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Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History Paperback – February 1, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0520244764 ISBN-10: 0520244761 Edition: New Ed
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

San Diego State University historian Christian is one of the founding figures of the "Big History" movement. His basic premise is that to truly make sense of human history, history must be integrated with virtually all other disciplines-and in order to do this correctly, historians must reach back to the beginning of time. It is becoming fairly well accepted for historians to draw on biology, economics, environmental studies and politics as well as a host of other fields of study, and Christian does a very nice job of explaining the factors that led to the rise of states, the industrial revolution and the information revolution, as well as looking at future possibilities for humankind. What is far less successful is his integration of cosmology, astrophysics and evolutionary biology with the basic fare usually associated with historical analysis. Rather than using the cosmological principles associated with the Big Bang, for example, to demonstrate "underlying unity and coherence" in all systems across time, Christian leaves the reader with a weak metaphor and limited insight. By attempting to cover all of the universe's 13 billion years in a single volume, even one approaching 600 pages, Christian is forced to use such a broad brush that readers will find much of this book to be fairly superficial. 45 b&w illus., 9 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"No work in this genre [macro-history] is better than David Christian's Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History.... [I]t is a brilliantly executed act of provocation." - The Times "Forges bold and ingenious connections between the physical and social sciences." - The Age "A good read, a fascinating prospectus for a new kind of history." - American Scientist"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 664 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520244761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520244764
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Alan Roe on July 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
David Christian's Map's of Time might bare the standard for non-parochial academic scholarship for years to come. Starting with the "big bang," Christian charts history from the beginning of the universe to the 21st century by drawing parallels between astronomical, biological, and historical phenomena. While the ambitious scope of this project might prove misguidedly off-putting to the narrow academic specialist (which certainly includes most academics), Christian deserves credit for painting a broad picture amidst an academic culture that prizes knowing more about less.

No one, even Christian, could possibly claim expertise in all the fields that this book traverses. Appropriately and refreshingly, rather than obscuring their works in the footnotes, Christian gives credits to the works of experts whose arguments he draws from within the main text. With a work of this scope, such credit is necessary often. Christian does not use much primary source material, which, again, will make professional historians question the work's greater relevance. But as he states in the introduction, while less accepted in academia, synthesizing information is often as important a task as discovering and presenting new information. This approach is more appealing for many intellectually engaged individuals who do not have the time or energy to keep up with the cutting edge of narrowly defined fields. If academics do not embrace such broader interdisciplinary projects then writers with less scholarly discipline will find eager audiences.

Without much prior knowledge of astronomical jargon, I found Christian's explanation of the big bang, quasars, black holes, star formation, the basic laws of gravitation, and many other complex astronomical phenomena both accessible and fascinating.
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67 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Sean Brocklebank on July 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Weaknesses of the book
-The cosmology section assumes a very low level of knowledge about the subject, and will not be terribly interesting to those who have read more detailed accounts.
-The part of the book covering human civilizations, meanwhile, assumes a great deal of foreknowledge about the details of history (Christian provides virtually no discussion of the rise or fall of particular empires or political systems), making the text rather less useful to those without a reasonable knowledge of world history in the last 3,000 years.
-Christian's use of scientific terms and statistics can be at times misleading (though this may be unintentional). For example, when comparing rich countries to poor countries, Christian uses data unadjusted for differences in purchasing power, thus greatly amplifying the magnitude of income gaps. And again when emphasizing the rise of the multinational corporation, Christian compares the total market value of large corporations to the annual GDPs of nations, thus increasing the apparent size of the corporations.
-Finally, Christian seems at times unreasonably defensive of Marx and critical of free markets, at one point bemoaning that "Sadly, the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century suggest that overthrowing capitalism may be an extremely destructive project." (478). Why is that sad? Why does "Communism" begin with a capital "C" while "capitalism" does not? I may be nitpicking here, but he goes on like this for some time (incidentally, and perhaps only coincidentally, Christian has his doctorate in Russian history).
Strengths of the book
-The dustjacket is really nice. That may be trivial, but boy does this tome look good on a bookshelf.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on August 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Intellectually stimulating, rapid-fire journey, the "powers of 10" movie specialized for history buffs. Some of the material I found superficial/generalized to be of substance, but the author acknowledges that can be the nature of Big History. An ambitious book which talks directly to ideas that most historians only philosophically discuss. A charge of inductive reasoning would not be far fetched, ie. cherry picking of facts to support prefigured models. Excellent overview of Big History and World History ideas and methods and themes. Annotated bibliographies at the end of each chapter, and large one at the end of the book, are very good for further exploration, most book recommendations are recent (1990s and early 2000s). Despite criticisms learned some new and important perspectives and recommend it highly.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gale Stokes on February 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
David Christian's Maps of Time is a tour de force of macrohistory. Starting with the Big Bang, he leads readers up to the twenty-first century in only 500 pages. Contrary to the review that is listed with the book, he provides an up-to-date discussion of cosmology and related issues that lead to the emergence of hominids and homo sapiens. Always staying above any hint of favoring this or that theory, or this or that region, he pinpoints the considerable similarities that mark the human experience through broad time frames and using examples from the entire world. His remarks on the twentieth century, which he considers the most dramatic century in terms of change, are especially illuminating. Christian is not just writing a history book here. He is attempting to write what he calls a modern origin myth, that is, a way of placing human beings in the cosmos that makes sense in terms of the enormous range of information available to us. Whether he succeeds or not will be judged differently by different people, but one has to admire the grandeur of the effort. And it reads well too.
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