Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity : The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor David Christian
  • Series: The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture
  • 24 hrs and 25 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

How is it possible for the disciplines of cosmology, geology, anthropology, biology, and history to fit together? These 48 lectures answer that question by weaving a single story from accounts of the past developed by a variety of scholarly disciplines. The result is a story stretching from the origins of the universe to the present day and beyond, in which human history is seen as part of the history of our Earth and biosphere, and the Earth's history, in turn, is seen as part of the history of the universe.
Like traditional creation stories told by the world's great religions and mythologies, this lecture series provides a map of our place in space and time. But it does so using the insights and knowledge of modern science, as synthesized by a renowned historian. While you may have heard parts of this story before in courses on geology, history, anthropology, biology, cosmology, and other scholarly disciplines, Professor Christian provides more than just a recap of those disciplines. "Because of the scale on which we look at the past, you should not expect to find in it many of the familiar details, names, and personalities that you'll find in other types of historical teaching and writing," he explains. "For example, the French Revolution and the Renaissance will barely get a mention. They'll zoom past in a blur. You'll barely see them. Instead, what we're going to see are some less familiar aspects of the past. We'll be looking, above all, for the very large patterns, the shape of the past.
"Prepare yourself for a journey through time and across space, from the first moments of existence to the distant reaches of the far future."


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Great Lecture Series !

I have been wanting to try one of the "Great Courses" lecture series for some time. I had a little working knowledge of the Big History concepts so I decided to use a credit on this audio course.

Initially I was a little concerned about whether or not these lectures would hold my attention for nearly 25 hours that would be required for the entire course. This concern turned out to be totally unfounded as I was completely taken in by the end of the very first 30 minute lecture!

The scope of the material is vast and wondrous: From the Big Bang to our present technology driven civilization. Throughout the entire series of lectures David Christian moves just fast enough to instill excitement, always reviewing the material every few lectures and previewing what's to come.

Because these lectures are only about 30 minutes in length they offer nice sized info-bites for the listener to digest. You can have as much or a little Big History as you want in nicely packaged increments. In fact, I think that the organization of the lectures in these easily digested increments is one of the more impressive elements of this audiobook as a whole.

The narration is also absolutely first rate. Christian is a practiced speaker and this really shows in his wonderful delivery.

If I have any criticism to offer it is on just two points:
First, these lectures were obviously recorded in a studio environment so I don't see why Great Courses saw the need to dub in the same applause sound track at the end of each lecture. It's distraction and not necessary. Likewise the trumpet fanfare that precedes each lecture is completely unnecessary and artificial.

My second criticism is aimed at the tact that I felt that Christian gets a little too "preachy" when discussing his ideas surrounding global warming. This is limited to only elements of one or two lectures but I did think that it marred an otherwise completely politically neutral outlook.

On balance these are very very minor points of criticism. This is a masterwork that is matched with a flawless delivery and format and well wort one credit!
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- harry

Academic Wrongheaded History

I read this because I heard that Bill Gates gave millions to the Big History movement and I wanted to see what it was (and it had many great reviews). I read a lot of history and science but Big History left me completely cold. The science is weak and the history is weaker. This Big History has a lot of guessing and many known-unknowns were not well highlighted. Thus Big History gives a compelling impression of being firmly based in science and historical evidence, but instead seems to be educated guesses consistent with the author’s opinions about how Big History works. It largely gives the impression that the flow of history is somewhat inevitable and understandable, as opposed to being the result of uncountable tiny inflections caused by the environment, accidents, and the acts and ideas of individuals. If you liked Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, (which had a similar outlook and is referenced many times in Big History) you might also like Big History. I didn’t like either book. I could only recommend Big History to people already well read in both science and history as I feel the book leaves a false impression about what we actually know and how history actually works.

To put this in a little perspective, the story of the details and timing of the big bang is presented as thoroughly vetted science. But this science is only based on the observable 3% of the universe, and 97% of that 3% is stuff we don’t understand and don’t have a consistent theory for (dark matter and energy). So we base this theory on the 0.1% of the universe we understand. Then the two basic theories we have in physics to understand this 0.1% of the universe, we know must be wrong as the two theories are not consistent with each other. The Big Bang is a well-accepted useful working theory but it is definitely not history. Presenting it as history, I think, is a great disservice to any reader.

Another aspect of the book I found extraordinarily annoying was the comparison of the evidence astronomers use to derive theories about stars and galaxies to his own theories about the commonalities of history between the world zones of civilization. This is a farcical comparison! Astronomers have a sample size of 100 billion galaxies, while this author has a sample size of 4. The author’s results are virtually meaningless with such a sample size for his “natural experiments”.

I think history should be rich and nuanced and as detailed and fact based as we can make it. Bigger is not better.
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- Michael "I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses