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Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present

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'Big History' begins when the universe is no more than a single point the size of an atom and ends with a 21st century world inhabited by 6.1 billion people. It's a story that takes in prehistoric geography, human evolution, the agrarian age, the Black Death, the voyages of Columbus, the Industrial Revolution and global warming. 'Big History' begins when the universe is no more than a single point the size of an atom and ends with a 21st century world inhabited by 6.1 billion people. It's a story that takes in prehistoric geography, human evolution, the agrarian age, the Black Death, the voyages of Columbus, the Industrial Revolution and global warming.


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'Big History' begins when the universe is no more than a single point the size of an atom and ends with a 21st century world inhabited by 6.1 billion people. It's a story that takes in prehistoric geography, human evolution, the agrarian age, the Black Death, the voyages of Columbus, the Industrial Revolution and global warming. 'Big History' begins when the universe is no more than a single point the size of an atom and ends with a 21st century world inhabited by 6.1 billion people. It's a story that takes in prehistoric geography, human evolution, the agrarian age, the Black Death, the voyages of Columbus, the Industrial Revolution and global warming.

30 review for Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This really is a second rate attempt at offering a Big History-survey. Lots of flaws and outdated views. Only the chapters on ecological aspects of history are up to date. Not recommended, I'm afraid. Better read Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History or The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History. This really is a second rate attempt at offering a Big History-survey. Lots of flaws and outdated views. Only the chapters on ecological aspects of history are up to date. Not recommended, I'm afraid. Better read Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History or The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sense of History

