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Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  782 ratings  ·  76 reviews
An introduction to a new way of looking at history, from a perspective that stretches from the beginning of time to the present day, Maps of Time is world history on an unprecedented scale. Beginning with the Big Bang, David Christian views the interaction of the natural world with the more recent arrivals in flora and fauna, including human beings.

Cosmology, geology,
Paperback, 664 pages
Published February 23rd 2004 by University of California Press (first published 2004)
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Luke It's written in the same tradition, although it is a bit more academic than Bryson's work. The goal is really to market this sort of work to other…moreIt's written in the same tradition, although it is a bit more academic than Bryson's work. The goal is really to market this sort of work to other historians, as "big history" is not fully accepted as an intellectual enterprise. He cites Bryson's book a few times and I'd say Christian's work is definitely worth taking a look at.(less)
Anna Easy. I initially found it a bit heavy/academically talkative first time I read it, and felt that it spent too many words on defending the concept of…moreEasy. I initially found it a bit heavy/academically talkative first time I read it, and felt that it spent too many words on defending the concept of big history against resistance from other historians.

However, it is a thorough and well researched book about an incredible fascinating topic (the history of everything we know of!), and absolutely worth a read... Not hard to understand at all, it is written with laymen in mind (and historians) (less)

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Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
David Christian's book covers the entire history of the universe - the Big Bang to the universe's eventual descent into darkness - in 500 pages, laying out a text book of "big history." Big history is a response to a perception that history as a field has been becoming increasingly fragmented, as specialists veer off into their own corners and study minute details while the big picture often gets lost in the shuffle. It's a fair point.

Christian responds to this with a demand for synthesis, into
Dec 01, 2013 rated it liked it
It took more than two months to read this 500-page book, intensively taking notes. That is to say that it really is worth it. I'm a graduate in history myself, and I like to read detailed monographs, but at the same time I'm very fond of authors that try to see the broader picture. "Big History" (as Christian propagates) requires courage and a talent to filter a storyline out of the chaotic mass of details, whilst respecting a thorough accurateness and a sense of nuance.
In this book Christian
Kimba Tichenor
David Christian's provides an introduction to so-called Big History -- a type of history that the author defines as interdisciplinary in nature and one which seeks to find "an underlying unity beneath the various accounts of the past told in different historically oriented disciplines. Big History studies the past across physics, astronomy, geology, biology, and human history. As it does so, it seeks common themes, paradigms and methods..." Put differently, it endeavors to provide a modern, ...more
May 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was just glancing through the other comments as I finished reading this this morning, and there was one about how this was a well written book but it was obvious that the author wasn't Christian, and therefore was wrong/the commentator didn't agree with him because other books about "big history" have been written by Christians that fit the Biblical story and have "science" to back them up. To them I say, this book was not written to support the Christian/Creationism/Intelligent Design ...more
Big History is a synthesis of knowledge from different scholarly disciplines that makes for one fascinating story about our universe. Most people will probably be familiar with a lot of the information in the book, but it’s when that information is put into a new contexts that you start seeing things differently, and that’s what I enjoyed the most. Also, I really enjoyed professor Christian’s explanation of the evolution of the universe, from the simplest structures to growing levels of ...more
Wesley Jackson
Aug 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, it sweeps from the origins of the universe to the very present, from the atomic to the cosmic, but never loses the perspective that grips you in tears of awe, tears that are not blinding but the birthing-sweat of sight itself
Sense of  History
Let there be no misunderstanding: this is a really interesting book, very elaborate and thoroughly researched, offering a pioneer study into Big History. I think it is original in this sense that, with the exception maybe of the Amsterdam researcher Fred Spier, David Christian was the first to offer a real bird-eye view of history, starting with the history of the universe (Big Bang and all that stuff), going to the formation of the earth, its climate and its many inhabitants, reaching out into ...more
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The history of the world in less than 510 pages, and starting with the Big Bang. Humans don't appear until around page 110. Still a very interesting book. Of course, he misses a lot of the high points of history. Instead, as he describes the the forces that created the universe, he surveys the forces that have created the world's cultures. Centering mostly on the economical, giving the book a somewhat Marxist feel.

