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Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (California World History Library Book 2) 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Maps of Time unites natural history and human history in a single, grand, and intelligible narrative. This is a great achievement, analogous to the way in which Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century united the heavens and the earth under uniform laws of motion; it is even more closely comparable to Darwin's nineteenth-century achievement of uniting the human species and other forms of life within a single evolutionary process. . . . [It] is a historical and intellectual masterpiece: clear, coherent, erudite, elegant, adventurous, and concise. . . . You, who are about to peruse this book, have a great experience before you. Read on, wonder, and admire."--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B005T5O9N0
- Publisher : University of California Press; 1st edition (October 3, 2011)
- Publication date : October 3, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 6403 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 985 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #388,135 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Christian’s work was initially brought to my attention by an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Jeffrey R. Young in which he mentioned that Bill Gates was a big fan of Christian’s work and had recommended it himself at a TED conference. (Gates is now also a financial supporter of Christian’s Big History Project.) I myself was aware of the Learning Company’s generally excellent coursework offerings and within a few weeks got an audio copy of the course of forty-eight lectures to listen to on my daily commute.
I’ve now devoured both his rather large text on the subject as well as a lecture series he created for a course on the subject. Below are brief reviews of the two works.The magnum written opus Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History is an interesting change of reference from a historical perspective combining the disciplines of physics, cosmology, astronomy, geology, chemistry, microbiology, evolutionary theory, archaeology, politics, religion, economics, sociology, and history into one big area of contiguous study based upon much larger timescales than those traditionally taken in the study of historical time periods. Though it takes pieces from many disciplines, it provides for an interesting, fresh, and much needed perspective on who humans are and their place in not only the world, but the entire universe.
By looking at history from a much broader viewpoint (billions of years versus the more common decades or even just a few centuries) one comes away with a drastically different perspective on the universe and life.
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 – alas the general conception of the topic itself didn’t exist until after I had graduated from university.
Although I have significant backgrounds in most, if not all, of the disciplines which comprise the tapestry of big history, the background included in the book is more than adequate to give the general reader the requisite introductions to these subjects to make big history a coherent subject on its own.
This could be an extremely fundamental and life-changing book for common summer reading programs of incoming college freshman. If I could, I would make it required reading for all students at the high school level. Fortunately Bill Gates and others are helping to fund David Christian’s work to help introduce it more broadly at the high school and other educational levels.
Within David Christian’s opus, there is also a collection of audio lectures produced by The Learning Company as part of their Great Courses series which I listened to as well. The collection of forty-eight lectures is entitled Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity (Great Courses, Course No. 8050). It provides a much quicker philosophical overview of the subject and doesn’t delve as deeply into the individual disciplines as the text does, but still provides a very cohesive presentation of the overall thesis. In fact, for me, the introduction to the topic was much better in these audio lectures than it was in the written book. Christian’s lecture style is fantastic and even better than his already excellent writing style.
"Because of the scale on which we look at the past, you should not expect to find in it many of the familiar details, names, and personalities that you’ll find in other types of historical teaching and writing. For example, the French Revolution and the Renaissance will barely get a mention. They’ll zoom past in a blur. You’ll barely see them. Instead, what we’re going to see are some less familiar aspects of the past. … We’ll be looking, above all, for the very large patterns, the shape of the past." --David Christian
In the audio lectures Christian highlights eight major thresholds which he uses as a framework by which to view the 13.4 billion years of history which the Universe has presently traversed. Then within those he uses the conceptualization of disparities in power/energy as the major driving forces/factors in history in a unique and enlightening way which provides a wealth of perspective on almost every topic (scientific or historical) one can consider. This allows one to see parallels and connections between seemingly disparate topics like the creations of stars and the first building of cities or how the big bang is similar to the invention of agriculture.
I can easily say that David Christian’s works on big history are some of the most influential works I’ve ever come across – and having experienced them, I can never see our universe in the same naive way again.
For those interested in taking a short and immediate look at Christian’s work, I can recommend his Ted Talk “The History of Our World in 18 Minutes” which only begins to scratch the surface of his much deeper and profound thesis:
Given how profound the topic of big history is, I’m sure I’ll be writing about and referring to it often.
David Christian clarifies in the Introduction of Maps of Time that Big History is more than “just another story” in that it is based on scientific evidence (it is “closer to truth”, so to speak), but it is not “absolute truth” in that it is based on current dominant paradigms which are subject to change and modification Thus, we must take Big History not as “truth” but as the a “modern creation myth”, more than “just another story” but less than “absolute truth”. These clarifications are important.
