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Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity Lecture

Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity

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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."

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2008 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2008 The Great Courses

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  •  
    John P. Gillespie chapel hill 09-01-13
    John P. Gillespie chapel hill 09-01-13 Member Since 2015

    jgillespie

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    "The Big Picture of Big History"
    Where does Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This was my first foray into The Great Courses series of lectures, but it certainly will not be my last.


    What about Professor David Christian’s performance did you like?

    Professor Christian provides a stellar overview of history in accessible and engaging language.


    Any additional comments?

    I began listening to this at the same time that I was reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, and I found a lot of reinforcement of ideas and details through both. If you are seeking a basic framework for understanding our universe, this is a great asset.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K. Peterson 04-02-14
    K. Peterson 04-02-14

    The Grey Pilot

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    "WOW! History will never be the same!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    This is my fourth "Great Course" listen and by far the most fascinating and my favorite. Professor Christian is at the top of his game. I found myself thinking of all kinds of excuses to listen to "just one more lecture". The first lecture defines what "Big History" is and once you know that you are hopelessly hooked. From the idea of the Big Bang theory to where will our universe be millions and millions of years from now, put on your seat belt and prepare for one of the most interesting journeys of your life. I must say it is not for everyone. When bringing up (in a conversation with my spouse) what Professor Christian said about the formation of life and some thoughts about finding life on other planets (and what that life may look like), her reply was "Who cares". I just shook my head and wondered how Professor Christian would react to a student with that response.


    What other book might you compare Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity to and why?

    There is not another "great course" that covers the span of the "Big History" however another very interesting "great course" is called "The Other Side of History" which is my second favorite listen. Highly recommended also.


    What about Professor David Christian’s performance did you like?

    Every word is well spoken. Academy award caliber. He has an amazing and interesting way of presenting the facts and theories.


    If you could give Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity a new subtitle, what would it be?

    Get to know the Big Bang and where it will end.


    Any additional comments?

    Every student dreams of having a Professor like Dr. Christian.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 01-11-15
    Gary Las Cruces, NM, United States 01-11-15 Member Since 2016

    l'enfer c'est les autres

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    "All steps for apple pie making included"

    This is the perfect reference guide for the transcendental non-material Artificial Intelligent machines of the future who want an apple pie since as Carl Sagan said "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe". All the steps necessary for making an apple pie are included in this lecture.

    This lecture is a really profitable way of looking at history. He uses certain themes to tie all of history together. Most of our way of thinking about our place in the universe has started with thinking that the way things are today is the way things have always been. Even Einstein accepted the static universe at one time. the originator of the continental drift was laughed at up till the 1960s, evolution today is denied by a large significant number of people, and so on.

    All of history can be tied together by many themes, there's a Recursive nature to processes, once an algorithm has been developed it can act on itself and give complexity and create things such as stars, solar systems and mufti-cellular life. From complexity we can get Emergent properties, characteristics that are part of the whole but could not be predicted from the parts. Think of the neurons in our brain. They give us consciousness. So, one can say the sum of the parts is greater than the whole since consciousness transcends individual neurons. The other theme is Entropy, useful energy only arises when there are differences within a system. When everything is the same, no exploitation is possible. This is true in the universe as the whole and true in the development of civilization or in capitalism. The Networking of complex systems make for better galaxies and better civilization. Our true strength as the most complex entities in the universe is our ability to Network and our advancements are based on developing ever better ways of communicating from the invention of symbolic communication (talking), through farming, living in cities and the development of the internet for sharing pictures of our cats.

    The lecture does a marvelous job at tying all the pieces of making an apple pie (or more properly, developing a great service like Audible) into a coherent whole. The lecture listens more like a book than a series of independent lectures since the lecturer never forgets his central narratives.

    Most of the audible books and Great Courses I listen to have covered the same topics as this lecture but did so in much more depth. So, therefore, most of this lecture seemed to be a review for me. I didn't mind that, because I need to hear the same thing presented in three different ways before I can fully understand it, and with that warning that this course could be mostly review for most people I can still highly recommend this course since he has such a good way of tying all the pieces together.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    harry PLEASANTON, CA, United States 04-05-14
    harry PLEASANTON, CA, United States 04-05-14 Member Since 2010
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    "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!

