the atomic to the cosmic, but never loses the perspective that grips you in tears of awe, tears that are not blinding but the birthing-sweat of sight itself

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sense Of History

    Let there be no misunderstanding: this is a really interesting book, very elaborate and thoroughly researched, offering a pioneer study into Big History. I think it is original in this sense that, with the exception maybe of the Amsterdam researcher Fred Spier, David Christian was the first to offer a real bird-eye view of history, starting with the history of the universe (Big Bang and all that stuff), going to the formation of the earth, its climate and its many inhabitants, reaching out into Let there be no misunderstanding: this is a really interesting book, very elaborate and thoroughly researched, offering a pioneer study into Big History. I think it is original in this sense that, with the exception maybe of the Amsterdam researcher Fred Spier, David Christian was the first to offer a real bird-eye view of history, starting with the history of the universe (Big Bang and all that stuff), going to the formation of the earth, its climate and its many inhabitants, reaching out into the future, and to the probable end of the universe. That’s quite something and of course, but in this case the strength of the book, is also its weakness: because Christian takes the bird-eye view, the relevance of his broad approach remains very limited. What have I learned about the sense of life, and the sense of history in this book? Well, first and uttermost, there’s the very tiny role mankind plays in the history of the universe. Now, that is no original or revolutionary insight. More so, it is a bit contradictary that Christian, in one of his final chapters has to take note that mankind, in his short time of existence has already been able to put his mark on the history and the condition of this tiny planet (even going so far as to threaten its existence). Secondly: coincidence and luck are two very relevant factors in evolution and history; Christian goes at length to illustrate this, in a very interesting chapter on the evolution theory and the evolution of the species; now, in his account of human history, this insight is kept out of view; instead he describes how human societies have systematically evolved into ever more complex situations; on the micro-level this may seem very accidental, but on the macro-level you can’t deny the conclusion that the evolution to evermore complexity just is constant, and thereby inherent. In the same way, Christion explicitly refrains from using the word ‘progress’, but as a reader you can simple feel that at times he was really struggling to keep the word out of his narrative; I can understand some of the reasons why he is doing this (most of all the danger of a teleological view on history), but there’s no sense in denying the sunlight. Thirdly: Christian makes a circular movement in taking holism as the departing ground for his Big History, and he’s wright doing so, but it is a bridge too far, in the next steps, to come to the conclusion that everything is connected. I have my doubts about his multiple use of the word “afro-Eurasian network” (just as with father and son McNeill): this suggests that experiences, knowledge and ideas circulated freely and evenly in the whole of this vast area, and people could, - an any time – use this material to create something new and spectacular; it is obvious this was not so. Of course, Christian tries to correct our traditional view that civilizations flourished independently, and he is right doing so, but his pendulum is going just the other way. In this view, his “adjustement” of the traditional view of the “Rise of the West” is just pathetic: according to Christian Western Europe around 1500 just had the luck it found itself geographically at the center of the newly created Atlantic network, and this, together with is commercial competitiveness should explain the supremacy it gained in the nineteenth Century. This is just to simple to be true. Finally, I must agree with other critics, that Christian has gone way to far in his ambition to create a new, Modern Creation Myth, based on science and especially the Big History-view. This view is very useful to put some things into perspective, and to adjust traditional opinions on history and the place of man in it (and that's quite something). But it fails to offer a new Grand Vision on life and the sense of history (like the elder creation myths did). I agree with the reviewer that stated that “Christian offers no satisfying answers to the existential questions that lay nagging underneath his work, leaving the reader as cold and empty as the dead universe he describes” (Mike Hankins)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike H