    Stokes Brown claims that this is the first truly comprehensive survey of Big History, but at the same time she recognizes openly that she is very indebted to David Christian and his Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, which was published 3 years earlier. With the exception of the first chapters on the origin of the cosmos and life on earth, however, Stokes Brown mainly follows the chronology and periodization of father and son McNeill (The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History, Stokes Brown claims that this is the first truly comprehensive survey of Big History, but at the same time she recognizes openly that she is very indebted to David Christian and his Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, which was published 3 years earlier. With the exception of the first chapters on the origin of the cosmos and life on earth, however, Stokes Brown mainly follows the chronology and periodization of father and son McNeill (The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History, 2003) and her account becomes a classic world history. Positive is the attention she gives to ecological aspects, and also the didactic part at the end of each chapter with a list of unanswered questions is initially very inspiring. But plainly annoying is that Stokes Brown regularly displays very outdated views (about the Celts for example) and pays attention to controversial theories such as the Black Athena of Bernal, the Nazca lines in Peru by Von Däniken and the books of Gavin Menzies. She is also often very careless in her formulations, for example in the first chapters her word usage shows that she did not really understand Darwin's theory of evolution. And as we get closer to the present time it gets worse: naming the chapter about the period 1500-1800 "one world" is really incredible, or stating that the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, is due to the "party leaders who longed for the material benefits of capitalism", is a banality that makes you speechless. In short, this is clearly a failed attempt at Big History, it never comes near the level of the works of Christian or McNeill.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    In 1989, an American history professor named David Christian was teaching at Macquarie University in Sydney when he offered a course entitled Big History. Rejecting historians’ definition of the discipline as beginning with the advent of written records just 5,500 years ago, Christian’s course began with the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years in the past. He invited colleagues on the Macquarie faculty to lecture on astronomy, physics, geology, biology, and other scientific disciplines to fill in the b In 1989, an American history professor named David Christian was teaching at Macquarie University in Sydney when he offered a course entitled Big History. Rejecting historians’ definition of the discipline as beginning with the advent of written records just 5,500 years ago, Christian’s course began with the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years in the past. He invited colleagues on the Macquarie faculty to lecture on astronomy, physics, geology, biology, and other scientific disciplines to fill in the billions of years that transpired before any human set foot on our planet. Christian’s course proved popular, and the idea spread to historians in other countries. A new sub-discipline was born. There is now an International Big History Association. Big History in print Nearly two decades later, another American historian, Cynthia Stokes Brown, took up the challenge of writing a book about history as Christian had re-conceived it. She had recently retired from Dominican University in California. The result was Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present (2007). While Christian leaned on colleagues in the sciences to carry the story for its first 13.65 billion years, Brown took it all on herself. With a good deal of simplification but relatively few apparent errors, she surveys the prehistorical past with great skill. For anyone who thinks history is the story of wars and generals and presidents, Big History is a worthy remedy. Responding to overspecialization Big History is a belated response to the extreme specialization that now characterizes virtually every academic discipline. It’s no longer enough to specialize in world history, or even ancient history. A scholar needs to specialize in a particular era in the history of Greece. Candidates for Ph.Ds in history need to go even further. For example, a dissertation might be written about women’s role in Spartan society during the Pelopenessian War. Just take a look at the titles of recent doctoral dissertations in nearly any field, if you don’t believe me. I, for one, think this is tragic. God may be in the details, but even She could get lost there. Other works on Big History By the way, Christian himself didn’t write this book because instead he approached the topic differently. He wrote two textbooks, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, and Big History: From Nothing to Everything, in collaboration with Craig Benjamin. His more accessible treatment of the subject is a 48-lecture course he recorded for Great Courses. The title is simply Big History. Bill Gates was so impressed by it that he reportedly financed its distribution to schools to the tune of $10 million. I’ve listened to all 48 lectures and loved it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    There are only so many events in history for which I have a keen interest to learn more about. I'd much rather have a broad, comprehensive view of history than know specifics. If you're like me, then you will love the hell out of this book. Cynthia Stokes Brown reduces the exploits of empires into mere paragraphs. Don't care about the human sacrificial rituals of the Incas, or the proliferation of tobacco, cocoa, tea, and coffee during industrialization? Great! Those topics (among vast others) w There are only so many events in history for which I have a keen interest to learn more about. I'd much rather have a broad, comprehensive view of history than know specifics. If you're like me, then you will love the hell out of this book. Cynthia Stokes Brown reduces the exploits of empires into mere paragraphs. Don't care about the human sacrificial rituals of the Incas, or the proliferation of tobacco, cocoa, tea, and coffee during industrialization? Great! Those topics (among vast others) will only take about 20 seconds of your time. Of immense importance is the fact that this book is written by a woman (too few history books are). Never is the reader burdened with the high-horsed vision of humanity as the great conqueror. Instead, events are examined for their true significance and Cynthia succeeds in revealing the all-important connections between the cultures, technologies and events of the world. She remains unbiased toward all groups throughout the entirety of the book and remains properly skeptical when delving into questions of why. Most commendable of all is that this book takes into account the ecological process and ecological effects of human growth. It does this not because of any agenda, but because it is necessary to know these things in order to develop an accurate picture of the future, and what is the purpose of history if not to help guide us toward a better future? Sure, these parts can be sad and cynical (particularly the last chapter, which speculates on the immediate future), but that's because they reflect the truth about the properties of the Earth and of the human race. Yes, 2/3 of Africa's forests have been destroyed since 10,000 years ago. Yes, humans are the cause of a sixth major period of extinction in Earth's history. Yes, if we don't curb the trends of the human "experiment," we in for some rough times. If you can't handle the truth, go watch some TV. I believe that this is the most compact yet comprehensive description of the past and (immediate) future available. If you have any desire for a comprehensive and accurate worldview, do yourself a favor and read this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    ok. five stars as in "this gave me a lot of information", not as in "omg the writing was just mind-blowing and the characters were so well written"... yeah, no. but! i could eat books like these up! so many facts, from every possible domain: chemistry, phisics, medicine, philosophy, religion etc. i am a sucker for books that contain trivia because besides school, documentaries and works that happen to contain valid facts of history, i really have nothing to rely upon. what I learned from this: - ok. five stars as in "this gave me a lot of information", not as in "omg the writing was just mind-blowing and the characters were so well written"... yeah, no. but! i could eat books like these up! so many facts, from every possible domain: chemistry, phisics, medicine, philosophy, religion etc. i am a sucker for books that contain trivia because besides school, documentaries and works that happen to contain valid facts of history, i really have nothing to rely upon. what I learned from this: - what the word "hinduism" means - what the word "barbaric" means - i got reminded of Broca's area - Corpus Callus, the same - Godwana - the different emergence of humans as a species in the world - and many fucking more...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Woolf

    4.5 stars This one has been on my shelf for years, a book I read in a piecemeal fashion. It is written in a loose, breezy style, and, like most works of popular history, it is not the kind of book you would ever cite in serious research. ... but, I still liked it. Certainly there are details (like how the collapse of the Bosporus land bridge and the subsequent flooding of the Black Sea is what probably inspired the flood narratives commonly encountered in ancient literature) which are, at best, sp 4.5 stars This one has been on my shelf for years, a book I read in a piecemeal fashion. It is written in a loose, breezy style, and, like most works of popular history, it is not the kind of book you would ever cite in serious research. ... but, I still liked it. Certainly there are details (like how the collapse of the Bosporus land bridge and the subsequent flooding of the Black Sea is what probably inspired the flood narratives commonly encountered in ancient literature) which are, at best, speculative, but speculation is still interesting. (Likewise, I thought Brown's interpretation of the Garden of Eden story - that it was a metaphor for the abandonment of foraging lifestyles in favor of settled, urban, agricultural life - compelling, but also unlikely / impossible to prove.) As a reader with a scientific bent, big history (i.e. history from a cosmological perspective) has always been my preferred approach, and this will not be my last book on the subject. You start with the Big Bang and cover topics as diverse as astronomy, paleontology, environmental science, anthropology, and epidemiology. (It was in this book where I first encountered the Great Oxygenation Event in our early history; in short, our oxygenated atmosphere is anomalous, and its oxidizing potential caused mass extinctions.) The perspective is a disinterested one, and little attention is paid to individuals, ideas, or events (although Brown does strike a good balance here). Definitely recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David Mytton

