The origin story of this book is the most striking, and telling, thing about it. In 2008, Bill Gates, the tech billionaire, was on his private treadmill watching a DVD series on Big History by David Christian, the author of this grandiose book, and thought to himself: 'God, everybody should watch this thing!' He offered Christian $10m to develop a free, online, high-school 'big history' course so that every schoolchild could learn the same kind of history that he finds impressive. Don’t call Gates monopolistic...Now Big History is a book. It tells 'the epic story of the universe and our place in it from 13.8bn years ago to the remote future' ... If you want a version of history that implies that the apex of creation is a big man with the power to reshape the globe, then, like Gates, you will love it.
David Christian is not a big fan of micro-history. 'Specialisation,' he argues, 'makes it difficult for any individual to stand back far enough to see humanity as a whole.' ... Origin Story is first about physics, then chemistry, and finally biology. With 13.8 billion years covered in just over 300 pages, there’s little room for minor details such as politics, culture or morality.
At the same time the book annoyed me...On one page he argues that 'more and more people are joining the new middle class as the numbers living in extreme poverty fall'. In the next paragraph we learn that 'there are far more people living in extreme poverty than there were in the past'. The contradictions baffle me.
David Christian aims to be to tell us all we need to know about the universe and our place in it in 300 pages ... Science, he believes, can offer a 'new, global origin story that is as full of meaning, awe, and mystery' as traditional creation myths. Even better, it will help us transcend nationalism and the 'fragmentation and meaninglessness' endemic to modernity. ... Humans crave an origin story, he insists, a story of how they and their world came to be. But here, it seems to me, he makes a basic error. We crave origin stories because we want to know that our existence has meaning.
Reading 'Origin Story' makes you feel extremely fortunate to be here at all. Life requires 'goldilocks conditions.' Not too hot, not too cold. Not too little oxygen, not too much. The unstated conclusion: Life is a miracle ... The storyline occasionally gets lost in a blur of eons and protons, but for the most part Christian’s hand is steady and sure, his grasp of the science impressive. He makes it all accessible, too, as when he likens the universe to 'a vast spring that has been uncoiling for more than thirteen billion years' or atomic particles to nervous children 'constantly jiggling about with energy.' ... Origin Story may not be a deep dive, but it is very wide.