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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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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.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • harry
  • PLEASANTON, CA, United States
  • 04-05-14

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!

27 of 31 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 10-13-14

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!

14 of 16 people found this review 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 of 8 people found this review 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 of 12 people found this review helpful

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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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • United States
  • 09-17-13

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.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Maybe the best audiobook I've heard

This is an amazing story, told in an amazing way. You will understand our place in the universe in a very profound way. It's easy to listen, presented with great clarity. HIGHLY recommended.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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All Appetizer, No Main Course

I love the idea behind the course because it offers a beginning-to-end overview of history as we know it. Typical studies of history carve up time into chunks that sometimes leave me with a compartmentalized sense of events without clear transitions. But something about the lecturer’s delivery coupled with the breadth of the topic just felt like the whole course was a reading of a long table of contents. The course takes an incredible 48 lectures to deliver a message that should take half of that. Basically: the Big Bang created the universe, then simple stuff formed into stars, which exploded and spread complex stuff, which condensed to form planets/galaxies/etc, at least one of which spawned organic material and life, which evolved (a lot) to form humans (the pinnacle of complexity as far as we know), then humans developed agrarian societies and industrial revolutions which created the innovative, global, highly networked world we know and love today. If you want to spend 48 lectures grazing over that last [run-on] sentence, this course is for you.

The course would work better if it had an overarching theme bringing everything together. The concept of levels of complexity and energy gradients comes closest, but the lecturer admits in one of the last lectures that more research is needed. Still potentially worth listening to out of sheer uniqueness.

1 of 1 people found this review 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 of 1 people found this review 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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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 of 1 people found this review 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 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jacksbookreview
  • 01-18-18

A journey through the cosmos to our modern lives

With a clear narration throughout, you are led on a journey through the entire history of our universe, from the big bang, supernovas and the mysteries of gravity, to the creation of life, evolution and modern society.

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  • Bookworm
  • 01-08-18

Doubtful

When it comes to inanimate universe the story have substantial qualities. Unfortunately when the life comes in focus it seems that the writer still lingers in the 19th and 20th centuries theories and have a tendency of riding on big names like Darwin or Linnéa instead of keeping himself to proven, not speculative facts. I feel this book was written for 30 years ago and really without the latest information in the field. Maybe this was the reason for it being on sale.
You can use your money better.

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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

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  • dan
  • 03-31-17

Amazing

Really well presented, clear to understand and entertaining throughout, thoroughly enjoyed the whole audio book

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  • Nick
  • 03-18-17

More please!

Very interesting but I still want to know what was there before the big bang. Maybe we will know in 30 years as suggested!

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  • D1NG3RB3LL
  • 12-22-16

Great content delivered by a great lecturer

I loved this series of lectures. Superbly written and delivered and we'll worth my audible subscription fee. A big thank you to professor Christian and merry Christmas

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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.

4 of 4 people found this review 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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  • Duncan Macfarlane
  • 10-05-17

Profound course

This course changed my view of the world and made it interesting again. In a media landscape dominated by trivia, scare mongering and conflict, to step back and consider the history of the universe and our place in it was incredibly stimulating. It definitely encouraged me to think outside my own cultural box and regard myself more as a member of the broader human race. Taking the longer view, it is a very positive story. It was also refreshing, in this era of poor quality and agenda driven communication, to listen to a genuine intellectual who has put a lot of thought into teaching us clearly and honestly. This course has really stimulated my interest in science and the history of other civilisations and I thoroughly recommend it.