    This is a quick history of the key events since the beginning of the universe. The idea of big history is excellent and should be required reading/learning in basic education. I learned some new things, such as the size and importance of the Mongolian Empire and how the Americas were some 3000-4000 years behind the technological development of Eurasia, which helps explain how the Spanish were able to so easily destroy South America's Incas and Aztecs. It also does a good job of putting our human This is a quick history of the key events since the beginning of the universe. The idea of big history is excellent and should be required reading/learning in basic education. I learned some new things, such as the size and importance of the Mongolian Empire and how the Americas were some 3000-4000 years behind the technological development of Eurasia, which helps explain how the Spanish were able to so easily destroy South America's Incas and Aztecs. It also does a good job of putting our human timeline into perspective, for example: After all, people 30,000 years ago are only 1,200 generations removed from us. At twenty-five years per generation, four generations cover a hundred years, forty generations cover 1,000 years, 400 generations cover 10,000 years, and 1,200 generations cover 30,000. However, I found the choice of where to focus the detail to be quite odd. For example, the Roman Empire was covered in just a few sentences, certain regions such as Japan had almost no mention and both World Wars were only covered briefly. Of course, this is a generalist book and it's impossible to satisfy everyone but given the importance of the Roman Empire, the global nature of WWI and WWII and the dominance of the Japanese economy in the late 20th century, I would've thought there would be more to say. As an introduction to the history of the world, setting the stage for more in depth reading in specific areas, I'd say it does a decent job but the final chapter predicting future scenarios feels like it could be so much better. Having read The Lessons of History, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? and Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers it's easy to see how much can be learned. With such a huge overview of history, then perhaps this chapter can be updated with more thoughtful analysis along with some of the relevant events now we're a good way into the 21st century.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Naz (Read Diverse Books)

    I found the first third of "Big History" fascinating because Cynthia Brown told our Universe's story using the language of science. I'm simply a sucker for cosmology and astronomy. I was therefore disappointed when her narrative turned to more modern times and began sounding like a boring history book. Nevertheless, Brown must be commended for condensing the history of homo sapiens from the point of our birth to the present trouble we're in as population and industrial growth outpace the planet' I found the first third of "Big History" fascinating because Cynthia Brown told our Universe's story using the language of science. I'm simply a sucker for cosmology and astronomy. I was therefore disappointed when her narrative turned to more modern times and began sounding like a boring history book. Nevertheless, Brown must be commended for condensing the history of homo sapiens from the point of our birth to the present trouble we're in as population and industrial growth outpace the planet's natural resources. This book is replete with facts and I would dare almost anyone to not find something personally marvelous or interesting as they read. I'm fully behind the the idea of "Big History" because most people tragically lack the context and perspective to meaningfully understand our universe. Young people especially would benefit from exposure to the "From the Big Bang to the Present" narrative. Their understanding of the universe on a grand scale could only benefit everyone.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    If you like premise of Daniel Quinn’s Ismael but found the tone somewhat off putting, you might want to try Big History. Instead of beginning with mankind’s recorded history, this historian starts her story 13.7 billion years ago with the big bang and string theory and dark matter. We learn to appreciate the Gaia theory as all life forms on earth share the same genetic code, the same biochemical network. If we telescope the age of the earth to one 24 hour period, humans would appear less than two If you like premise of Daniel Quinn’s Ismael but found the tone somewhat off putting, you might want to try Big History. Instead of beginning with mankind’s recorded history, this historian starts her story 13.7 billion years ago with the big bang and string theory and dark matter. We learn to appreciate the Gaia theory as all life forms on earth share the same genetic code, the same biochemical network. If we telescope the age of the earth to one 24 hour period, humans would appear less than two minutes before midnight and agriculture and cities would appear just a few seconds before midnight. The rise of man was fueled by agriculture, cities, and later industrialization and technology. The major unresolved challenge obviously is how do to keep our growth from outstripping our finite resources. A very thoughtful and well-reasoned book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lynne Pennington