    Maps of Time is arguably one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by a historian, seeking to synthesize universal existence, from the Big Bang to the end of time, into a single coherent narrative in approximately 500 pages. David Christian is deliberately attempting to create a new, modern “creation myth” that fits current scientific understanding. The grand scale of the work, in addition to a preachy environmentalism, obscures Christian's larger contribution: his interesting approach to wo Maps of Time is arguably one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by a historian, seeking to synthesize universal existence, from the Big Bang to the end of time, into a single coherent narrative in approximately 500 pages. David Christian is deliberately attempting to create a new, modern “creation myth” that fits current scientific understanding. The grand scale of the work, in addition to a preachy environmentalism, obscures Christian's larger contribution: his interesting approach to world history that emphasizes luck to explain the dominance of western civilization. Many historians might take umbrage at the first half of the work, which never mentions people. Instead, Christian explains the expanding universe in the few seconds after the Big Bang, the formations of galaxy clusters, stars, and solar systems, before finally focusing on Earth, the formation of early life, and early human evolution. These chapters generally take the form of synthesizing the work of other fields. While much of this synthesis is well-written, Christian avoids key debates in these fields – such as disagreements in the world of quantum mechanics, or the emerging discussions of string theory – in order to present a sense of scientific consensus that might gloss over field-specific difficulties. However, Christian is not afraid to say, “I don't know,” to such questions as the origins of the universe and generation of life. Yet many historians will wonder why these heady scientific chapters are necessary to the understanding of human history. Concerning humans, Christian identifies a few key transition points, the first being the development of large-scale agriculture. Borrowing heavily from William McNeill, Christian paints a picture of cultures interacting with one another to produce and share innovations that lead to growth and progress. Yet Christian paints with a broad brush, seeing little difference between Sumer, Rome, or the Medieval world – all are simply agrarian societies. The next key transition is the industrial revolution, ushering in the modern era. Breaking from the McNeill mold, Christian emphasizes that luck, more than other factors, accounts for the dominance of western European society in this transition. Placement of natural resources and the sheer chance of geography in relation to the Americas allow Europe to become a key hub, or “center of gravity” for world culture and technology. While he has little time for individuals or for ideas in his broad history, Christian adds that capitalism, a product of the industrial revolution, inherently drives innovation in an exponentially increasing curve that shows no sign of slowing at present. Christian asserts that modernity is too young to make any accurate predictions about the near future, but does lapse into alarmist environmentalism. He warns his readers that time is nearly up for planet Earth if consumption habits remain unchanged, and if the population curves of other species are any indication, that humanity is on the way out. He follows these grim warnings with a grimmer chapter about the slow death of the universe at the end of time. Maps of Time, in one sense, does create a cogent narrative, spanning all of known existence. Whether this view is satisfactory as a new creation myth is up to each individual reader, although many will likely find him unconvincing due to the lack of depth inherent in such a work. However, even if successful at creating a modern mythology, the question must be asked if such a myth is useful. While it can provide interesting perspective to view the big picture, Christian offers no satisfying answers to the existential questions that lay nagging underneath his work, leaving the reader as cold and empty as the dead universe he describes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David

    The history of the world in less than 510 pages, and starting with the Big Bang. Humans don't appear until around page 110. Still a very interesting book. Of course, he misses a lot of the high points of history. Instead, as he describes the the forces that created the universe, he surveys the forces that have created the world's cultures. Centering mostly on the economical, giving the book a somewhat Marxist feel. It is an interesting contrast to the very specific studies of history. I read it The history of the world in less than 510 pages, and starting with the Big Bang. Humans don't appear until around page 110. Still a very interesting book. Of course, he misses a lot of the high points of history. Instead, as he describes the the forces that created the universe, he surveys the forces that have created the world's cultures. Centering mostly on the economical, giving the book a somewhat Marxist feel. It is an interesting contrast to the very specific studies of history. I read it because the historian William McNeil in his autobiography recommended it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Is the written historical record enough to explain the history of civilization? David Christian would argue that it isn't, Maps of Time is a condensed, single volume argument based on his introductory lectures on the topic of “Big History”. Big History as defined by Christian is the history of everything on the largest possible scale, from the beginning of the universe to its bitter end. By this definition Big History covers not only the written record, but also prehistory and even prehuman hist Is the written historical record enough to explain the history of civilization? David Christian would argue that it isn't, Maps of Time is a condensed, single volume argument based on his introductory lectures on the topic of “Big History”. Big History as defined by Christian is the history of everything on the largest possible scale, from the beginning of the universe to its bitter end. By this definition Big History covers not only the written record, but also prehistory and even prehuman history. To begin his tour of Big History, Christian starts his introduction with the Big Bang and the evolution of the universe and solar system; slowly drilling down into smaller timescales to examine the formation and development of complex societies. The concluding chapters of Maps of Time speculates what is to come in the near future (100 years), the intermediate future (a few million years), and the distance future (billions of years) until the universe ultimately runs down. A large undertaking for any researcher looking to form a single coherent story of our past, present, and future based on empirical study rather than dogmatic ideas from the past. Using a combination of modern science and up-to-date theories of history Christian aims to construct what he calls “a modern creation myth”. The author is an academic historian, so the science presented in the book is pretty basic and introductory, but he has made the effort to convey the material accurately and concise enough to be understood by the general public. The rest of the story (thesis) is really a series of snapshots and large-scale patterns throughout history. So, no one subject is covered in much detail. By looking at the large-scale patterns of history, Christian argues, that we are better able to understand how society has come into its current state of being. Something that is often missed when looking at specific events in history (i.e. the fall of Rome). What was really interesting about this, was that Christian choose to frame the story of human progress with all that it entails, in a creation myth. Although radically different from traditional creation myths, he is still seeking a way make sense of the complex world around us. However, in contrast with most traditional creation stories, this modern creation myth does not view complex entities as better or worse than less complex entities. The story simply relates the increase in the level of complexity over the course of time. Complexity is just a consequence of progress, that for one reason or another is undertaken by a species or a society when faced with competition for resources. It's the differential progress throughout the world that has shaped our histories and fueled the present. The ebb and flow of time does not favor any particular culture. It is the choices and often competitive needs that ultimately controls the destiny of whole regions. As a consequence of this ever-increasing complexity have come unforeseen impacts to society and the environment, which leads to conflict, innovation, and transition from one social and political system to another. With each transition comes new interdependence and the need for new methods of organization. In many ways Maps of Time is a successful re-telling of human history, in other ways many readers may find it disappointing. For me personally, the provided what I was looking for, a sense of the big picture, an outline and context to help me put things into a larger perspective. However, it fails on one crucial point as a modern creation myth. Early on the book Christian states that “creation myths provide universal coordinates within which people can imagine their own existence, and find a role in the larger scheme of things. Creation myths are powerful because they speak to our deep spiritual, psychic, and social need for a place and sense of belonging.” Christian is able to deliver a scientifically and historically accurate narrative of our basic history that fulfills our intellectual curiosity, but fails to satisfy our deep spiritual and social needs. Our species needs to feel as though we are privileged, that this oasis in space is special to us and to us alone. The cold facts of science and history destroy the self-centered notion that we are the center of the universe. For the a modern creation myth to be complete it needs to answer the question of where we belong on deeper philosophical and psychological reasons. Maybe that's too much to ask of just one book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Ellis

