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Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,395 ratings  ·  179 reviews
A New York Times-bestselling author explains how the physical world shaped the history of our species

When we talk about human history, we often focus on great leaders, population forces, and decisive wars. But how has the earth itself determined our destiny? Our planet wobbles, driving changes in climate that forced the transition from nomadism to farming. Mountainous
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by Basic Books (first published January 24th 2019)
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THIS IS THE BOOK I THOUGHT SHOULD HAVE WON Goodreads Best Science Book 2019. 
I would not recommend getting the Audible version because it does not come with a PDF. In order to truly appreciate this book, you need the PDF or to watch this lecture before you start the book:

In this book Lewis Dartnell followed how the movement of tectonic plates determined where humans migrated, settled, and brought about agriculture and animal husbandry. Their mov
Peter Tillman
Jan 24, 2019 marked it as to-read
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
Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: blue
Lewis Dartnell is a "professor of science communication", it says on the dust jacket to this book. I didn't know that was a thing, but goodness knows we could use all of that we can get. Dartnell is using his (rather good) science communication skills, here, to tell "Big History" on the scale of the Earth's lifespan. This is the sort of book where you get an explanation of 21st century voting trends in the U.S.A. or the U.K., from an analysis of plate tectonics and the biology of the Cretaceous ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
‘Origins’ by Lewis Darnell is an excellent general reader book of science describing how the changing geography of Earth for its past 4.5 billion years led to how the Human species developed and spread across the continents.

The short version:

Most of us know the continents move around the surface of the earth because of plate tectonics. In moving about, mountains were created, volcanoes erupted, wind and ocean currents changed. The earth’s path around the sun and the wobble of the earth produced
Sense Of  History
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: big-history
I read this book to gain further insight into the earliest human history. That was a bit disappointing. Dartnell presents a very classic and now slightly outdated picture of the human family tree. In doing so, he makes the mistake of linking the different steps in human evolution, even in the succession of tool making techniques, exclusively with geographic and climatic elements. “The timing of when new hominin species emerged - often associated with an increase in brain size - or fell extinct a ...more
Michael Cayley
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
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
Mixed feelings about this book. It has some interesting chapters on plate tectonics, ocean and wind currents and other geophysical phenomena, and how they have shaped our earth over millions of years. Dartnell mainly focuses on the influence of these phenomena on human history. Obviously, geography has had a great impact on human developments. “Cultural, social, economic and political influences are of course important - but planetary processes often form a deeper layer of explanation. While our ...more
Paul  Perry
In Origins, Lewis Dartnell takes a similar approach to that of Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, using a long view to explain why human development progressed in the way it did. In this case, the billions-years process of geology.

Starting with the hypothesis that humans developed the way we did in East Africa due to the climate created by the Great Rift Valley - a drying out of the land leading to the forest being replaced by savanna, amongst other factors - through the forces that raised
This book covers some of the same ground as Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics regarding the impact of geography on human activity. But Dartnell goes deeper and back further, explaining how earth's long ago geological processes have influenced human evolution and development. Some of his connections seem a bit attenuated, but in the long run they mostly make sense. It was a very ...more
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2020
We may think that we are a separate species from all the others but we are as much a part of the earth as the rocks and soil that we stand on. To start with we are made from the same elements and all the things that you can see around you we are an integral part of this planet. Secondly, if you know where to look and how to interpret the data you can see the traces of our long development in the rocks too.

To begin this story, Dartnell takes us back to that moment in time when we moved down a dif
Oct 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, science
This book is basically a variation on "big history." The structure and focus is different than the more common format of linear progression since the big bang, but many of the key points made were basically similar. The subject is interesting, but the actual points made are rather elementary and/or just rehash ideas that have already been thoroughly popularized.