    For those who don't know, "Big History" (the concept) is the history that takes a mega-macro approach to history, starting with the "big bang" and trying to put humanity in perspective in terms of the, well, the long-term. This book is a summary of history including prehistory, from the beginning, and even though I was familiar with the main outlines of certain historical periods, this book helps put the whole span in perspective. Unlike many histories, China and India are included as part of th For those who don't know, "Big History" (the concept) is the history that takes a mega-macro approach to history, starting with the "big bang" and trying to put humanity in perspective in terms of the, well, the long-term. This book is a summary of history including prehistory, from the beginning, and even though I was familiar with the main outlines of certain historical periods, this book helps put the whole span in perspective. Unlike many histories, China and India are included as part of the greater picture, which is as it should be. European history would not be complete without the Mongols, for example. I enjoyed this book, not as a sit-down-and-read from start to finish, but as a bit-at-a-time read before bed.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    The history of our planet in 248 pages. The last two chapters on the rise of the modern world and, because of what we've done to the planet, how difficult the next 100 years will be are sobering. A quick smart retelling of our history really shows how unprecedented the last 100 years have been. I think I may start storing food and fuel on my Dad's compound in northern Michigan. Did you realize that the Mongol empire controlled the largest land area of any of the ancient empires? The history of our planet in 248 pages. The last two chapters on the rise of the modern world and, because of what we've done to the planet, how difficult the next 100 years will be are sobering. A quick smart retelling of our history really shows how unprecedented the last 100 years have been. I think I may start storing food and fuel on my Dad's compound in northern Michigan. Did you realize that the Mongol empire controlled the largest land area of any of the ancient empires?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Naftoli

    I've actually read this book three times so there's isn't much else I have to say except it's a review of all history from the big bang to present, it's short, fast, and comprehensive in an abbreviated way. LOVE IT. I've actually read this book three times so there's isn't much else I have to say except it's a review of all history from the big bang to present, it's short, fast, and comprehensive in an abbreviated way. LOVE IT.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joel

    Okay for popular level, poor for academic level.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mallory

    I don't know who the narrator is in the audiobook version, but they need to find another career. I couldn't finish it. I don't know who the narrator is in the audiobook version, but they need to find another career. I couldn't finish it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    SJ Loria

