Book Review - Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

Origin Story: A Big History of EverythingOrigin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a highly accessible account to the Origin of Human Civilization, from BigBang, the birth of stars, universe, dinosaurs, humans, governments, the current social system to the possibilities of what lies ahead.

Reducing the origin of the universe from 13.6 billion years to 13-day scale was very interesting to get a sense of the scale. Discussion of the progress of human societies and adding adequate details as supported facts was a good approach too. The author takes us to the origin of governments, international bodies, and touches about the topics of origin of democracy supported by nationalism.

I like to dwell on the topics of Big History / Origin Story, and this was a worthy book.

A central theme of this book is humans are engaged in some sort of a "collective-learning", and that forms the central theme "our origin history".

This is a shared origin history for everyone in the universe, and there is course based on this book. These are some important highlights I had noted in this book.

Newton's View:

Isaac Newton saw God as the “first cause” of everything and argued that He was present in all of space.

About Goldilocks Condition:

We don’t know what Goldilocks conditions allowed a universe to emerge, and we still can’t explain it any better than novelist Terry Pratchett did when he wrote, “The current state of knowledge can be summarized thus: In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.”

Indian Veda's view on creation of universe:

Like the “neither non-existence nor existence” of the Indian Vedas, this tension seems to have bootstrapped our universe.

Attempt to recreate the conditions of origin of universe:

Remarkably, we humans have managed to re-create such energies briefly, in the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva. And, yes, particles do start popping out of that boiling ocean of energy.

Charles Darwin's recognition of Emotions:

Charles Darwin understood that the emotions are decision-makers that have evolved through natural selection to help organisms survive.

Humans interbreeding with Neanderthals:

At sites such as the caves of Skhul and Qafzeh in modern Israel, they may have encountered and occasionally interbred with Neanderthals. (We know this because today, most humans who live outside Africa have some Neanderthal genes.)

On genetic changes as a result of choice of vocation.

Humans have changed genetically as a result of farming. For example, if you’re descended from people who once herded cattle and consumed cow’s or mare’s milk, you will probably be able to digest their milk even as an adult because you can keep producing lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose (milk sugar). Hunter-gatherers consumed only breast milk till about four years of age, and after childhood, they no longer needed to produce lactase. But where cow’s or mare’s milk became a major food source, humans began to produce lactase into adulthood—a genetic mutation had occurred.

Rise of a new religion, Islam, in 8th century

Perhaps most astonishing of all was the rise of new political systems associated with a new world religion, Islam, in the eighth century CE.

On wealth distribution in early 1900s

The French economist Thomas Piketty has estimated that in most European countries as late as 1900, 1 percent of the population owned about 50 percent of national wealth, and 10 percent of the population accounted for 90 percent of national wealth. The other 90 percent of the population made do with just 10 percent of national wealth.

On Capitalism

Like the appearance of the first oxygen atmosphere or the sudden death of the dinosaurs, this was an example of what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter termed creative destruction—the constant, often violent replacement of the old by the new, which Schumpeter saw as the very heart of modern capitalism.

First Global Currency

Mule trains carried silver to the Mexican port of Acapulco, where it was minted into silver pesos, the world’s first global currency.

Relation between Government and Commerce

Rulers protected and supported commerce, and in return they got the right to tax and profit from commercial wealth. This was the earliest and crudest form of capitalism, a system admired by European economists from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.

New way to think about "wealth"

Many early economists understood perfectly well that the wealth traded by and generated by capitalists really represented control over compressed sunlight, over energy flows through the biosphere.

Cheap energy encouraged experimentation and investment in many new technologies. One of the most important was electricity. In the 1820s, Michael Faraday realized that you could generate an electric current by moving a metal coil inside an electric field.

Conquest on Silk Road

The Nemesis, the first iron-hulled steam-powered gunship, with its seventeen cannons and its ability to sail fast in shallow waters, helped England win control of China

Indian Railroads

Even the building of India’s major railroads benefited Britain more than India.

Most of the track and rolling stock was manufactured in Britain, and the huge Indian rail network was designed primarily to move British troops quickly and cheaply, to export cheap Indian raw materials, and to import English manufactured goods

Europe view on civilizing the rest of the world

Europe’s economic, political, and military conquests encouraged a sense of European or Western superiority, and many Europeans began to see their conquests as part of a European or Western mission to civilize and modernize the rest of the world.

Increasing Productivity

Prokaryotes had solved the problem billions of years ago, but Haber and Bosch were the first multicellular organisms to successfully fix atmospheric nitrogen. The Haber-Bosch process uses huge amounts of energy to overcome nitrogen’s reluctance to combine chemically, so it was viable only in a world of fossil fuels. But artificial nitrogen-based fertilizers transformed agriculture, raised the productivity of arable land throughout the world, and made it possible to feed several billion more humans. It turned fossil-fuel energy into food.

Rise of Nationalism

The governments of revolutionary France and the United States began to mobilize the loyalty of their subjects through democratization, which brought more of the population into the work of government, and through nationalism, which appealed to people’s sense of a shared national community.

Some governments, such as the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China, attempted to micromanage the entire national economy.

What it might be like in future

Eventually, as economic growth ceases to become the primary goal of governments, individuals will begin to value quality of life and leisure over increased income.


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