Big History also does not profess to an expertise in the various fields it covers. Rather, it is a “bird’s eye” view of universal history that tends to look at the “big trends” while the details of each specialized field fade out due to scale. The dominant notion of Big History is that these trends guide us to certain unifying principles. The first underlying principle is related to the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) and energy flows – as detailed by Eric Chaisson (see his work “Cosmic Evolution”). It deals with how order and complexity can arise in a universe ruled by increasing entropy. One possibility (attributed to Ilya Prigogine) is that increasingly complex structures (including humans and societies) may arise due to the fact that they act, in a sense, as less resistant (or if you will, more conductive) conduits of increasing entropy (which aligns with the idea that greater flows occur on the largest gradients). So, on a physical level, human beings and societies may best be considered as “dissipative structures” unwittingly aligned with the forces of increasing entropy in the quest for greater order. Underlying the whole of Big History, but never explicitly stated, is the principle of universal evolution (universal Darwinism). One can see this more explicitly by replacing the term “collective learning” with “cultural evolution”.
What Maps of Time (and Big History) leaves unstated and unexamined are its own axioms. These include:
• The Reality assumption: we are not living in a simulation.
• The Comprehensibility assumption: Phenomenal reality is comprehensible by the human mind and its methods (i.e., the patterns that the Brain-Mind detects are “real”).
• The Copernican assumption: There is nothing special about our place in the universe (other than we happen to be on the top of the ratcheted ladder of complexity, so far as we know).
• The Natural Laws assumption: Reality is governed by natural laws.
• The Causality assumption: The natural laws reveal causal influences.
• The Non-duality assumption: We do not need to posit anything beyond nature to explain phenomena.
What makes Big History a legitimate field (and research endeavor), rather than a synthesis of knowledge, is its examination of reality on a different scale and its search for unifying patterns. Each “threshold” of universal history has it fundamental principle. At its heart, though, Big History is about history, and that takes up the largest portion of the book. Here, David Christian proposes agriculture as the fundamental technology of the Agrarian era and “power over people”, exaction of tribute, and Malthusian cycles as the unifying explanatory principles of this era. Similarly, the unifying principle of the Modern era seems to be consumer capitalism and the business cycle, but this is now set to collide with its own “Malthusian barrier” of ecological resources and impacts. Although it receives brief mention, human "nature red in tooth and claw" fades out at these large scales. Underlying all the increase in complexity is the increase in connectivity and networking, which is the “scarlet thread” running through all of history. Finally, Christian addresses the predictive ability of Big History.
Overall, Big History is a historical endeavor, a scientific endeavor, and also (not least, although least recognized in the book) a philosophical endeavor. In its unifying agenda, Big History needs to integrate not only history and science but also philosophy. Philosophy would be useful to guide its axioms, methods, and agenda.
I found this book a delight to read and have alongside one a laptop so that salient points of history, anthropology, science could be explored further. Christian is an historian though he has pulled enormous amounts of information from academic disciplines to elaborate and illustrate his text. The footnoting is extensive.
Top reviews from other countries
O foco, é claro, somos nós, os humanos. A agricultura, as primeiras cidades, os sistemas políticos e tributários, a revolução industrial e as diversas mudanças geográficas dos núcleos de concentração e troca de informações.
Chama a atenção os ciclos de expansão e colapso de algumas civilizações. A incrível explosão demográfica dos últimos cem anos (na chamada revolução moderna) deve nos servir de alerta para a possibilidade de um próximo colapso. Essa afirmação é minha e não do autor.
De qualquer forma, mesmo sendo muito denso, com muita informação de difícil compreensão, recomendo fortemente a leitura. A nossa história é fascinante.
Its still unlike any big history book I've read and I have read quite a few.
There is nothing in the early chapters that could not be found better explained in a popular account of Big Bang cosmology. There are more mistakes and poorer explanations of the science: for example the author appears not to know the difference between dark energy and dark matter and clearly has only the haziest understanding of the second law of thermodynamics. But hey you do get Indian creation myths!
Maybe it'll get better, these first few chapters are technically the most difficult for a historian to write. But if the beginning is so flawed doesn't the whole enterprise founder: if the cosmology is poorly described how can we seek patterns and insight for the next stages?
My personal worry is that since the piece that I understand well is loaded with errors how much can I trust the sections about which I know little?
UPDATE: I have now finished the entire book and it doesn't get any better. The author is clearly strongly ideologically biased. The discussion of the causes of the industrial revolution verges on the comic. The author bends over backwards to demonstrate that there was nothing unique about Europe and then fails to offer any explanation as to why the Industrial Revolution happened there. He seems totally unaware of the work done on the importance of institutions.
Why two stars if the book is so bad? Because I think the idea of big history has merit. It just needs to be done by a multidisciplinary team - it can't be left to a Marxist historian with a limited understanding of science.