Origins: How the Earth Shaped Human History Kindle Edition
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"Dartnell's approach is encyclopedic, marked by both a broad sweep and a passion for details."―Washington Post
"Dartnell's story is beautifully written and organized. His infectious curiosity and enthusiasm tug the reader from page to page, synthesizing geology, oceanography, meteorology, geography, palaeontology, archaeology and political history in a manner that recalls Jared Diamond's classic 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel."―Nature
"Fascinating."―The Guardian (UK)
"A thoughtful history of our species as a product of 4 billion years of geology.... Dartnell is an engaging guide through millions of years of history. An expert chronicle of the Earth that culminates in human civilization."―Kirkus Reviews
"Extraordinary book... Dartnell offers a new perspective on the relationship between human beings and their planet... Dartnell understands geology, geography, anthropology, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and history. That's quite an achievement, but what makes him special is the way he communicates the interconnectedness of these disciplines in a clear, logical and entertaining way...Superb."―The Times (UK)
"The perfect blend of science and history. This is a book that will not only challenge our preconceptions about the past, but should make us think very carefully about humanity's future. Five stars."―Mail on Sunday (UK)
"The central project of this book -- providing a geological take on human history -- is well illustrated and at moments, surprising."―Publishers Weekly
"A sweeping, brilliant overview of the history of not only of our species but of the world. Whether discussing the formation of continents or the role that climate (and climate change) has had on human migration, Lewis Dartnell has a rare talent in being able to see the big picture -- and explaining why it matters."―Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
About the Author
- Publication date : January 31, 2019
- File size : 23056 KB
- Print length : 353 pages
- Publisher : Vintage Digital; 1st edition (January 31, 2019)
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B075MRXX5T
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #218,259 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The general theme is of how several billion years of tectonic plate collisions & volcanic upheavals have left their imprint on biological & human history all the way down to maps of current voting fault lines overlaid on maps of geological fault lines. The book has lots of maps, mostly created digitally by the author.
My favorite "new" fact is the revelation that ice age ice-dam collapses and their sudden catastrophic floods were not a one time event like the scouring of the Columbia Basin after the instant drainage of prehistoric Lake Missoula when the ice dam collapsed at present day Dixon, MT. The ice ages (I just learned) had many such collapses, sometimes repetitive. A much larger lake covering much of present Scandinavia generated a gigantic flash flood that permanently sundered a substantial land bridge that once connected England to France. (Now there's a geological event with real historical consequences.)
One story--about islands--got shaky when the author stepped outside science narrative: In a footnote about the WW2 naval battle of Midway, he attributes the lopsided US victory to bombers flying from the Island. (The damage to the Japanese task force came entirely from carrier-based dive bombers; The land-based heavy bombers scored zero.)
That's a goof anyone sequestered in academia surrounded by mountains of science papers could make. Not substantial enough to downgrade a finely written and very informative book.
Dartnell’s narrative would have been much more interesting had he made the effort to inform the reader about ongoing disagreements and debates over how humans became humans. Had he exposed the reader to these contending theories and examined the evidence supporting them the reader would not be left with the impression that the science is settled on such questions. Instead, Dartnell overlooks major theoretical issues and conflicting empirical evidence in order to provide the reader with a single fuzzy, unconvincing explanation for the evolution of our hominoid ancestors.
Dartnell never mentions the long-standing controversy between rival theories for how and why Homo sapiens and other hominoids evolved from our closest primate ancestors. Yet there are two major contending theories that couldn’t be much further apart. On one hand, there’s the savanna-based “man the hunter” theory of evolution as presented in popular anthropological works by Robert Ardrey, Lionel Tiger, Desmond Morris, and others. And then there’s its major rival, the aquatic ape theory (or waterside model) introduced by marine biologist, Alister Hardy, and extensively developed by Elaine Morgan.
The aquatic ape theory has been largely ignored and dismissed by the patriarchs of evolutionary anthropology, primarily because it wasn’t developed by anthropologists and its major proponent is a woman and a feminist. However, it has remained quite popular outside the discipline because it offers a brilliant and cohesive account for the many differences between hominoids and other primates that remain unexplained by the dominant theory.
For example, why are humans relatively hairless? Why are we the only apes with a porous bone structure that allows us to float & swim when other apes sink? Why are human babies born with a breath-holding reflex and a thick layer of body fat when other apes aren’t? Why do we have salt water tear ducts when our primate ancestors don’t? The aquatic ape theory accounts for these & many other unexplained physical differences while offering a more logical explanation for our increased intelligence, erect posture, bipedal gait, tool-making proclivities, and vocal dexterity.
