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Origins: How The Earth Made Us

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  216 ratings  ·  30 reviews
Why do so many of us eat cereal for breakfast?

Is it because we like the taste? Or because 20 millions years ago, a certain species of plant colonised the same hospitable land that humanity did?

Why is the world the way it is?

If we follow chains of explanation as far back as they go – and keep asking, like a curious child, ‘Why? Why? But WHY?’ – the answers become more and m
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 24th 2019 by Bodley Head
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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  216 ratings  ·  30 reviews

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Peter Tillman
Nature gave this book a good writeup at -- but see Michael Cayley's review, : "It is very much a journalistic read, with some sweeping and sometimes simplistic generalisations and some repetitiveness." On the third hand, here's a positive review by a geologist: "Geology is destiny: Humans’ flexible intelligence emerged as a response to a rapidly changing landscape." WSJ: (pa ...more
Michael Cayley
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
An attempt to bring out the influences of geology, environment and physical geography on human history. It is very much a journalistic read, with some sweeping and sometimes simplistic generalisations and some repetitiveness. While there are some interesting nuggets, I felt the book never really had a clear focus. It moves back and forth at great speed across historical and geological epochs in a way that felt to me slightly chaotic, and it seemed to me often to overstate its case.

With thanks to
A Reader
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
In Origins: How The Earth Made Us Lewis Dartnell explore what our environment has done to us. How has nature shaped the human story and influenced the development of civilizations.

It ranges over a staggering span of time and topics. Dartnell delves into geology, astronomy, anthropology, geography, chemistry and history, he looks into the development of life on Earth, the evolution of humans, the progression of civilization and the age of exploration, as well as the most recent trends of industri
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible book that answered many questions that had bugged me for ages. Must read to understand our origin being shaped by Earth.
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 on base. Would be a 4 as an introductory work for those new to geography and geology and its impact on the humanities-but I myself am far from new to the topic.

Dartnell takes us on a resource or geographic based theme for each chapter that ties in some aspect of human evolution or history with the physical elements of the Earth. Think of this are a more geological and less anthropological version of Guns Germs and Steel (but perhaps with a bit less commitment to staying with the central thes
Mark Mills
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
There's a lot of interesting stuff in here but it needs more of a through line for the audience to track. Without it the audience is left without much sense of an argument being built or that they are going on a journey.
Daniel Williams
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well it was a very interesting read for someone like me who knows almost nothing about geology but is interested anyway. It's written clearly and the descriptive material really takes you to the land forms in question: glaciers, snow capped mountains, drifting and colliding tectonic plates, volcanoes, deep oceans, larva beneath the earth's crust etc.

I didn't find the book's purported main message that enlightening. We are a product of the earth (and the stars for that matter) and it shows in ou
I've entered many shelves for this book as it covers a multiplicity of disciplines. Basically, it covers earth's history from formation to the present, its geological periods, sequence of animal and plant life in each period, the speciation of humans, our various technologies, politics, weather, astronomy.

I took a chance on this book, for I am well informed for a lay person, I think, on these subjects. Could LD tell me anything new? Yes, in some items. I had seen how the coal fields underlay, a
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the 19 70’s, James Burke presented a TV series called Connections, where technological change was linked to the scientific discoveries that enabled the change. I was reminded about that series when reading this book.

Lewis Dartnell sets out forensically how the earths geology, oceanography and climatology have influenced human evolution, and large scale socio-economic change. Many of these influences are common sense, but the author details how the underlying science has contributed significan
Fernando Acosta
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
El libro relaciona fenómenos geológicos como la tectónica de placas con el surgimiento de los primeros homínidos y también analiza el papel de la geografía y del medio ambiente en la configuración de la naturaleza humana, la cultura y cómo la distribución de los recursos naturales en todo el mundo aún resuenan hoy, tales como las consecuencias políticas de la arcilla, el cobre y los combustibles fósiles.
En suma, Lewis Dartnell ofrece una narrativa convincente a escala planetaria en la que se apr
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A sweep of history with the influence of geology, geography as a background to understand why and where we are today. Enjoyed the easy style of writing and simple explanations throughout each topic. Learnt a lot and enjoyed it tremendously but was a little taken aback by its sudden ending. Wish more material had been included. Highly recommended for general science reading and for people wanting to understand a different way that earth's history can be told interestingly.
Dave Allan
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was an excellent read. I'd put it alongside Sapiens as a must read and in many ways they complement each other without treading on toes.

