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Summary

Random House presents the audiobook edition of Origins by Lewis Dartnell, read by John Sackville.

When we talk about human history, we focus on great leaders, mass migration and decisive wars. But how has the Earth itself determined our destiny? How has our planet made us?

As a species we are shaped by our environment. Geological forces drove our evolution in East Africa; mountainous terrain led to the development of democracy in Greece; and today voting behaviour in the United States follows the bed of an ancient sea. The human story is the story of these forces, from plate tectonics and climate change, to atmospheric circulation and ocean currents.

How are the Himalayas linked to the orbit of the Earth, and to the formation of the British Isles? By taking us billions of years into our planet’s past, Professor Lewis Dartnell tells us the ultimate origin story. When we reach the point where history becomes science we see a vast web of connections that underwrites our modern world and helps us face the challenges of the future.

From the cultivation of the first crops to the founding of modern states, Origins reveals the Earth’s awesome impact on the shape of human civilisations.

©2019 Lewis Dartnell (P)2019 Random House Audiobooks

What listeners say about Origins

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Anthropology meets geography. Fascinating.

A fascinating incite into the role the earths geography and geology has played in human development. Anthropology is a topic I really enjoy learning about and this book is probably one of my favourites on it. The author makes complex subjects easy to digest and shows the link between seemingly unrelated things very effectively by regularly referencing points made in previous chapters.
I also liked the narrators voice, which as any audiobook listener will know, is important!
Will certainly listen to this one again in the future.

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Original

Quite an excellent discussion of our origins and history on the planet and how that came about due to features of the Earth itself. Where Sapiens followed our cognitive development and how that made us who we are, Origins follows how geological aspects of the planet brought us towards the major shifts in our civilization.

Perfectly read.

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An origin history worth reading

Having read several origin or big history books this last year I can highly recommend this. Looking more closely at geography one can relate to each chapter well.

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fantastic

immensely interesting and thought provoking throughout
most enjoyed book for a long time
well read as well

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Disappointing and at times problematic…

For a book that promises a planetary perspective, Origins is steadfastly Eurocentric in its perspective. It eschews indigenous understandings of humanity’s relationship to the Earth and defaults to well-trodden, often out-dated narratives of human progress and Western civilisation. I was really excited by the premise but actually geological insight is thin on the ground and exciting new research is omitted despite being pertinent to the subject matter. The author presents a resolutely 20th century paradigm, using old-fashioned framings without question (for example “old world/new world”) and spending long chapters describing the advance of capitalism in hallowed terms. The result is a book that gets tangled up in its own conceit. This is less ‘How the Earth Made Us” and more “How The Earth Bestowed the Gifts of Capitalism Upon Western Civilisation.” The fact that iron and coal deposits are often found together, for example, is described as a “two for the price one” deal.

Worse still, there are a few problematic propositions scattered here and there. The authors suggestion that the North American horse species “probably” died out as a result of “over-hunting by early humans” is unscientific at best and the subsequent conclusion that “first Americans (had) unwittingly hobbled the development of civilisation across their continent” comes with an unpleasant insinuation. My least favourite sentence was the one that conjectured that Afrikaans is still spoken in South Africa “because of the roaring forties.” That prevailing winds might be even vaguely responsible for European colonialism and all its brutalities verges on apologism.

Whilst I’m sure all readers will enjoy the section which concerns the planetary forces that led to a drying in East Africa that may have accelerated the appearance of new species in the region, it was all too brief and lacked analysis. This book will not age well and there is plenty of far more exciting content on this subject that deserves your attention for more.

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Brilliant!

I loved this book. the subject matter is utterly fascinating and the writing is accessible, light and easily absorbed. This book would make a wonderful TV documentary series

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  • TK
  • 08-05-21

Immensely interesting

I very much enjoyed listening to this book. An interesting and revealing perspective of looking at the history of humankind. I liked the narration. Pleasant and soothing.

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Fascinating and fun.

An easy book to read/listen, and yet wonderfully informative. I will definitely reread this and look for other books by the same author.

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Listen and learn

Erudite and informative work. Presented with clarity and ease demands attention and action on subject.