    Try this. Skip to the last chapter and see if you like how the author presents her points. I tend not to like authors who insert (debatably) grandiose positions and (arguably) pretty far flung theories after very little data to support their position, but some people like this kind of presentation of history. I’ll explain that last point in a moment, but first I’ll just say that essentially this book is a collection of the first paragraph of every Wikipedia article followed by a post-modern apol Try this. Skip to the last chapter and see if you like how the author presents her points. I tend not to like authors who insert (debatably) grandiose positions and (arguably) pretty far flung theories after very little data to support their position, but some people like this kind of presentation of history. I’ll explain that last point in a moment, but first I’ll just say that essentially this book is a collection of the first paragraph of every Wikipedia article followed by a post-modern apologist interpretation of history. It didn’t do the trick for me. I got through this book by constantly trying to learn interesting facts embedded somewhere in the opinion paragraphs, but what I really didn’t like was hiding a rather radical point until the end and trying to slowly build to that by mentioning the human environment on Earth throughout history. About the last chapter, and about the preface. In the preface the author states she is “I strive to keep the story as simple as possible…as unopinionated as is humanly possible…I am telling a story, not making an argument.” That’s three parts, simplicity, unopinionated, and telling a story not making an argument. In terms of simplicity, she achieves her end (just copy and paste any Wikipedia introduction paragraph into one giant one document and you’ll essentially have the bulk of this story). Too basic, I'd argue. To say she’s unopinionated is laughable, if you are promoting Ghenghis Khan as a moral shining star and Chrisopher Columbus as the greedy, blood hungry Catholic it’s fine to just admit that’s liberal post-modernism. For the record I think Howard Zinn’s People’s History is a fantastic book, but, be up front. It’s a bit like when someone says “look I’m not trying to sell you anything, but…” or “not that I’m telling you what to do, but…” you know what follows is exactly that. Of course she has an opinion. It’s rather stark. If you interpret the story of Adam and Eve as a subconscious lamentation that we are no longer chimps in the forest, you most certainly have an opinion (no I’m not making that up, check out the end of the chapter called “Early Agriculture” for some literary interpretation I’d hand back with a chuckle and an F to a high school freshmen). You just happen to present your opinion as fact. Which brings us to the last point, telling a story versus making an argument. I think the story about history is rather surface level and not that exciting, and then we arrive at the final chapter called “What Now? What Next?” Break out the crystal ball everyone, time to make predictions about the future (I thought this was a history book, but oh well, let’s take a peek). Back in the preface the author (and I’ll give her credit she admits this in the preface) wants to discuss the “impact of humans on the environment…I found that the actions people have taken to keep our offspring increasingly have put the planetary environment and its life-forms in grave jeopardy.” The last chapter essentially lays out a plan for global population control based upon a rather cursory projection that we won’t have enough food to feed the planet therefore we’ll have to limit everyone’s families. She points to the Chinese government’s success with population limits and says that “1 billion people in the most industrialized countries have already done.” Sounds eerily similar to civilized Western countries have already limited their families to me. Then she talks about the ban on chlorofluorocarbons in the 1970s as an example that “the process of cooperation” (about stated goals of “people would need to act immediately in three dimensions simultaneously, namely to limit population, to limit industrial growth, and to improve technologies” could happen. It’s simply absurd to compare the process of no longer producing a dangerous chemical to limiting worldwide population. Oh, the next section is titled “The Universe Abides,” a reference to The Big Labowski. Really? In a book that you’re laying out facts and right after a subtle suggestion that we should decrease the population? Well, that’s when I became a nihilist on believing her. I believe in nothing, you’re saying Cynthia, nothing! In terms of a summary of historical knowledge, there are better books (Short History of Nearly Everything). In terms of learning about early humans, there are better sources (Scientific American’s 2014 special edition on evolution). I wouldn’t say the book was a waste of my time, but I will say it’s important to question your sources and I guess I’ll end this with a quote from Beck. “Don’t believe everything that you read, you’ll get a parking violation and a maggot on your sleeve.” Quotes / Facts This is a summary of cool facts, for example, monkey eyes lead to bigger brains. Guess the % of slaves that the US got from Africa compared to the rest of the Americas? (answer in the quote section, it’s the one that’s starred.) The gold in the ring on your finger has to be more than 4.5 billion years old. 10 Monkeys also had eyes that faced forward rather than to the side, for more overlapping fields of vision. Since their brains had to coordinate the overlapping fields to produce depth perception, they developed larger brains than other mammals. [by the way today at the zoo I learned that monkeys have tails, apes do not…also her knowledge of our ape ancestry is not quite to par. Poor understanding of Neanderthals, completely wrong in her assertion that we probably did not mix.] 33 As one might expect, the domestication of cars occurred much later, even though cats evolved into their present state as long as 3.4 to 5.3 million years ago. 78 (watch your anti-cat tone there Brown, cats are rad) One hunter-gatherer needed about ten square miles of favorable territory to collect enough food to live. One square mile of cultivated land, however, could also support at least fifty people. Hence agriculture could support a human density fifty to a hundred times greater than hunting and gathering could. 80 Out of approximately 200,000 species of flowering plants, only about 3,000 have been used extensively for human food. Of these, only fifteen have been and continue to be of major importance: four grasses (wheat, rice, maize, and sugar), six legumes lentils, peas, vetches, beans, soybeans, and peanuts), and five starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, maniocs, and bananas). 83 As people settled down and reduced the portion of wild meat in their diet, they had to look for supplies of salt. The body of an adult contains three to four saltshakers worth of salt. The body loses salt through perspiration and cannot manufacture it but must replace it to live. 87 In the hot, wet tropical forests and humid savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, all goods that were traded had to be carried on the heads of people. No other pack animal could survive. This fact favored the lightest, most valuable commodities, particularly gold. 142 Their culture was distinguished by the scale of human sacrifice, something that began with the Olmec practice of bloodletting to the gods. But the Aztecs…transformed this practice into the central element of their ideological system. In the process of doing this, the Aztec promoted the worship of Huitzilopochtli (literally, hummingbird on the left), the god of war, over the worship of Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent), the god of agriculture and the arts. Huitzilopochtli had earlier been a minor god among the hundreds worshiped. 155 The Aztecs believed that warriors who died in battle and women who died in childbirth earned the most glorious life after death. 156 Surpluses of food, however, quickly led to organized robbery and the need for professional warriors. Power went to the leaders who could organize fighting forces and protection payments. Hierarchies of elites emerged as food surpluses increased. Military elites entered into coalitions with priestly groups that had closer relationships with ordinary people. This seems to be the common pattern in the development of all human societies. 164 * During the 350 years of the Atlantic slave trade, an estimated 12 to 25 million enslaved people were shipped from Africa for the Americas, of whom some 85% survived the terrible six to ten week voyage. About 40% went to Brazil, 40% went to the Caribbean, 5% went to what would become the United States, and the balance to the rest of Spanish America. By the 1820s five times more Africans than Europeans had come to the Americas. 199 The use of fossil fuel helps explain why slavery has officially if not completely vanished. 218