    Exciting approach to the study of history, taken all the way back to the beginning of the universe, basing the history of everything on increasing complexity leading up to modern society. THIS IS HOW HISTORY SHOULD BE TAUGHT!!! I read the book while watching the author's series of lectures on Big History for The Great Courses (formerly known as The Teaching Company......wonderful outfit, by the way). If science had been taught in this manner while I was in school, I most likely would not have sp Exciting approach to the study of history, taken all the way back to the beginning of the universe, basing the history of everything on increasing complexity leading up to modern society. THIS IS HOW HISTORY SHOULD BE TAUGHT!!! I read the book while watching the author's series of lectures on Big History for The Great Courses (formerly known as The Teaching Company......wonderful outfit, by the way). If science had been taught in this manner while I was in school, I most likely would not have spent my time avoiding as many science courses as possible! Approaching all disciplines -- cosmology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.-- with the idea that everything has a history and all history is connected gives a refreshing and exhilarating perspective on the study of human beings. I highly recommend this book, as well as the lecture series, as well as connecting to https://www.bighistoryproject.com.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    The idea of Big History sounds intriguing, but after reading most of this book (I admit I could not finish it --- I did not enjoy the writing style at all), I am unconvinced that it has anything much to offer that one cannot get from reading the basic source material alone. Indeed, the book feels to me like a very detailed summary of a bunch of introductory books in science, anthropology, and sociology. I'd prefer a shorter, more focussed book that clearly emphasizes what is good and different a The idea of Big History sounds intriguing, but after reading most of this book (I admit I could not finish it --- I did not enjoy the writing style at all), I am unconvinced that it has anything much to offer that one cannot get from reading the basic source material alone. Indeed, the book feels to me like a very detailed summary of a bunch of introductory books in science, anthropology, and sociology. I'd prefer a shorter, more focussed book that clearly emphasizes what is good and different about the big history approach.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ian Tymms

    Monumental in every way. A tome to represent the entirety of history - from big bang to our possible future. Like all great historians, Christian, is a storyteller with his own set of motifs. The underlying exploration of history as evolving complexity was one such theme and his discussion of the dance between chaos and complexity in the appendix was fascinating. Looking at history as emergence in the language of complexity theory is new to me but makes good sense. Complexity theory is popping u Monumental in every way. A tome to represent the entirety of history - from big bang to our possible future. Like all great historians, Christian, is a storyteller with his own set of motifs. The underlying exploration of history as evolving complexity was one such theme and his discussion of the dance between chaos and complexity in the appendix was fascinating. Looking at history as emergence in the language of complexity theory is new to me but makes good sense. Complexity theory is popping up everywhere...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Hawco

