Dartnell (The Knowledge), a University of Westminster science communication professor, links plate tectonics to the emergence of the first hominins in a sometimes simplistic but intriguing look at the environment’s role in shaping human nature. Exploring how climate fluctuation drove hominin species out of Africa, Dartnell reviews early human history, covering migration, the development of agriculture, the rise of Mediterranean cultures, and the political consequences of clay, chalk, flint, copper, kaolin, and other natural resources. Curiously, Dartnell notes, a band of Democratic-leaning counties in otherwise conservative U.S. states coincides with the boundaries of an ancient ocean. He also conjectures loosely on how geology has influenced Britain’s national identity and why China has claimed the Tibetan Plateau. More conclusive is his discussion of how ocean currents have affected exploration and colonization. His writing in places seems aimed at younger readers—volcanoes “pop and fizz,” the earth’s egg shell crust holds gooey mantle, and the land mass that became the East African Ridge is described as “a huge zit.” Science mavens may also be taken aback that he provides primers on some fairly basic concepts, such as ice ages and human genetics. However, the central project of this book—providing a geological take on human history—is well illustrated and at moments, surprising. Agent: Will Francis, Janklow & Nesbit. (May)
"Origins is a Big History, a grand synthesis that draws from many fields.... Mr. Dartnell's breezy style is full of word play, setting him far from the plodding crowd of many science writers."—Wall Street Journal
"Dartnell's approach is encyclopedic, marked by both a broad sweep and a passion for details."—Washington Post
"Dartnell's story is beautifully written and organized. His infectious curiosity and enthusiasm tug the reader from page to page, synthesizing geology, oceanography, meteorology, geography, palaeontology, archaeology and political history in a manner that recalls Jared Diamond's classic 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel."—Nature
"Fascinating."—The Guardian (UK)
"Behind the human brilliance that historians recognize in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece,
Dartnell discerns the effects of the plate-tectonic geology that created environments favorable to such
innovation. To Dartnell's acute eye, later periods of human history likewise reflect the geodynamics of an
evolving planet....Penetrating geoscience
delivers the surprising backstory of human history."—Booklist
"A thoughtful history of our species as a product of 4 billion years of geology.... Dartnell is an engaging guide through millions of years of history. An expert chronicle of the Earth that culminates in human civilization."—Kirkus Reviews
"Extraordinary book... Dartnell offers a new perspective on the relationship between human beings and their planet... Dartnell understands geology, geography, anthropology, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and history. That's quite an achievement, but what makes him special is the way he communicates the interconnectedness of these disciplines in a clear, logical and entertaining way...Superb."—The Times (UK)
"The perfect blend of science and history. This is a book that will not only challenge our preconceptions about the past, but should make us think very carefully about humanity's future. Five stars."—Mail on Sunday (UK)
"The central project of this book providing a geological take on human history is well illustrated and at moments, surprising."—Publishers Weekly
"A sweeping, brilliant overview of the history of not only of our species but of the world. Whether discussing the formation of continents or the role that climate (and climate change) has had on human migration, Lewis Dartnell has a rare talent in being able to see the big picture and explaining why it matters."—Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads
"What a treat to see history through the eyes of an astrobiologist! Our history was shaped profoundly by the laying down of iron beds two billion years ago, by the tectonic forces that ripped open the African rift valley, by the slow cooling of the earth that began 50 million years ago, and by the evolution of grasses! Lewis Dartnell's absorbing new book shows, with many vivid examples, how deeply human history is embedded in the history of planet earth."—David Christian, author of Origin Story
"An original and timely way of looking at human history through the materials and natural resources that our species has employed to such effect. It should be read by everyone who ponders how long exploitation can continue on a finite planet."—Richard Fortey, author of Earth
"Endlessly enthralling, Lewis Dartnell explains why the history of humanity, and of human cultures, both take dictation from the deeper history of Earth herselffrom broad generalities to surprisingly specific details. An entertaining and informative essay on contingencyand worthy successor to the writing of Stephen Jay Gould."—Ted Nield, author of Supercontinent
A thoughtful history of our species as a product of 4 billion years of geology.
According to British astrobiologist Dartnell (Science Communication/Univ. of Westminster; The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch, 2014), "to truly understand our own story we must examine the biography of the earth itself-its landscape features and underlying fabric, atmospheric circulation and climate regions, plate tectonics, and ancient episodes of climate change. In this book we'll explore what our environment has done to us." Indeed, the author largely ignores human creations or actions, including war, religion, technology, and government. Readers will encounter plenty of intriguing surprises. The study of plate tectonics, which produces earthquakes and volcanoes, is vital to understanding the rise of early civilizations. The earliest, from the Aztecs to those in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and India, grew along fault lines that happen to be rich in water and fertile soil. "We are the children of plate tectonics," writes Dartnell. For 80 to 90 percent of our existence, our planet was hotter than today; then, 50 million years ago, it began cooling. The Antarctic ice cap first appeared 35 million years ago, the Northern ice caps 15-20 million years later. East African jungles retreated, replaced by open grasslands that encouraged the diversity of hominins as well as the large herbivorous mammals they hunted. More than 2.5 million years ago, encouraged by variations in the Earth's movement, glaciers began spreading south and then retreating in a dozen ice ages. We are currently enjoying a warm period of retreat, but the industrial burning of fossil fuels is leading to an uncertain future of increasing temperatures, acidic oceans, unstable weather, shifting rainfall patterns, and rising sea levels. Despite the inevitable gloomy conclusion, Dartnell is an engaging guide through millions of years of history.
An expert chronicle of the Earth that culminates in human civilization.