  16. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    Tackling the history of the world since the earliest origins of the universe is no small feat. It would seem like an utterly overwhelming exercise to any historian. However, Cynthia Stokes Brown does just that in Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. It is a massive undertaking and the foremost accomplishment is that she has written a highly readable account encompassing the grandest timescale possible. Rather than producing a weighty tome which gets bogged down in the details, she dis Tackling the history of the world since the earliest origins of the universe is no small feat. It would seem like an utterly overwhelming exercise to any historian. However, Cynthia Stokes Brown does just that in Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. It is a massive undertaking and the foremost accomplishment is that she has written a highly readable account encompassing the grandest timescale possible. Rather than producing a weighty tome which gets bogged down in the details, she discusses more than 13 billion years of history and still manages to put forward an overarching theme. In the preface, Brown alerts the reader that even history on such an extraordinary scale requires a certain emphasis and that Big History is about impact; specifically the impact humans have had on the planet as well as the planet’s impact on humankind. It is human history in the context of the Earth’s ecosystems and her argument (even though she claims not to have one), which builds up as the narrative progresses, is that human significance intensifies against the scale of the universe. For a work of history, the stage is set rather curiously with the creation of the cosmos, as much as modern theories and knowledge will allow. This is followed by describing the “Living Earth”, one that thrives as it sits bereft of humans. By going so far back in time, by leading with a considerable amount of history absent of homo sapiens, Brown asserts that providing such information is essential to exhibit the long-range effect of our species on the Earth. To establish this overall theme required the difficulty of wedding two very diverse areas, fundamental scientific and historical knowledge. This is vital to what is considered “big history”, a subfield of world history defined by the author as beginning with the origins of the universe and ending with the present day. In demonstrating that humankind has been around on the Earth for a relatively short period, but that the impact has been extensive, this larger picture needs to be presented. To substantiate this, Big History places prominence on huge lifestyle shifts by human populations and how drastically the environment changed as a result. According to Brown, the human shifts toward agriculture, urbanization and industrialization are some of the most significant. Humanity’s transformation from hunting and gathering to a reliance on farming for sustenance was a direful one, predicated on individual survival but one that has been devastating to the Earth’s ecosystems. As a result, and although not apparent at first, damage to the environment mounted as population numbers soared during this agricultural revolution. Rigorous cultivation of the planet led to increased food production and the capacity to store surpluses, causing human populations to grow even more rapidly. This was followed by the establishment of early civilizations and more permanent settlement. Conditions of stable urban lives emerged for humans around two millennia ago resulting in severe human inequalities, which in many respects still persist today. After experiencing minor fluctuations in human population growth for most of their history, the key pattern of consistent increases in population and population congestion, becomes widely apparent with the period of industrialization. Momentous moves to fossil fuels for supplying energy needs and high capacity manufacturing to accommodate mass consumption have only exacerbated the situation. Exponential population growth and increased demand for resources have multiplied the world’s environmental problems, with climate change now seeming to be of greatest concern. Brown is careful to put forward that her focus is not the progress or achievement of humanity. Adroitly, she highlights the “increase of people rather than the ascent of man”. Brown manages to emphasize impact and deliver a great deal of important history to validate her argument, but what makes Big History most successful is how easy to read and understand it is. Methodologically speaking, Brown succeeded in organizing a large amount of information from a vast array of subject areas and amazingly, was able to present big history in a mostly chronological fashion. While minor overlap occurs between some chapters in order to make connections, the linear narrative helps promote her idea of human impact gaining in significance over time, as the species plays an increasingly indelible part in the story of the Earth. To corroborate the content, Brown exclusively employs secondary sources of the wide range and variety one would expect for such an extensive history. Unfortunately, she seems to be dependent on a limited number of sources in the first half of the book, which undoubtedly provides an unfinished frame of reference for those sections. She relies heavily on just one or a small number of sources to guide her through entire chapters. Her use of David Christian’s quantitative data and J.R. McNeill’s early ecological information form too much of the basis for her analysis on several topics, but she does improve the diversification of her sources in the latter half of the book. This work appears to have been carried out as evidence that big history can be competently produced, possibly in response to some of Brown’s colleagues at the school of education at Dominican University of California who originally scoffed at her idea when it was first proposed. She even goes so far as to use the term in the title. Brown had instructed future educators at Dominican, and this book offers an account of the universe and humans cohesive and understandable enough to be utilized by grade school teachers, intending to widen perspectives to the larger picture that big history is thought to provide. This text would likely be of particular use for senior high school students and first or second year undergraduate students. That being considered, it is quite possible that Brown has made concessions within her work to accommodate various state curricula. One of the most contentious debates in the American education system in recent years has been the teaching of the origins of the universe: Big Bang Theory versus Creationism. Brown is wise to come clean up front on how she is not going to get caught up in such a debate and that science has “established a verifiable, and largely verified, account of the origins of the universe … this is a creation story for our time.” As humans continue to profoundly impact the Earth in a number of negative ways, it is impossible for Brown to paint a finished picture to complete her argument as it still plays out. But the questions the reader is left with are precisely the questions that should remain at the end of any adept edition of big history. Questions about whether changing policies and new technologies can lead to a more sustainable future, as well as if humans can share resources more equitably are presented at the end of Big History, if for some reason the reader was not already thinking them. In addition to the overarching questions for consideration conveyed by the overall theme, at the end of each chapter there is a helpful section called “Unanswered Questions” which present lingering concerns or disputes from each era. Brown ably discusses some difficult issues as divergent as how we can evaluate the life of hunter gatherers in modern times, the extent of European abuses against the native peoples during early contact with the Americas, and whether industrialization was a positive phase, in order to address major issues. It is these residual questions at the end of each section, and more importantly, the central questions at the end of the book that makes Brown’s work, and big history as a subtopic, so convincing and useful for historians to grasp the bigger picture.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Horia Bura