    I had to understand more math and physics than I would have liked, but what are you gonna do.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Read for school. Only had to read until pg 491 + Appendix 1.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Terry Clague

    You can't knock someone writing a history book covering 13 odd billion years - even if he does describe that as "a brief exuberant springtime" compared to an "inconceivably distant future". "Big History" is a fairly new subdiscipline which attempts to describe historical development from the "big bang" onward. I'm not sure why this book (authored by a - ahem - big name in the "field") isn't just called big history - perhaps because the publishers were worried that readers would constantly say it You can't knock someone writing a history book covering 13 odd billion years - even if he does describe that as "a brief exuberant springtime" compared to an "inconceivably distant future". "Big History" is a fairly new subdiscipline which attempts to describe historical development from the "big bang" onward. I'm not sure why this book (authored by a - ahem - big name in the "field") isn't just called big history - perhaps because the publishers were worried that readers would constantly say it in a Max Bygraves voice (a la BIG MONEY from Family Fortunes - very much the Pointless of its day). There are various problems with the field and thus the book - the author discusses them in his introduction. A history graduate friend of mine told me that one of his essay questions was something like "Hobsbawm's 'Age of Revolution is more interesting for what it leaves out than what it includes. Discuss." and that's obviously a problem for big history - probably the main problem. Not necessarily events but perhaps emotions and impact - afterall, Hitler is said to have asked "who remembers the Armenians?". Another predictable problem the book has to address is that in trying to cover so much, it runs the risk of becoming a running commentary - as Alan Bennett had Rudge say in History Boys, history is just "one fucking thing after another". These factors don't really prevent this from being an impressive work, but it's one on which it's very difficult to focus - effectively it's a bunch of short books stuck together and as such it's easy to scan in places. Finally, there is a danger with this kind of venture that the reader can become overwhelmingly depressed. Faced with unimaginable lengths of time one often thinks "O what's the bloody point"*. Still, there's 150 pages of appendices and index which means one gets a beatiful feeling of achievement having read it when actually one has not needed to bother with a significant proportion. * not least a thought-provoking section on Rapa Nui, a small island "discovered" in 1722 (now known as Easter Island) on which around 3,000 people lived in dreadful circumstances, reduced to petty battles over diminishing resources. Despite this pathetic existance, there is evidence that previous generations had lived relatively luxuriously but totally unsustainably with the consequence thatpopulation growth and consumption of resources, driven by political and economic competition, led to sudden environmental and social collapse.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    This is a great book for parents. Look, at some point your kid is going to ask you a whole series of brutally hard questions: "Dad, where did the universe come from?" "Dad, what made the moon?" "Dad, where did cows live before they lived on farms?" And, as a reasonably well educated Dad or Mom, you kind of think there is probably an answer out there, but it's hard to put your finger on it. This here is the book for you. The book is unabashedly ambitious, and in just over 400 pages covers the enti This is a great book for parents. Look, at some point your kid is going to ask you a whole series of brutally hard questions: "Dad, where did the universe come from?" "Dad, what made the moon?" "Dad, where did cows live before they lived on farms?" And, as a reasonably well educated Dad or Mom, you kind of think there is probably an answer out there, but it's hard to put your finger on it. This here is the book for you. The book is unabashedly ambitious, and in just over 400 pages covers the entire history of the universe. Literally. The first chapter is about the Big Bang. Then a real nice chapter about galaxy formation and planet formation. Boom, next thing you know we are dealing with the molecular origins of life, with particular attention to bacteria and alternative energy sources. (Lots, possibly most, bacteria use chemical energy, not photosynthesis as their fundamental source! Hot vent life may be the norm, and plants the aberation, not vice versa. Who knew?) A few chapters later its the evolution of language, the order of domestication of plants and animals. Not long thereafter its trying to explain why the runt end of the Eurasian landmass suddenly figured out technological creativity and took over the whole globe. Its really quite good. On the whole, the discussions are subtle and sophisticated -- broad-brush without being dumbed down. On the things I know pretty well, such as evolutionary theory, infectious diseases, and organizational economics, he gets the details right, which makes me feel pretty confident about the rest. There were about a million books in the notes I wanted to read. The author asserts at the beginning that he is trying do get history to tell really big narratives -- creation myths for a society that wants its myths to be rooted in science. This book seems like a pleasant antidote to so much of the pedantry for which the Academy gets critiques. While I'm not sure his synthesis is right -- it leans a little too much on pop complexity theory for me -- I loved having to decide if I agreed with him or not. The book made me look up. So, it's a little geeky, it's a little intimidating, but it's really very well written, and strongly rewards some good time on the couch. And it makes for way more fun conversation with the kids.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Will