It is an interesting contrast to the very specific studies of history. I read it
Nov 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010-reading
Is the written historical record enough to explain the history of civilization? David Christian would argue that it isn't, Maps of Time is a condensed, single volume argument based on his introductory lectures on the topic of “Big History”. Big History as defined by Christian is the history of everything on the largest possible scale, from the beginning of the universe to its bitter end. By this definition Big History covers not only the written record, but also prehistory and even prehuman ...more
Oct 09, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Maps of Time is arguably one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by a historian, seeking to synthesize universal existence, from the Big Bang to the end of time, into a single coherent narrative in approximately 500 pages. David Christian is deliberately attempting to create a new, modern “creation myth” that fits current scientific understanding. The grand scale of the work, in addition to a preachy environmentalism, obscures Christian's larger contribution: his interesting approach to ...more
Nancy Ellis
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Exciting approach to the study of history, taken all the way back to the beginning of the universe, basing the history of everything on increasing complexity leading up to modern society. THIS IS HOW HISTORY SHOULD BE TAUGHT!!! I read the book while watching the author's series of lectures on Big History for The Great Courses (formerly known as The Teaching Company......wonderful outfit, by the way). If science had been taught in this manner while I was in school, I most likely would not have ...more
Ian Tymms
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Monumental in every way. A tome to represent the entirety of history - from big bang to our possible future. Like all great historians, Christian, is a storyteller with his own set of motifs. The underlying exploration of history as evolving complexity was one such theme and his discussion of the dance between chaos and complexity in the appendix was fascinating. Looking at history as emergence in the language of complexity theory is new to me but makes good sense. Complexity theory is popping ...more
Victoria Hawco
Sep 28, 2018 rated it liked it
I had to understand more math and physics than I would have liked, but what are you gonna do.
Nov 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read for school.
Only had to read until pg 491 + Appendix 1.
Terry Clague
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You can't knock someone writing a history book covering 13 odd billion years - even if he does describe that as "a brief exuberant springtime" compared to an "inconceivably distant future".

"Big History" is a fairly new subdiscipline which attempts to describe historical development from the "big bang" onward. I'm not sure why this book (authored by a - ahem - big name in the "field") isn't just called big history - perhaps because the publishers were worried that readers would constantly say it
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book for parents.

Look, at some point your kid is going to ask you a whole series of brutally hard questions: "Dad, where did the universe come from?" "Dad, what made the moon?" "Dad, where did cows live before they lived on farms?" And, as a reasonably well educated Dad or Mom, you kind of think there is probably an answer out there, but it's hard to put your finger on it. This here is the book for you.

The book is unabashedly ambitious, and in just over 400 pages covers the
Paul DiBara
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book does something I've been hoping to see for quite a while. It attempts to take the broad view of human development - going back to the beginning of the universe - to see what lessons or conclusions we might draw from such a survey. It's a combination of philosophy, science and history. What is the relation of humanity to the universe. I'm tempted to say that it explores the nature of reality but the scope isn't quite that broad. It takes a more holistic view of being than I've seen in ...more
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of my favourite books. Maps of Time is a fascinating history textbook. What makes this book unique is in the telling of history. Christian's approach is through an emerging academic discipline known as Big History. Christian examines the moment of the Big Bang to the present and uses a multi-disciplinary approach based on combining various scientific ideologies and the humanities. The Maps of Time recounts the events of a changing universe by employing astrophysics, particle physics, ...more
Chris Aldrich
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chris by: Bill Gates via The Chronicle of Higher Education
This is an interesting change of reference from a historical perspective combining cosmology, astronomy, geology, microbiology, evolutionary theory, archaeology, politics, religion, economics, and history into one big area of contiguous study based upon much larger timescales. Though it takes from many disciplines, it provides for an interesting, fresh, and much needed perspective on who humans are and their place in the world.

I'd highly recommend this to any general reader as early as they can
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The best of the Big History books by far. Essential reading if you want to situate now in the long term history of the universe and of humanity. Extraordinarily well done and better by far than Harari and other Big History folks.
Aug 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
The idea of Big History sounds intriguing, but after reading most of this book (I admit I could not finish it --- I did not enjoy the writing style at all), I am unconvinced that it has anything much to offer that one cannot get from reading the basic source material alone. Indeed, the book feels to me like a very detailed summary of a bunch of introductory books in science, anthropology, and sociology.

I'd prefer a shorter, more focussed book that clearly emphasizes what is good and different
A Shaskan
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is, quite literally, a history of the universe. As such, it's a noble effort on one academic's part to try and break through the ghetto walls of his own department (history), but the effort reveals why those walls exist: basically, ars longa, vita brevis. The book begins with the Big Bang and ends with a speculation on the future of the human race; in between, he progresses through such subjects as star formation, planet formation, the beginning of life on earth, and the evolution of ...more
Molly Lackey
Sep 13, 2019 rated it liked it
This is one of the most readable history textbooks I've read. Many of the anecdotes he provides (whether historical or scientific) are interesting. It was interesting combining large-scale history with a cosmological/scientific "history."
However: I fundamentally disagree with a decent bit of what he says—but more importantly, the framework in which he says it. The end result of a history à la E.O. Wilson's Consilience is not a history I want to read, teach, or believe in. His grand "creation
Peter Aronson
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is quite the big, thick, square book! I like ambition in writing, and the big history project -- history from the big bang to us, inclusive -- is nothing if not ambitious. Of necessity, the author, not being the sort of polymath that really doesn't exist in this day and age (there being too much to know), spends a lot of time on material outside the realm of his professional specialization (he's a professor of Russian History). And strangely, I think I liked that material best. Yes, he ...more
Stella Borrillo
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Christian’s book is a great way to introduce works history. While most historians look at a smaller scale of just human history, Christian analyzes it all. He leaves out nothing, which makes sure the reader ends with as much knowledge as they need to continue in their learning of history. The idea of big history is a great way to better understand the world. Christian keeps it simple for a broad audience. The book is well organized and easy to read because of its structured timeline. It is ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book some time ago but it's argument is memorable enough. Christian presents the history of the universe, inevitably narrowing down like a funnel onto the Earth and, finally, humankind. Part of the movement sometimes called "Deep History," Maps of Time argues that at the largest scales history is about energy flows and complexity, which is a way of saying that history is about the rise and fall of systems for harnessing energy. (Okay, so maybe it wasn't so clear.)
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
The book was very well-written and well-informed, however, I would not recommend it for someone who has already studied cultural evolution/big history concepts as they may find it repetitive.
Mark Machet
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Interesting perspective of largest timescales of history, well written and easy to read
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Meta history at it's best
Ethan Hulbert
Big history changed my life. It's tough to think of the world the same way ever again after reading this book.
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David Gilbert Christian is an Anglo-American historian and scholar of Russian history notable for creating and spearheading an interdisciplinary approach known as Big History. He grew up in Africa and in England, where he earned his B.A. from Oxford University, an M.A. in Russian history from the University of Western Ontario, and a Ph.D. in 19th century Russian history from Oxford University in ...more
“As an anonymous wit is supposed to have put it: "Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas which, given enough time, changes into people.” 7 likes
“For the first time there appeared on earth kings, dictators, high priests, emperors, prime ministers, presidents, governors, mayors, generals, admirals, police chiefs, judges, lawyers, and jailers, along with dungeons, jails, penitentiaries, and concentration camps. Under the tutelage of the state, human beings learned for the first time how to bow, grovel, kneel, and kowtow. In many ways the rise of the state was the descent of the world from freedom to slavery.” 3 likes
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