Did you know that trade routes were shaped by wind and current patterns? Oh, you did. Well...did you know that the locations of mineral
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
An entertainingly-written narrative on how the forces of the planet (i.e. plate tectonics, ocean currents, climate bands, prevailing winds, raw materials, etc.) have influenced human evolution, life and history. The science is "popular" and should be understood by almost any reader. ...more
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's another one of those science-for-laymen books that I like so much. The emphasis is more on discussing the big questions with enough depth to teach you something concrete without being overbearing (most of the time) with the nitty-gritty of the science. The chapters are split up into different eras of human history always with an angle of looking at a specific aspect of earth's history to draw connections. This is how Dartnell explains how East African primates were naturally selected for mo ...more
Jun 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This started out rather slow & repetitively for me, but it got a lot more interesting from chapter 4 on. I've read several other books that covered the first 3 chapters in even more detail & Dartnell made his points several times, so it really dragged. I quit for a while, but picked it back up & am glad I did. His common theme, the title of the book, was extremely interesting & he had great examples. He traced why skyscrapers are built where they & even tied voting blocks to formations from mill ...more
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
Is this what science folks think history is supposed to be?

Dartnell claims he wrote a history; the subtitle throws the word 'history' in twice. But this is not a history. The book has no narrative thread holding it together. It is not a history as much as a series of facts paraded before the reader one after the other. Dartnell moves back and forth from topic to topic so quickly that I was worried I was going to get whiplash trying to keep up.

One example, over just a couple of pages, Dartnell b
A Reader
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it
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
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.
Nikhil Iyengar
Aug 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I don't care much for geology, though I was curious to learn more where it concerns history. While I wasn't interested in limestones and minerals, I enjoyed reading the first section of the book that focussed on continental collisions and tectonic shifts and the latter part of the book about industrialisation and the age of discovery. It certainly is informative, I'll give it that. ...more
Matteo Centonze
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great writing explaining complex concepts in an entertaining and brilliant way. I'd call it the new "Sapiens" and it would fully deserve the title. Great work. ...more
Madhav Ranka
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Comes with some crazy observations, good content of science and facts and some anecdotes from the planet's history to keep you with it. ...more
Stephen Palmer
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
Subtitled 'How The Earth Shaped Human History,' this is a fascinating and very well written survey of how geology and landscape have shaped the course of human history. It's aimed at the general reader, but doesn't skimp on facts and theory. Comparisons with Yuval Noah Harari's 'Sapiens' are for once not exaggerated.

Set into nine chapters, the work opens with the evolution of humanity in East Africa, showing how continental drift, deep magma events and climate all forged conditions in which huma
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Why is it that the US west coast thrives with huge cities and economic prosperity but the African west coast doesn't? This book explains why. Dartnell also explains why the UK gave birth to the industrial revolution. He examines how the world's climate, geology, and geography have shaped human civilization. If you liked 'Guns, Germs, and Steel', and 'Sapiens', put this on your reading list. ...more
Jun 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Found parts of this a bit dull because I knew a lot of it already (flex) but loved the history side
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
Fascinating! Science is awesome. History is awesome. Nature is awesome. Anthropology is awesome. Geopolitics is awesome. And this book has all of that! Super helpful for thinking about the constraints and incentives that the natural world and physical location place on human development and civilization.
Louis Vis
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding book! The quality and subject knowledge of tectonic activity, atmospheric circulation is fantastic. A must read for any GCSE and A Level Geography teacher. A recommendation to any Geography student.
Re Álvarez Parmar
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have not read a more informative book than this. That’s all I have to say. Five stars are not enough.
Jul 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Okay, hear me out. this was interesting. It was. It was when everything was connected and tied up with a nice little bow. But when he was trying to get there? the journey? I lost interest there.
Thankfully this isn't a big book so things started to come together pretty quickly.
Patricia Veinott
Sep 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
There's a lot of books that really like to push their pet theory of what made homo sapiens, and it's a trope that I'm tired of. This book is not that, thankfully. Instead, Dartnell pulls back the lens and takes us much farther back to see the story of how geology and geography got us here, through wild climate changes, plate tectonics, fossil fuels, trade winds, amongst many others. The narrative presented is clever and readable. Highly recommend. ...more
Donald Majewski
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fabulous read. It's very seldom that a nonfiction book makes me feel like I wish there was just one more chapter to read. I learned a lot it's a fascinating study on humanity and this planet we live on. ...more
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Science and Inquiry: June 2020 - Origins 46 124 Jul 04, 2020 03:19PM  

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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

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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
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