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A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves
     

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves

by Walter Alvarez
 

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Famed geologist Walter Alvarez expands our view of human history by revealing the cosmic, geologic, and evolutionary forces that have shaped us.One in a million doesn’t even come close.Not when we’re talking about the odds that you would happen to be alive today, on this particular planet, hurtling through space. Almost fourteen billion years of cosmic

Overview

Famed geologist Walter Alvarez expands our view of human history by revealing the cosmic, geologic, and evolutionary forces that have shaped us.One in a million doesn’t even come close.Not when we’re talking about the odds that you would happen to be alive today, on this particular planet, hurtling through space. Almost fourteen billion years of cosmic history, over four billion years of Earth history, a couple million years of human history, the rise and fall of nations, the unbroken string of generations necessary to lead to you—it’s staggering to consider. Yet behind everything in our world, from the phone in your pocket to even the force of gravity itself, lies a similarly grand procession of highly improbable events.This panoramic viewpoint has captured the imagination of historians and scientists alike, and together they’ve created a new field—Big History—that integrates traditional historical scholarship with scientific insights to study the full sweep of our universe and its past. Famed geologist Walter Alvarez—best known for the impact theory explaining dinosaur extinction—has championed a science-first approach to Big History, and A Most Improbable Journey is one of the first Big History books to be written by a scientist rather than a historian. Alvarez brings his unique expertise and infectious curiosity to give us a new appreciation for the incredible occurrences—from the Big Bang to the formation of supercontinents, the dawn of the Bronze Age, and beyond—that have led to our improbable place in the universe.

Editorial Reviews

Sean B. Carroll
“Imagine a campfire chat with your favorite teacher sharing the biggest story you ever heard. A Most Improbable Journey is a thrilling synthesis from a brilliant scientist who discovered one of the most important chapters in our history. An instant classic.”
David Christian
“A wonderful account of Big History by a geologist. And not just any geologist, but the geologist who showed that the dinosaurs were done in by an unlucky asteroid strike! Alvarez writes with precision and great charm. And he reminds us how absurdly improbable is the role we play in this colossal story, and how many things had to go right for you and me to exist.”
Neil Shubin
“For the past three decades, Walter Alvarez has been at the center of a revolution in how scientists think about the history of life and the Earth. In A Most Improbable Journey he gives us the biggest history of all, going from the Big Bang to our own place on the planet. Lively and profound and flavored with his infectious enthusiasm, Alvarez shows how each of us has won a truly massive lottery just to be a sentient being on this planet.”
Science
“Evocative…Alvarez [enables] readers to experience the power of Big History.”
Science News
“Fans of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything will appreciate Alvarez’s enthusiastic, clearly written tour of contingencies that have shaped our world.…A compelling case for Big History as a fun, perspective-stretching exercise—a way to dust off familiar topics and make them sparkle.”
Library Journal
06/15/2016
If you're familiar with the "Impact Theory," which blames dinosaur extinction on a crash-landed asteroid, then you're familiar with Berkeley geologist Alvarez; he originated the idea. Here he argues that Big History, which studies all past history to contextualize human existence, should begin with science.
Kirkus Reviews
2016-09-21
Count yourself lucky that you live on a planet with gravityand silicon.Well-known in paleontological circles for his description of the Chicxulub impact crater, which he explored in the bestselling T. rex and the Crater of Doom (1997), Alvarez (Geology/Univ. of California; The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events that Shaped Our Earth, 2009, etc.) is at ease writing about geology, never an easy subject to treat with much grace. Here he adds a wrinkle: a garden variety geologist, he writes, will be interested in a particular mountain range, while a geologist guided by Big History might want to understand the whole sweep of continental motions throughout all of Earth history that has given rise to all the mountain ranges. The inclusion of environmental history in human history at a very deep scale of time has proven fruitful and has yielded good books by, among others, Richard Fortey and Colin Tudge. However, theres a bit of a buzzword quality to the whole Big History enterprise, and at times it seems as if Alvarez has adopted it as a slogan in this glancing survey: We usually take our wonderful Earth for granted[b]ut a Big History sense of its distant past can only leave us amazed and grateful that such a violent and chancy history has given us this perfect place to live. Granted, the human presence on the Earth is the tiniest fraction of a fraction of planetary time, and the fact that grains of sand are oriented in a certain direction in the Rockies has only a peripheralthough interestingbearing on how engineers blasted a railroad path through the mountains 150 years ago. A little of the gee-whiz stuff goes a long way, as when Alvarez notes that contingency is everywhere in human historymeaning, in other words, that you couldnt have planned it if you tried. The science is impeccable, the history a tad simplistic. An Ascent of Manlike approach to the subject of Big History would be most welcome, but this isnt quite it.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393292695
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
11/15/2016
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
141,277
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

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Meet the Author

Walter Alvarez a professor of geology at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the founding members of the International Big History Association. He was awarded the 2002 Penrose Medal, the top honor in geology, and is the author of The Mountains of St. Francis and the best-selling T. rex and the Crater of Doom.

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