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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

What listeners say about Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity

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A History Course Like None You've Ever Taken

What did you love best about Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity?

This is a history course unlike any I've ever experienced that explains trends and events using a very big picture lens (vs. specific civilizations or nations) and organizes the history of creation into eight "thresholds” (a point in history when something truly new appeared and forms never before seen began to arise):
o Threshold 1- Creation of the universe
o Threshold 2- Creation of the first stars
o Threshold 3- Formation of chemical elements (that make up our earth)
o Threshold 4- Creation of our solar system and the planet Earth
o Threshold 5- Origin of life
o Threshold 6- Development of the human species
o Threshold 7- Invention of Agriculture
o Threshold 8- The age of modernity

Very interesting and unique course on the history of everything: 13.7 billion years of the universe is explored using different scholarly disciplines including cosmology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, and history.

Definitions of the disciplines and the role they play in Big History:
o Cosmology- the study of the origin and development of the universe (helps us understand the Big Bang and how the universe was created)
o Astronomy- the study of celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole (helps us study the structure of the universe)
o Physics- the study of the nature and properties of matter and energy (helps us study the creation of the sun and our solar system)
o Chemistry- the study of the substances of which matter is composed, their properties and the ways in which they interact, combine (to form new substances), and change (helps us study the processes that led to the creation of Earth)
o Geology- the study of how Earth's physical structure and substance has changed (helps us study how the changes in the structure of Earth leads to the creation of life)
o Biology- the study of living organisms (helps us study the origins of life on our planet and its evolution)
o Paleontology- discovery and study of ancient fossils to reconstruct that organism’s life (helps provide information on various species that eventually evolved to the homo sapiens species that exists today)
o Archaeology- the study of ancient human artifacts/bones (helps us study the invention of agriculture)
o Anthropology- the study of human societies and cultures and their development (helps us study the invention of power structures: city states with kings/high priests, etc.)
o History- the study of past events, particularly in human affairs (using the invention of writing (i.e. written documents), history helps us to understand the evolution of large complex agrarian city states)

Anytime the professor introduces a new level or sub-level of complexity he doesn’t just assume everyone understands and is in agreement with that entity’s definition. Instead, he takes a pain-staking approach to provide intriguing and thought-provoking definitions for items we may all take for granted including "life", "human species", "agriculture", and “Agrarian civilizations”. These definitions help articulate why they represent a new level of complexity and pinpoint when they were first introduced.

Rather than just state theories or make assumptions, the professor provides scientific evidence and explanations on how we “know” certain things like the distance and makeup of stars, the age of the universe, the existence of evolution, and why agriculture first began.

Minuses:
• Was hoping for a little more time spent on the evolution of life on earth from single-celled organisms to the complex multi-celled organisms including:
o The different forms of organisms (those that exist today and those that do not)
o Development of vertebrae, teeth, eyes, etc.
o Descriptions of the creatures that transitioned from water to land
o Rise of the dinosaurs and how the asteroid caused their extinction

• The latter lectures on the modern era (the last threshold) were the only ones that just didn’t capture my interest for some reason

• The last few lectures tended to tilt a little too much towards the negative side of the human species: i.e. how destructive human beings have been on the earth, its ecology, and its other species

All in all this was an interesting take on history and the course was excellently produced by Professor Christian. I recommend this course to anyone with an interest in big picture history be it of our universe, our planet, or our species. I would imagine there would be alot in this course for anyone to learn and contemplate and I thoroughly enjoyed my personal experience through these thought-provoking lectures.

40 people found this helpful

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Good, but Outdated

Overall this was a good lecture series. It is primarily a history series, however, so if you're looking for an in-depth description of each subject here then you'll need to look elsewhere; this lecture series simply covers the timeline and a cursory justification made by scientific evidence from disparate fields. My biggest gripe is that the information is already outdated in a few places and in some specific cases are outright false. For instance, the entire subject on Neanderthals is now obsolete based on information from the last 10 years, so take information here with a bit of skepticism.

11 people found this helpful

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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!

24 people found this helpful

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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.

24 people found this helpful

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Big disapointment

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I love big history, that's why I've read two other books on it. This one did not measure up. Also the lecturer bothered me in his frequent repetitions and pointless tangents. He's a very good speaker except he seems to be thinking through what he's going to say and spinning his verbal wheels while he thinks of his next point. Too many times I thought to myself "just get to the point". I have listened to more than 50 great courses, sadly, I can't recomend this one.

7 people found this helpful

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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!

32 people found this helpful

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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.

7 people found this helpful

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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.

10 people found this helpful

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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.

10 people found this helpful

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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.


6 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 05-15-17

big history. big bang. big lecture

it's my third series of lectures on big history and I found them all difficult for precisely the reason the professor admits in the first lecture. we can't identify with those enormous periods of time over 13.7 billion years! and trying to explain such a vast subject over 48 lectures is overwhelming. I always find 48 lectures too much as it leads to a lot of repetition and it's true here as well. I found the beginning interesting then I started to lose the thread by lecture 30 thinking I had heard the information numerous times before. I skipped a few lectures and finally got some history I could relate too. the lack of names and dates renders all this history very obscure and abstract. I did learn some interesting facts but big history is not my type of history. it's all encompassing and doesn't seem to lead anywhere concrete which makes it hard to remember much of the information. it could have been more informative in just 24 lectures with more concise history that most us relate to. statistics about world population over millions of years is simply congesture and meaningless to the listener unless they have a pen and paper and writing it all down which most of us aren't doing. no more big history for me I'm afraid

1 person found this helpful

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  • M. A. Atkin
  • 07-27-14

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 person found this helpful

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  • Mr
  • 03-30-14

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.

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  • Michael
  • 03-21-14

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 person found this helpful

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  • JOHN
  • 03-16-14

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 person found this helpful

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  • Sonia Kepler
  • 04-06-21

excellent job, I learnt many things, thank you

Excellent job, I love learning and I leant a lot from this book. Thank you professor christian!

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  • Jake Dootson-whelan
  • 03-10-21

fantastic

a really interesting listen, by far the best of the great courses series, great work

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-15-20

Excellent, just a little long in the end

Very enjoyable. The lecturer was excellent. A nice snapshot of the big events in history. Just a little long at the fibber, but otherwise it was really good

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-12-20

a scientific view of history. really enjoyed it.

great insight into humanity as a whole focusing on general trends. one of my favourite history lectures this far

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-15-20

Very interesting lectures

Firstly, the author’s narration is excellent - all too often a good Audible book is let down by a poor reader (you know, the relentless monotone, the strange verbal tics etc...) but the narration here is top notch.

I was nearly put off buying this by the title, thinking it would be too complex and would cover too much heavy theory (for my tastes). However, it is actually a fairly easy listen, more of an overview than anything in depth. All the same, it is thought-provoking and interesting.

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  • Tim
  • 01-27-15

Entertaining all the way through

Enjoyed this from start to finish. The history - and science - of the universe from its beginning to end.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-09-17

Quite dry but still enlightening at times

I knew very little about the origin of our solar system, planet, and our species, and i knew very little about our pre modern history as a species. If you already have a basic knowledge of these things this may not be for you as it covers the basics of a wide range of subjects including those above aswell as cosmology, geology, biology, anthropology and some I may have missed.

It does not try to explain any of the above in detail, but rather it gives a big picture of the relationship between the disciplines above and it does it in a very straightforward, no frills manner.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-20-21

Incredible!

Utterly incredible - highly recommend. Should be a prerequisite for all tertiary undergraduate courses. Finally an integrated history that addresses global multidisciplinary questions.

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