    One of my favourite books. Maps of Time is a fascinating history textbook. What makes this book unique is in the telling of history. Christian's approach is through an emerging academic discipline known as Big History. Christian examines the moment of the Big Bang to the present and uses a multi-disciplinary approach based on combining various scientific ideologies and the humanities. The Maps of Time recounts the events of a changing universe by employing astrophysics, particle physics, paleobi One of my favourite books. Maps of Time is a fascinating history textbook. What makes this book unique is in the telling of history. Christian's approach is through an emerging academic discipline known as Big History. Christian examines the moment of the Big Bang to the present and uses a multi-disciplinary approach based on combining various scientific ideologies and the humanities. The Maps of Time recounts the events of a changing universe by employing astrophysics, particle physics, paleobiology, planetary geology, anthropology to name a few. When you think of telling this kind of story, it makes sense. Most historical books are slanted in one way or another. For example: If you told the story of Madame Curie's work in uranium and told it from her perspective, no doubt it would have a strong physics slant because that's what she was – a physicist. But if you were to tell it from her doctor's point of view, it would have a strong medical slant. Combining these perspectives creates a much broader picture, giving us far more detail. Worth a read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paul DiBara

    This book does something I've been hoping to see for quite a while. It attempts to take the broad view of human development - going back to the beginning of the universe - to see what lessons or conclusions we might draw from such a survey. It's a combination of philosophy, science and history. What is the relation of humanity to the universe. I'm tempted to say that it explores the nature of reality but the scope isn't quite that broad. It takes a more holistic view of being than I've seen in a This book does something I've been hoping to see for quite a while. It attempts to take the broad view of human development - going back to the beginning of the universe - to see what lessons or conclusions we might draw from such a survey. It's a combination of philosophy, science and history. What is the relation of humanity to the universe. I'm tempted to say that it explores the nature of reality but the scope isn't quite that broad. It takes a more holistic view of being than I've seen in anything I've read or watched in a long time. There's no compelling unifying moral force, or myth, extant in today's world, outside of cults or dated religions that have lost much of their ability to explain the present world and our place, our purpose, in it. Studies like that presented in this book could be a step in the direction of a new philosophy that may extract some meaning from the splintered and fragmented world we live in. There have been periods in history like this before, times without a prevailing moral or ethical center.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Aldrich

    This is an interesting change of reference from a historical perspective combining cosmology, astronomy, geology, microbiology, evolutionary theory, archaeology, politics, religion, economics, and history into one big area of contiguous study based upon much larger timescales. Though it takes from many disciplines, it provides for an interesting, fresh, and much needed perspective on who humans are and their place in the world. I'd highly recommend this to any general reader as early as they can This is an interesting change of reference from a historical perspective combining cosmology, astronomy, geology, microbiology, evolutionary theory, archaeology, politics, religion, economics, and history into one big area of contiguous study based upon much larger timescales. Though it takes from many disciplines, it provides for an interesting, fresh, and much needed perspective on who humans are and their place in the world. I'd highly recommend this to any general reader as early as they can find time to read through it, particularly because it provides such an excellent base for a variety of disciplines thereby better framing their future studies. I wish I had been able to read this book in the ninth or tenth grade or certainly at the latest by my freshman year in college. This could be an extremely fundamental and life-changing book for common summer reading programs of incoming college freshman. I wish I could make it required reading for life in general.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    The best of the Big History books by far. Essential reading if you want to situate now in the long term history of the universe and of humanity. Extraordinarily well done and better by far than Harari and other Big History folks.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    This is one of the most readable history textbooks I've read. Many of the anecdotes he provides (whether historical or scientific) are interesting. It was interesting combining large-scale history with a cosmological/scientific "history." However: I fundamentally disagree with a decent bit of what he says—but more importantly, the framework in which he says it. The end result of a history à la E.O. Wilson's Consilience is not a history I want to read, teach, or believe in. His grand "creation myt This is one of the most readable history textbooks I've read. Many of the anecdotes he provides (whether historical or scientific) are interesting. It was interesting combining large-scale history with a cosmological/scientific "history." However: I fundamentally disagree with a decent bit of what he says—but more importantly, the framework in which he says it. The end result of a history à la E.O. Wilson's Consilience is not a history I want to read, teach, or believe in. His grand "creation myth" is not only depressing and nihilistic, but fundamentally contrary to the nature of history and the meaning of man. A unity of "sciences" (including the liberal arts) is at best an exercise in futility; at worst, it is the public execution of truth, beauty, and goodness at the hands of statisticians. I have a great deal of respect for Christian's work here, as he is clearly well-researched and well-read in a variety of disciplines. The reading was, in a sense, enjoyable, and certainly raises interesting questions about modernity, humanity, and the meaning of life. However, I believe he provides entirely the wrong answers.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Peter Aronson

