David Mytton

Book Review (3/5) – Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present (Cynthia Stokes Brown)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

This is a quick history of the key events since the beginning of the universe. The idea of big history is excellent and should be required reading/learning in basic education. I learned some new things, such as the size and importance of the Mongolian Empire and how the Americas were some 3000-4000 years behind the technological development of Eurasia, which helps explain how the Spanish were able to so easily destroy South America’s Incas and Aztecs. It also does a good job of putting our human timeline into perspective, for example:

After all, people 30,000 years ago are only 1,200 generations removed from us. At twenty-five years per generation, four generations cover a hundred years, forty generations cover 1,000 years, 400 generations cover 10,000 years, and 1,200 generations cover 30,000.

However, I found the choice of where to focus the detail to be quite odd. For example, the Roman Empire was covered in just a few sentences, certain regions such as Japan had almost no mention and both World Wars were only covered briefly. Of course, this is a generalist book and it’s impossible to satisfy everyone but given the importance of the Roman Empire, the global nature of WWI and WWII and the dominance of the Japanese economy in the late 20th century, I would’ve thought there would be more to say.

As an introduction to the history of the world, setting the stage for more in depth reading in specific areas, I’d say it does a decent job but the final chapter predicting future scenarios feels like it could be so much better. Having read The Lessons of HistoryDestined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? and Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers it’s easy to see how much can be learned. With such a huge overview of history, then perhaps this chapter can be updated with more thoughtful analysis along with some of the relevant events now we’re a good way into the 21st century.