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Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present Hardcover – September 16, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The; F First Edition edition (September 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595581960
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595581969
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Beginning with the very origin of the universe, American Book Award–winning author Brown (Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement) shows that history is more than the written records of the gadfly species Homo sapiens. In a multidisciplinary narrative subtly emphasizing the mutual impact of people and planet, Brown covers Earth's history from the big bang through the development of life and the growth of civilization. Nice concrete details give immediacy to the most remote events: The gold in the ring on your finder has to be more than 4.5 billion years old. Brown's story covers the globe, encompassing the Mongols and Vikings, Mayans and Aztecs, as well as the Islamic Empire and Europe. Brown looks at the gold rush that followed Columbus's American voyages and the impact of chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco and chili peppers on European habits. In a blink the Industrial Revolution and world wars lead to the new millennium. While much of the story is familiar, Brown's writing lucidly knits each topic into a vast historical mosaic. This exciting saga crosses space and time to illustrate how humans, born of stardust, were shaped—and how they in turn shaped the world we know today. 33 b&w illus. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Cynthia Brown gives us a global history, one which provides the kind of historical knowledge that all students should bring to their understanding of current happenings.

Ordinary stars turn hydrogen into helium, helium into carbon, and so on. But only supernovas can create elements beyond iron; the elements that make life on Earth possible originated in giant exploding stars. Thus, Cynthia Stokes Brown writes romantically, "we quite literally are made of stardust." Alas, romance doesn't last long in Brown's brief history of everything. The "universal ancestor" -- the first living cells on our planet -- may have been related to today's blue-green bacteria. So we are stardust, yes; but we are "pond scum," too. Not to mention farmers: The earliest crops planted in the Americas include chile peppers and pumpkins. And voyagers: The Polynesians who reached Easter Island about 1,600 years ago must have landed on American shores long before Europeans did. How else could sweet potatoes have been introduced to the Polynesian islands? There's much to argue about in Brown's account, and much to discover. (Alan Cooperman - The Washington Post) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

This was a very interesting book to read.
Jason Stefani
We are a very recent and very small form of live, yet dynamic, ever-changing, and deeply interconnected with everything else in this vast universe.
jim gilmore
I’ve read a number of “big histories” and at the moment this is my favorite.
Roger Sweeny

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on January 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's hard not to admire what Ms. Brown has tried to do with this book, Big History. In essence, as the subtitle to the book implies, she has tried to cover the history of the world starting with the big bang and working up through the present. By doing so, she attempts to provide a unity that is often missing from works of history, paying respect to the work done in the world of science and giving us a true "big picture."

In many ways, Ms. Brown succeeds with her work. Most importantly, she opens our eyes to ideas that are often left out of typical histories. She is very cognizant of what is left to answer in her field, finishing each chapter with a section of "unanswered questions" that are quite thought-provoking and may be the best part of this work.

On the other hand, this book can be little more than the broadest of overviews of historical trends. Coming in at 248 pages, one can't really expect much more considering the ground that she's trying to cover. This is not necessarily a bad thing but I have wed widely in certain areas that she discusses; in particular, as a science teacher, I'm well-versed in those subjects that touch mine: big bang theory, scientific/industrial revolution, etc. I've even read a number of the books she notes and I couldn't help but notice what's been left out of her discussion. The loss of detail in pursuit of the big picture is always a problem in books like this.

Still, it is a succinct and compelling volume in many ways. Ms. Brown is clearly familiar with the latest research and lays out her global vision well. For beginners in history, this would be an excellent place to start. And it's not bad for the rest of us either.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Edward G. Simmons on July 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In her preface, Brown acknowledges that histories usually begin with the appearance of written records. Her ambition is greater than that as she extends history "to the limits of what is currently knowable by scientific methods, using whatever data and evidence are available, and not limited to written documents." (p. xi) More than a quarter of this small book (29% to be precise) is devoted to the development of the universe from the Big Bang to the emergence of life on our planet and eventually to the appearance of Homo sapiens. The first part of the book goes from 13.7 billion years ago through 10,000 years ago. Her presentation of the story as learned from science will be eye-opening for many people who have not kept up with popular science.

When she turns to history proper, her story is not very different from J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill in their book The Human Web. Instead of the "Old World Web," she speaks of the "Afro-Eurasian Network." She agrees with their emphasis on the role of Columbus in bringing the networks of the world into a unified global network. But she places greater emphasis on the Mongols in the period before Columbus, seeing their role in world history as comparable to Columbus as they brought tighter linkages to the Afro-Eurasian Network. She too sees the emergence of industrialization as a key feature leading to capitalism and today's global world of communications and economics. While the McNeill's highlight the economic boom in the world since 1945, Brown points to the upsurge in standards of living that began in England and Holland in the 1600s and has not been reversed as had often happened up to that time. She questions whether industrial society without colonies can continue to prosper without a setback in living standards.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By D. Gaudet on December 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brown's clear, orderly and concise history of mankind is indeed a joy to read. It traces human development in a systamatic and logical manner, omitting unimportant episodes to allow anyone to quickly and correctly understand the development of our world.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If the world began thirteen years ago, modern industrial societies would have only existed for six seconds, says "Big History: From The Big Bang to The Present". The universe is 13.7 billion years old and "Big History: From the Big Bang to The Present" attempts to cover it all in a book that is as artistic as a novel while reducing humankind to the small spec that it is- while still granting it some dignity in an act of grand balance. Author and Professor Cynthia Stokes Brown combines so many elements and makes simply a delightful book in "Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present" and as such it has our highest recommendation for anyone with an interest of history on the wider scale or just history in general.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nowhere Man VINE VOICE on February 14, 2014
Format: Paperback
Like many other efforts of grand synthesis, Cynthia Stokes Brown's "Big History," is a grab bag that mixes together fascinating morsels of information without really having much overall argument or coherence. In her introduction, she invokes David Christian's "Maps of Time" as a model for her own work. Yet while she claims that her book departs from his magnum opus, you'd need an electron microscope to spot any significant differences either in their narratives or methodologies. At half the length and a quarter of the complexity as "Maps of Time," this is Big History-lite.

Her book is at its best early on when discussing geological and cosmological history; she deftly consolidates and summarizes a lot of scientific research and creates a coherent pictures of the earth's development from its formation through the arrival of human beings. I also enjoyed some of her discussion of the interconnectedness of the "Afro-Eurasian" network and also the way she showed the extent to which classical antiquity was dependent on far-flung trading relationships that extended all the way to China. Yet, as the book moved into more modern eras, it becomes increasingly frustrating. She simply tries to pack in too much, giving one paragraph to the Renaissance, one to the Reformation, a nod to the French Revolution, a sketch of the World Wars. It's like a Cook's Tour of modern history and, in squeezing complex phenomena into sweeping analytical frameworks, her book becomes increasingly unfocused and a bit tedious too: after awhile it reads like hastily dashed-off cliff notes.

Indeed, it's kind of hard to see for whom this book is intended.
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