    When you read such a book, which is quite different from anything else I have read on this subject (history synthesis), in the sense that it has a different approach to conventional historiographical discourse, you can not help thinking about the humanity's nothingness in relation to the whole evolution of the universe and even to that of our planet. Combining in a balanced way the amount of information - quite condensed, without being excessive - with a remarkable capacity to analyze the great When you read such a book, which is quite different from anything else I have read on this subject (history synthesis), in the sense that it has a different approach to conventional historiographical discourse, you can not help thinking about the humanity's nothingness in relation to the whole evolution of the universe and even to that of our planet. Combining in a balanced way the amount of information - quite condensed, without being excessive - with a remarkable capacity to analyze the great natural and historical phenomena, this book does not necessarily address the passionate of history, but anyone who wants to know how the journey of humanity from its origins - and even before them - to our day developed. Enjoying a flowing and agreeable narrative formula, the approach here is also remarkable by a constant pursuit of the impact - generally, negative - of man on both the environment and other populations, as was the case with the conquest of the New World by Europeans. In this sense, the writer does a wonderful job, using estimation statistics, to reveal how deforestation, pollution, proliferation of diseases and epidemics have influenced the evolution of mankind and, consequently, how humans end up being the biggest, dangerous, and most reckless enemies of themselves and of the planet, for that matter. To conclude, this must be one of the best history books I have ever read, a real treat for anyone who isn't indifferent to the journey people have undertaken over time and especially the way it has unfolded.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    July 1,2019 A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of the book: Big History by Cynthia Stokes Brown I purchased this book in hardbound several months from ago from a resale vendor based on a write-up I read on the internet. It sounded interesting but when I received the book in the mail, I was surprised that it was less than 250 pages, for a book of the history of the development of our current universe, the earth and all of man's history and its future. I was somewhat suspect of its worth. It is well writ July 1,2019 A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of the book: Big History by Cynthia Stokes Brown I purchased this book in hardbound several months from ago from a resale vendor based on a write-up I read on the internet. It sounded interesting but when I received the book in the mail, I was surprised that it was less than 250 pages, for a book of the history of the development of our current universe, the earth and all of man's history and its future. I was somewhat suspect of its worth. It is well written and I would suspect it so, for an instructor from Berkley. The book is basically a gloss over of the enormous subject matter. I did find it interesting but title belied the subject matter scope. I gave it three stars out of five and was very critical of the last chapter as it was a review of the author's reality of our world, which I found very political in it scope and quite frankly left wing it both its content and context. I would not recommend this book to lovers of traditional history.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    In general terms this was a pleasure to read. It touches on pretty much all the main currents of development, and is well written. Of course there are questionable passages; a few are mistakes, some are instances of subsequent contradictory research, others involve situations subject to alternative perspective. But let’s get serious, does anyone seriously expect perfection when a writer is literally addressing everything? I highly recommend this or an alternative volume of “big history” to anyon In general terms this was a pleasure to read. It touches on pretty much all the main currents of development, and is well written. Of course there are questionable passages; a few are mistakes, some are instances of subsequent contradictory research, others involve situations subject to alternative perspective. But let’s get serious, does anyone seriously expect perfection when a writer is literally addressing everything? I highly recommend this or an alternative volume of “big history” to anyone who can think and read. It’s importance is similar to that of some sort of map to travelers: we need to know where we are, have been and will be. I believe this should be an essential element of everyone’s education. Cynthia Stokes Brown does an admirable job of telling us where the path of existence has been. She also gives some educated guesses at where it’s going. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to read that there’s not a golden age ahead. As my father used to say when he played a winning poker hand, “Read ‘em and weep!”