    19 of 23 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Telfair Shepherdstown, WV, United States 10-13-14
    C. Telfair Shepherdstown, WV, United States 10-13-14

    Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!

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    "Perfect Title for an Enlightening Experience"

    Thank you Great Courses!

    I loved this listen! I bought it because I had read about Bill Gates' suggestion that this set of lectures be adapted for High School use. He thought it a brilliant new way of looking at the structure and content of the basic history course.

    Well, I think he and Professor Christian are absolutely right. This course begins with the real beginning - progresses through the formation of our universe, our solar system, and our planet to the eruption of life, division of species, and, finally, the development of human civilizations.

    It's all here and presented in a fascinating way. The Professor is a wonderful speaker, and his enthusiasm for this material is evident and contagious. My husband and I listened during many drives and found ourselves several times going out of our way to avoid arrival before a lecture ended!

    I hope Gates can help encourage more school systems to consider "Big History" as a high school course. It's high time for a more inclusive approach to history.

    "Big History" is a long trip, but it's a total pleasure. Embrace it!

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Norwood Fresno, CA 02-21-14
    Paul Norwood Fresno, CA 02-21-14 Member Since 2011

    Paul Norwood

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    "Terrific compilation of the origins of matter/life"
    Any additional comments?

    This wonderful compilation of the scientific facts of the origins of matter, life and the rise of humanity is well organized, interesting and a good review or numerous fields. It is a must for the educated.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan United States 09-17-13
    Susan United States 09-17-13 Member Since 2016
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Amazing!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I have recommended this audio lecture to others. It really makes you think about our place in the universe very differently.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The breadth of the series.


    What does Professor David Christian bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He is such an articulate story teller that you get mesmerized listening to him.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The future of mankind in 1,000 years from now.


    Any additional comments?

    This series will broaden you total view of life and the world you live in.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 02-03-16
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 02-03-16 Member Since 2016

    I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

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    "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.

    16 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ben 10-18-14
    Ben 10-18-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Very enlightening"
    What was one of the most memorable moments of Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity?

    The notion of energy flows and emergent properties unifying different systems of complexity made me see the extent to which everything is interconnected from the Big Bang all the way to modern human sociality.


    Any additional comments?

    This is an excellent story of complexity formation. I have seen the connections between complexity at the atomic, galactic, stellar, cellular, geologic and social levels. The only criticism is that the speaker tends to be rather redundant. But overall, this course is a fascinating ride through time, space, history and ideas. I highly recommend it.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    zein 09-18-14
    zein 09-18-14 Member Since 2013

    I am obsessed with learning. Either about history of society, epidemiology or spirituality. I would say I'm a seeker.

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    "50/50 on recommending this"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would recommend with caution. The beginning was amazing but really dragged towards the end.


    What about Professor David Christian’s performance did you like?

    He was fantastic but his passion was clearly in scientific history and not human history which really made the last half of the lecture drag.


    Do you think Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    The beginning was AMAZING and I wouldn't trade anything I learned in for anything in the world. I was just a little disappointed that the second half felt less engaging. Like as soon as humans entered the picture in our world history something went missing in terms of passion or color from the lectures. Everything pre-human existence was engaging, colorful, jam packed with fun and memorable facts! I would rate the first half a 10 and the second half a 4.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
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  • M. A. Atkin
    brighton, uk
    7/27/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Essential Reading for Humanity"
    What did you like most about Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity?

    It provides an overview of Humans and their place in history in the larger context of our existence within the universe in a wonderfully accessible way.


    What did you like best about this story?

    It was compelling and fluidly delivered


    What about Professor David Christian’s performance did you like?

    He is a outstanding lecturer delivering enormous information I a wonderful way


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Mr
    KILMARNOCK, United Kingdom
    3/30/14
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    "The history of everything important"

    A wonderful series which launches a wealth of knowledge at the listener in a manner which allows it to be absorbed easily.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this audio book and was absolutely hooked. The expansive task of describing the history of the universe, our planet and humankind is expertly handled by the lecturer who delivers in a very professional manner. It is very easy to keep up with the information, as there is very little jargon or complicated material.

    You will learn a ton of stuff and be smart as hell if you listen to this.

    Fans of History or Science will love it and even if you're not, probably.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Michael
    Basel, Switzerland
    3/21/14
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    Performance
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    "Best way to look at history of the earth"
    If you could sum up Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity in three words, what would they be?

