The gifts I want most are typically books. My husband knows me best, so last Christmas he gave me a copy of science professor Lewis Dartnell’s Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History. I always like to give special priority in my TBR list to books that John gives me, but I was intrigued by this book for several reasons, most of those reasons being the author’s tweets teasing fun facts from the book.
The book did contain all of these fun scientific and historical facts, but in my experience, those were the highlights of the entire 286-page book. If I’m being honest, it’s probably more efficient to just read the above tweets than read the book cover to cover, since the tweets are as good as it gets anyways. Reading this book made me feel much the same way as I felt when reading Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth a month ago. I felt like I was being presented with a lot of information, but I wasn’t entertained.
I knew that The Greatest Show on Earth had a great audience that loved it for what it was. I just wasn’t a part of that audience, and the book wasn’t for me. I feel similarly about Origins, but I do have a somewhat greater appreciation for this book. I can easily see why people would be fascinated by Dartnell’s work, and I think that part of my disillusionment with Origins is that its subject matter doesn’t overlap very far with my personal interests.
Like Yuval Harari’s Sapiens, I enjoyed best the beginning of Origins. This should surprise no one, because both books retrace human history from the very start: our evolution from ancient hominids. Both Sapiens and Origins passed the dawn of Homo sapiens to explain things like the genesis of agrarian societies and the Industrial Revolution, neither of which, for whatever reason, really strike my fancy as a reader.
I think I would have liked this book much better if I was more keen on geology, even if the history of civilization isn’t my favorite. Dartnell had a very unique and intriguing method of juxtaposing, say, the Carboniferous origins of coal and our discovery and use of coal in the nineteenth century. He tied science together with history in an eye-opening way that more people ought to think about; it may even motivate more people to appreciate the planet we live on and not take it for granted.