Instead of exploring the empirical validity of these two theories, Dartnell avoids mentioning either of them while offering his readers a highly amended version of the largely discredited savanna theory. Dartnell’s version actually undermines the theory’s basic assumptions in order to account for the mounting contrary evidence. He admits that our bipedal walk evolved before we left our forested habitats, but then he claims bipedalism “allowed us to see over tall grass” and minimized the area our bodies were exposed to the hot sun. But why would we develop these traits if we were not living in a hot, dry, tall-grass savanna? He doesn’t say.
Then Dartnell admits that our hominoid ancestors never really emerged from disappearing forest ecosystems to live in a broad, grassy savannas. Instead he says we became hominoids while adapting to life in the Great Rift Valley. According to him, the valley funneled rainwater into vast mazes of rivers, streams, and “amplifier lakes.” Periods of limited rainfall alternated with wet ones that filled seven major lake basins in the Great Rift Valley. After reading Dartnell’s account you wonder, “hey, what happened to the savanna?” The Rift Valley’s habitat of large shallow lakes, rivers, and woods is much more compatible with the aquatic ape theory’s explanation for hominoid evolution than the old savanna theory. Yet Dartnell never mentions this theory or its many advantages. I wonder why?
Now the "small" stuff:
Dartnell can be a bit flaky with the science. Here's two examples:
#1) On page 82 he says, "The first true mammals emerged around 150 million years ago, but it was the mass extinction of species 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs, that allowed our mammalian ancestors to spread into the niches now left vacant by reptiles." But wait. Reptiles didn't go extinct, just dinosaurs did.
So, are dinosaurs reptiles? Well, officially, science still jams dinosaurs into an extremely elastic reptile category. And Darnell seems to adhere to this antiquated categorization without informing the reader that this is a disputed and inaccurate classification that distorts our understanding of both dinosaurs and genuine reptiles.
In evolutionary and taxonomical terms, yes, dinosaurs can trace their ancestry back to their reptilian archosaur ancestors. But so can birds. In fact, aside from amphibians, most every terrestrial vertebrate, can trace their ancestry back to reptiles. Both mammals and birds evolved from reptiles. So are dinosaurs really reptiles? Not unless you alter the very meaning of the word reptile. Dinosaurs (and birds) differ from reptiles in several important ways.
Like birds, dinosaurs were warm blooded (endotherms). Reptiles are cold blooded (ectotherms). This is a major difference. In addition, reptiles, such as crocodiles and lizards, have legs that sprawl out to the side. Their thigh bones are almost parallel to the ground. They walk & run with a side-to-side motion. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, stand with their legs positioned directly under their bodies. A hole in the hip socket permits this upright stance. This posture allowed warm-blooded dinosaurs to run faster and with greater endurance than other reptiles that were the same size.
During the Age of Dinosaurs there were typical cold-blooded reptiles living on the land and in the seas. While these reptiles lived alongside dinosaurs, they were ectotherms and did not have a hole in their hip socket and thus were not like dinosaurs.
Modern birds are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs. They share a common ancestor with non-avian dinosaurs. In addition to being warm blooded like dinosaurs, they have features such as the three-toed foot and s-shaped neck, and therefore are best classified as modern dinosaurs. However, the current taxonomical classification system is built around modern animals and is not designed to facilitate extinct animals, so there isn’t really a clear-cut way to classify extinct dinosaurs. In morphology, some dinosaurs were more similar to birds and some were more similar to reptiles, but dinosaurs do not fit nicely within either group.
#2) How potent a greenhouse gas (GHG) is methane? Dartnell tells his readers that methane's heat trapping effect is over 80 times stronger than C02. However, the reality is actually much more confusing than this. When you investigate this issue you find a huge discrepancy. Some scientists say methane is 23 times more potent than C02, others go as high as 85. Turns out the numbers vary widely primarily because of the different time frames used to measure & compare the impact of these two GHG's on Earth's atmosphere. Dartnell should have explained this & why he chose the method he did. For those who wish to examine this in more detail see: FactCheck “How Potent Is Methane?”
And even more disturbing was his last chapter, "Coda". After the whole amazing and well-told story of the tremendous variations and upheavals in Earth's climate caused by geologic and cosmic forces over the millennia, he feels compelled to follow contemporary dogma by preaching about the urgent need to "decarbonize" our civilization. It's almost as though he didn't even read his own book. Other than these quibbles, I loved it.
Top reviews from other countries
Nevertheless, the book is well written and nicely presented.
I did enjoy this book much more than Sapiens (Y N Harari). There was, thankfully, neither the anti-religious aggression nor the reader patronization that I found in Sapiens. However, Tim Marshall's Prisoners of Geography was a much more satisfying read.