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Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  334 ratings  ·  46 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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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: ...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 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
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.
Сонин үнэг
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 ...more
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
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
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.
Mark Mills
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
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Possibly the best non-fiction book I've ever read.
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
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,
Mario Di Maggio
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent. How lucky we are to be living at a time when - thanks to science, historical retrospect and eloquent authors like Dartnell - we can UNDERSTAND STUFF about both the Earth and who EXACTLY we are! The gems of knowledge I enriched myself with through this book are numerous. For example, now I understand the reason for coal, crude oil and the industrial revolution so much better. Nomic people, horses and the Asian steppes too - amongst many, many other things. What an exciting adventure ...more
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
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting and unique look at human history through the lens of the Earth's process. Dartnell's style entertains and educates as we learn how the Earth's process, from geology, continental drift, climate, wind patterns and ocean circulation have shaped human history from our beginnings to today's societies. It is the Earth that set the stage for the human story and it is the Earth's resources, landscapes, and process that continue to direct human history and civilizations. The Earth made us ...more
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.
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A largely excellent and fascinating book about the connections between geology and history. Some of his explanations feel a little rushed, and there could have been more illustrations and maps (it's impossible to read this book without a map nearby), but overall it's a great book. I learned something new on every page. It's amazing to ponder what Isaac Newton would have given to be able to read this book.
Dave Allan
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Zohaib Rana
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A difficult to read but nonetheless presents a very interesting view point on how tectonic plate movements led to changes in climate, evolution of humans, migration, trade and progress through exploitation of different metals and rocks! I dont think I can look at the map of the world in the same way anymore
Richard Jarrald
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent account of how the physical world generated the circumstances for human history. Written with breadth and authority this book is equally suitable for the novice or the seasoned scientist/geographer/environmental historian.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it liked it
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 :-)
Mike Cross
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
Brilliant - from my perspective anyway. It is a fascinating book, which takes us from first man up to the present day and describes how we have evolved by the forces of nature and how we have manipulated those forces. A book well worth the effort.
Jun 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
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!
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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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