Saturday, November 24, 2018

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything, by David Christian (author), Jamie Jackson (narrator)

Recorded Books, May 2018

Every culture and tradition has had its origin story, its understanding of how the world came to be as they knew it, which formed the basis for their further understanding of how to live, interact with others, get food, make clothes. Our origin stories are the basis of how we understand everything.

Now, in the early 21st century, we know far more about the origin of the universe, our sun, our planet, and life on Earth. We live in a society of unparalleled complexity, and in the last two hundred years, we have gained the ability not just to support more human beings, but to improve the daily lives of most humans on the planet, not just an elite 10% or so.

What we haven't done yet is integrate this knowledge into a new, shared origin story that helps us cope with this new, complex, and rapidly changing world.

Christian intends this as at least a first pass at a modern origin story. In a lively, highly readable or listenable style, he lays out the basics of our new knowledge of the origins of the universe, our planet, and life on Earth, as well as an overview of the evolution of our species and development of our societies, right down to how we made the transition from strictly agrarian societies to today's high-tech, rapidly changing world.

And he looks at the challenges as well as the benefits of that transition and our current power to affect our planet.

Christian makes the point, as others have in the last few years, that we now have, in essence, the controls for our only habitable planet. We decide what species live and which ones die, and we are playing with the climate controls. If we understand and master those controls in time, we have the potential to give our species the best and most comfortable lives we have ever had.

Or we could make the planet uninhabitable for such an energy-consuming culture, and drive ourselves back to the early agrarian or even hunter-gatherer level.

Or we could render the planet uninhabitable for our species altogether, and leave Earth to start over again, with other species in a climate unlike any that has existed since the first primates evolved.

Despite that potential grim outcome, I found this overall a lively and interesting book, well worth the time I spent listening to it. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.