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brady Jones

    I would highly recommend this book. The only reason I gave it 4, rather than 5, stars is because I think if you're really, really into the idea of "big history," you might want to check out the David Christian book instead, which is apparently more detailed than this one. This book was fascinating. It helped me put together lots of interesting things I've learned about throughout my life (the origins of the universe, evolution, the rise of dominant world religions, patriarchy, colonization, envi I would highly recommend this book. The only reason I gave it 4, rather than 5, stars is because I think if you're really, really into the idea of "big history," you might want to check out the David Christian book instead, which is apparently more detailed than this one. This book was fascinating. It helped me put together lots of interesting things I've learned about throughout my life (the origins of the universe, evolution, the rise of dominant world religions, patriarchy, colonization, environmental sustainability, etc.) in a coherent way. It's just a good book to read if you're a person alive in the world; it helps you understand things in a more clear and connected way. She's a good, direct writer, too, and just knows TONS about everything, so even though some parts are more interesting than others, I was never bored.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Abner Rosenweig

    The premise is great: present the human story against the cosmological backdrop of our evolving universe. While the book gets off to a bang -- literally, the big bang -- and the early chapters are entertaining, Brown hits a wall when attempting to narrate the human history. She fails to sufficiently abstract the trends of the human story and explain them in a flowing and coherent way so the majority of the book is awkward and poorly written. In the final chapter "What Now? What Next?", Brown brin The premise is great: present the human story against the cosmological backdrop of our evolving universe. While the book gets off to a bang -- literally, the big bang -- and the early chapters are entertaining, Brown hits a wall when attempting to narrate the human history. She fails to sufficiently abstract the trends of the human story and explain them in a flowing and coherent way so the majority of the book is awkward and poorly written. In the final chapter "What Now? What Next?", Brown brings back the larger context and explores some important questions: is civilization headed toward collapse? Can tech save us? Will the universe end in a whimper or a crunch? Despite a bright start and finish, the book is destroyed by its sagging middle.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ali Hassan

    Big History presents the scientific creation story, from the big bang to the present, told in succinct, understandable language. In this book, the writer has woven many disciplines of human knowledge together into a single, seamless narrative. History as a discipline traditionally begins with written records from about 5,500 years ago. Here the writer has extended “history” to the limits of what is currently knowable by scientific methods, using whatever data and evidence are available, and not l Big History presents the scientific creation story, from the big bang to the present, told in succinct, understandable language. In this book, the writer has woven many disciplines of human knowledge together into a single, seamless narrative. History as a discipline traditionally begins with written records from about 5,500 years ago. Here the writer has extended “history” to the limits of what is currently knowable by scientific methods, using whatever data and evidence are available, and not limited to written documents. History is part of the scientific undertaking, and there is no sound reason why the uncovered story should be cut into two segments, one labeled “science” and the other “history.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Big History presents a well-rounded summary of the events from the big bang to the current world. This book places human history into a larger cosmology, though the author is fairly brief on the beginning cosmology. Relationships between peoples and nations, especially economic or trade related ones, provide the main historical lens with each chapter ending in a section of unanswered questions. The final chapter attempts to address where we, humans, might be headed. The book is thought provoking Big History presents a well-rounded summary of the events from the big bang to the current world. This book places human history into a larger cosmology, though the author is fairly brief on the beginning cosmology. Relationships between peoples and nations, especially economic or trade related ones, provide the main historical lens with each chapter ending in a section of unanswered questions. The final chapter attempts to address where we, humans, might be headed. The book is thought provoking and gives a sense of completion to a basic understanding of cosmology and human history which most of us got in basic k - 12 and first courses at university.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I couldn't even get through the first chapter. Three mistakes in three pages (helium consists of two protons and two electrons; the universe is about 3° C; the first stars formed around 200,000 years after the big bang). (The correct answers are: helium consists of two protons, two electrons, and two neutrons; the universe is about 3 Kelvins; the first stars formed around 200 million years after the big bang.) What else is wrong in this book? I don't know, but I decided it's not worth my time rea I couldn't even get through the first chapter. Three mistakes in three pages (helium consists of two protons and two electrons; the universe is about 3° C; the first stars formed around 200,000 years after the big bang). (The correct answers are: helium consists of two protons, two electrons, and two neutrons; the universe is about 3 Kelvins; the first stars formed around 200 million years after the big bang.) What else is wrong in this book? I don't know, but I decided it's not worth my time reading something so factually incorrect.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Yoav Eshel

    It super interesting and gives a nice context to history lessons. Sometimes it feels like the author is a bit biased towards one side, and it can get a bit dry, but overall super interesting book and I think that anyone who reads it will benefit from it

  26. 5 out of 5

    Armand

    Great, east to read, comprehensive book on the history of the world.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Lulu

    Covers a lot in a fairly short book, easy to read, and interesting. I'd say it does it's job. Covers a lot in a fairly short book, easy to read, and interesting. I'd say it does it's job.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    this was used as my global past textbook. I enjoyed it so much that I purchased it for my personal bookshelf.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Podaru

    Helped me as a kid.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Aimar Garcia

    In my opinion, it would have been more interesting to spend more of the book on this last 2 millenia rather than so much on the origins of the world

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