Some of the chapters require slow reading because there's just so much fascinating insight and you don't want to miss properly understanding anything.

For me it's an absolute gem of a book, bought for me by my wife as a gift.
Mike Cross
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very, very informative and well written. Establishes a great foundation for further learning about how and why of much of history. Only thing lacking was more depth and a stronger cultural tie in; these would have made it a superstar read.
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Great book, true to its title. A fascinating history of our civilization as seen through the prism of the earth sciences. A refreshingly new read after all those traditional histories centered at the great leaders, prophets and wars. Lots of interesting facts and correlations. Recommended.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting but not exactly a page turner. First half pretty boring - plate tectonics, heating , cooling etc - I get it. Second half better covering human civilization. But does make a strong case tying early earth history and geology to evolution.
Gabriel Thomas
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting perspective of how geology shaped the modern world. With the exception of a few chapters, the book focuses more on human civilisations and their history rather than the evolution of the species. Not a criticism :-)
Brandon Luffman
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you enjoy documentaries on evolution, geology, geography, history, or just all sorts of other topics, this is a book for you!
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Possibly the best non-fiction book I've ever read.
Nick Jones
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
great topic, the connections between geology and human evolution. First chapters strong, later ones lackluster. Needs a good editor.
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How can you not get excited about plate tectonics after reading this book. The many things in our history and physical world that affected our human development.
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well researched and highly accessible.
Jun 13, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Lower quality alternative to Sapiens(by Yuval Noah Harari).
Edward J Laverty
Big pictures are more interesting

Great read that articulates its key thesis very well. I would strongly recommend to all, especially for public policy makers!
Harika Munagapati
Good for non-geologists to understand and appreciate the wonder which sustains us.
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
I'll be the first to admit that the subject matter of this book is not something I'm super familiar with, but that's the reason I wanted to read this book! While parts of it were a little dry, I appreciated that this was a very easy to understand summary of human evolution.
Blair Conrad
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, library
Interesting. A lot of very cool information, but somewhat repetitive.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found this book fascinating and informative.
I loved the style of writing and the writer explained his theories and their implication.
This a great educational book that can help the average people (like me) understand very complex theories.
I look forward to reading other books by this writer.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: aty-2019, non-fiction
Humans are a product of the Earth we live on. In Lewis Dartnell's latest book, he explores human evolution out of the forests, into the savannah and across the globe. What made us the dominant species we are today?

I was a huge fan of The Knowledge, but I felt Origins was a little unfocused. Human history is a huge topic to squash into one book, and the lens of of "how the Earth made us" is loosely interpreted to include many factors of the Earth. It probably didn't help that I've read a few thin
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Lewis Dartnell is an astrobiology researcher and professor at the University of Westminster. He has won several awards for his science writing, and contributes to the Guardian, The Times and New Scientist. He has also written for television and appeared on BBC Horizon, Sky News, and Wonders of the Universe, as well as National Geographic and History channels. A tireless populariser of science, his ...more
“For 90 per cent of the planet’s history there has been no fire on Earth. While there were volcanic eruptions, there was not enough oxygen in the atmosphere to sustain combustion.” 0 likes
“In fact, there’s more genetic diversity between two groups of chimpanzees living on opposite banks of a river in Central Africa than there is between humans on opposite sides of the world.” 0 likes
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