    This is quite the big, thick, square book! I like ambition in writing, and the big history project -- history from the big bang to us, inclusive -- is nothing if not ambitious. Of necessity, the author, not being the sort of polymath that really doesn't exist in this day and age (there being too much to know), spends a lot of time on material outside the realm of his professional specialization (he's a professor of Russian History). And strangely, I think I liked that material best. Yes, he tend This is quite the big, thick, square book! I like ambition in writing, and the big history project -- history from the big bang to us, inclusive -- is nothing if not ambitious. Of necessity, the author, not being the sort of polymath that really doesn't exist in this day and age (there being too much to know), spends a lot of time on material outside the realm of his professional specialization (he's a professor of Russian History). And strangely, I think I liked that material best. Yes, he tends to seize on particular theories that he prefers, but he does make a real effort to try to note the existence of other views. But once we get into the Industrial Revolution and later, he is on surer ground, and gets more opinionated, and unfortunately he has a bit of a revisionist hobbyhorse about China's 18th and 19th Century economy, and he takes academic Marxism a lot more seriously than I can. But given the scope of the book, these are rather small flaws.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sdluvingit

    I read this as the text book for an online class I took in Big History. Big History is a relatively new way of looking at history. It isn't just concerned with recorded human history but the history of what came before humans. Without life being created humans wouldn't have evolved. Without the the formation of the planet life wouldn't have had a place, so on and so forth back to the beginning of the universe; everything has a history. From the Big Bang 13+ billion years ago until today all that I read this as the text book for an online class I took in Big History. Big History is a relatively new way of looking at history. It isn't just concerned with recorded human history but the history of what came before humans. Without life being created humans wouldn't have evolved. Without the the formation of the planet life wouldn't have had a place, so on and so forth back to the beginning of the universe; everything has a history. From the Big Bang 13+ billion years ago until today all that history contributed to our history. In this telling of the modern creation story Dr. Christian pulls in multiple scientific and social science disciplines to describe the beginning and growth of the universe and our place in it. If you like the study of history, this survey of all known history is well worth the effort. I would also recommend The Great Courses Big History course taught by Dr. Christian.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stella Borrillo

    Christian’s book is a great way to introduce works history. While most historians look at a smaller scale of just human history, Christian analyzes it all. He leaves out nothing, which makes sure the reader ends with as much knowledge as they need to continue in their learning of history. The idea of big history is a great way to better understand the world. Christian keeps it simple for a broad audience. The book is well organized and easy to read because of its structured timeline. It is lengt Christian’s book is a great way to introduce works history. While most historians look at a smaller scale of just human history, Christian analyzes it all. He leaves out nothing, which makes sure the reader ends with as much knowledge as they need to continue in their learning of history. The idea of big history is a great way to better understand the world. Christian keeps it simple for a broad audience. The book is well organized and easy to read because of its structured timeline. It is lengthy but it is completely worth it given the in depth understanding the book offers. Overall Christian’s book is a great choice for those looking to begin a search into world history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    I read this book some time ago but it's argument is memorable enough. Christian presents the history of the universe, inevitably narrowing down like a funnel onto the Earth and, finally, humankind. Part of the movement sometimes called "Deep History," Maps of Time argues that at the largest scales history is about energy flows and complexity, which is a way of saying that history is about the rise and fall of systems for harnessing energy. (Okay, so maybe it wasn't so clear.)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Meta history at it's best

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ethan Hulbert

    Big history changed my life. It's tough to think of the world the same way ever again after reading this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anastasia

    The book was very well-written and well-informed, however, I would not recommend it for someone who has already studied cultural evolution/big history concepts as they may find it repetitive.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark Machet

    Interesting perspective of largest timescales of history, well written and easy to read

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