    Absolutely fantastic book and Prof David Christian is brilliant.
    The idea to examine things from such a large scale is really thought provoking and allows us to provide some context to where we are today and where we could go.


    What other book might you compare Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity to, and why?

    Andrew Marr's world history book is a good introduction to the big bang, life on earth and the rise of humanity.


    What about Professor David Christian’s performance did you like?

    Simple sounds like and feels like a very nice man who is able to explain complex subjects in a very understandable way.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Formation of the planets


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • JOHN
    County Cork, Ireland
    3/16/14
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    "13.7 Billion Years in 24 Hours, 25 Minutes!"

    This is yet another excellent series of lectures from The Great Courses. Professor Christian brings a wealth of learning to bear on the history of the Universe to date and he conveys the information in an easily understood manner. He has a very good speaking voice and is a pleasure to listen to. Each lecture is approximately 30 minutes long and is thus easily digested but I have to say I found myself usually listening to two or more at a time as they are so interesting. Highly recommended. One of the best audiobook purchases I've made.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Booka
    England
    9/14/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Excellent context to all the other Great Courses"
    If you could sum up Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity in three words, what would they be?

    A story from the Big Bang to today in an attempt to determine the most significant trends and events during these 13.7 billion years.


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I think these questions need updating by Amazon for Great Courses


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Eoin
    8/7/16
    Overall
    Performance
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    "I can't recommend this book highly enough"

    This is a wonderful book. If you've read the blurb above you know that the purpose of the book is to present a `unified' perspective to history, science, life and humanity. Obviously that is an incredibly ambitious and daunting task. Not only does Professor Christian succeed in this aim, he far surpasses what I would have considered possible. The scope of the book is simply phenomenal.

    I am not going to go into a breakdown of topics, as you will see this from other reviews, or from The Great Courses website, which gives a thorough description of the chapters. What I will say is that this was one of the best experiences I have had with audiobooks, and really emphasized the strength of the medium to me. Initially I was worried that, with it's length, it might be a bit of a slog. In fact I was completely consumed by it, and ended up finishing it in about a week. I genuinely think that this should be a mandatory piece of the curriculum in most childrens education....actually from some snooping around, it seems that Bill Gates has been trying to essentially do this in the US.

    I recommend this book in the highest possible terms!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Fabrice Saenger
    7/9/16
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "a transdiciplinary approach to history"

    I really liked the big history course. I did not learn about any "events" but the perspective was really interesting. I think we need more of this new perspective on history. We need more history with a transdiciplinary approach that include science. We need also more history that talks about humanity as a whole and global trends rather than dividing history into different nation states.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • H.G.M. te Witt
    8/4/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Absolutely marvelous"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity to be better than the print version?

    To my regret i don;t get a written version as i am not an inhabitant of the UK. I only get the audible version.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity?

    To learn how the cosmos expanded and life started.


    Which character – as performed by Professor David Christian – was your favourite?

    Not relevant in this book.


    If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Probably: the Big Bang


    Any additional comments?

    I can advise this book to everyone who wants to learn more about the origin of the cosmos and all that followed after the big bang. The speaker is very clear to understand and never bored me to listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Macwoman
    Leamington Spa, England
    3/26/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Want to know the rules that govern the universe?"
    What did you like most about Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity?

    This is a truly brilliant course, full of intriguing and illuminating ideas - worth every penny. Great courses are not all great! But this one is. I'd recommend it without hesitation, and I'd suggest that you listen to a sample in each case before buying. The voice matters - as you will be doing a lot of listening to the same one!


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    I've always been keen on history and astronomy but this has increased my enthusiasm and knowledgeability by a hundred fold.


    What does Professor David Christian bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    David Christian is a first rate lecturer - clear, concise, presents information in bulletin points with a follow up explanation of each. And makes it all seem worth knowing. Catch myself saying, "oh, so that's what it is!" every lecture.


    Any additional comments?

    This type of learning works really well as an audio presentation. I like using my free time for listening to something with potential - have probably listened to hundreds of books that I never would have tackled on a printed sheet.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    2/20/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "See the biggest picture!"

    Fascinating approach to a framework for all knowledge as history for citizens of the modern revolution of the planet Earth.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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