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And illuminating look at how the Earth made us

The theme of this book is to explain how the world has influenced and made us. And perhaps our role in changing it. I really enjoyed Hartnell’s previous book “the knowledge“ which talked about what you would need to build a society after it had been wiped out and lost all its skills. The first chapter explains how we evolved from a number of different forms, beginning with life itself and then at some point with a strain off from a path of the apes. We are less divergent in our genetic make up than some groups of chimpanzees. We can then follow the evolution and path that man has made by tracing mutations in our genetic make up. Through mitochondria (the battery power source within our cells) we can place our female linage and in the X chromosome we can trace our male lineage. We can also see that we have some Neanderthal and Denisovans make up in our DNA. What is remarkable that in the Denisovans, we were able to extract DNA that we can see in all of us who can be traced outside of Africa when all that has been found a few teeth and part of a finger. We then follow man as hunter gatherer for most of our existence to becoming growers of cereal. Just like sheep and cows we consume grass like substance. The crops that make up most of what we eat are corn, rice and maze. Modified grass in which we eat the fruit of them have modified through milling and eventually cooking. Once we had mastered growing of crops and agriculture we moved onto animals. We have moved from scavenging for food, shelter, clothes to domestication and then husbandry where we can manage energy and clothing amongst other things many times over. And evidence of this relationship can be seen and how humans have evolved to tolerate milk and deal with lactose from intolerance to being able to drink our whole life. However, this only occurs in those humans who have domesticated and managed diary management. We have also moved from eating grass like cereals to managing and eating animals that convert that grass in to meat for increased energy to man. Animals also from our early forms of transport before we discovered a whole could be used in steam and oil and petrol to move engines In cars, trains and planes.

As for the animals that have made us informed us, the author discusses horses and domesticated animals as well as camels. The story of the camel is remarkable Camels do not store water in their humps, which is in fact a store of body fat. Rather than distributing fat all over their bodies in an insulating layer, as many mammals do, camels use their humps as fat reservoirs, which provide energy while allowing the animal to remain cool. The camel is uniquely adapted to desert survival. After a week or so of trekking through an arid landscape, it can have lost almost a third of its body water with no ill effect – the animal can cope with such extreme dehydration without its blood becoming dangerously thick. The camel’s kidneys and intestines are able to produce highly concentrated urine and dung so dry it can be used to fuel a fire; it can also recapture moisture it would otherwise have breathed out, the water recondensing in its nasal passage like the drips from an air-conditioner unit. And the padded feet of the animal allow it to traverse such diverse terrain as desert sands, swamps or rock-strewn landscapes.

How the world made us looks at the elements in the periodic table and how we moved from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age to then mixing and melting properties to become copper. And yet now we have 60 pieces of element on us just in our mobile phone.

The story of how the Portuguese came to understand how the oceans moved regarding ocean currents and how winds blew in different directions were how they learnt to navigate and move across the world. I loved learning how sailors and navigators learnt how the winds blow in consistent directions and patterns and how ocean flows could make ships travel to further places easier by following its directional flow. The great empires became great empires because they learnt how to navigate following simple rules of nature that must be difficult to have learnt. But they did have time and no Internet to distract them. However, observation and diligent are wonderful things. ”In each hemisphere the atmosphere enveloping the planet is divided into three great circulation cells, like giant tubes wrapped around the world, each rolling in place and shifting north and south slightly with the seasons. These produce the major wind zones of the planet – easterly trade winds, westerlies and polar easterlies – which in turn drive the circulating ocean currents. Pretty much the entire wind pattern on Earth can therefore be explained by three simple facts: the equator is hotter than the poles, warm air rises, and the world spins.” Alongside this they collected information about the languages and the geographical features that further help them understand how to navigate so navigate around the world. Moving from Polaris in the northern skies to the Southern Cross in the southern hemisphere also helped support their ability to conquer the west. Before this is the story of how China and the Mongolian army from the steps and how Genghis Khan would overthrow even the downfall of the Roman Army is also another fascinating tale told in this book. This book can teach us how we got here and how the origins and features of the earth made us who we are. Fascinating stuff.

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  • Dan
  • 10-06-21

Fantastic

The perfect story, language and wording extraordinary and a balanced, focused and very much enjoyable narration - well, all in all, one of my top five books so far. Worth all the five stars. You should not miss the chance to listen to this. In short, just get this book.

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  • Adrian
  • 22-01-20

Great book; unfortunate choice of narrator

I like Dartnell’s way of looking at the world. He’s always investigating how even the most seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life can be traced back to momentous events in big history. This book looks at how geological processes have shaped human (pre-)history, with a focus on geopolitics and the distribution of natural resources.

Having read a fair bit about the subject already, I went into this book with some reservations, fully prepared to find little beyond the usual pop-sci earth science (the Toba bottleneck hypothesis, the origins of British coal and Californian oil, etc). As it turns out, the book went into greater detail and covered more unfamiliar ground than I had expected, giving me several new topics to explore further. It does feel a little unstructured at times, but not enough to make it a difficult or frustrating read.

The one thing I really found tedious was the narrator. His tone and volume are both so low, and his articulation so indistinct, that he ends up sounding like a hungover Benedict Cumberbatch with a pillow over his face. I couldn’t make out half of the words being said when trying to play it over my car stereo, Bluetooth speakers, or non-ANC headphones. Only with ANC earplugs could I hear every word being said.