Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Origins: How the Earth Made Us

Humans are a product of the Earth we live on. In Lewis Dartnell's latest book, he explores human evolution out of the forests, into the savannah and across the globe. What made us the dominant species we are today?

The narrative threads of history and science will be intertwined throughout this book, making up the warp and weft of its fabric.

I was a huge fan of The Knowledge, but I felt Origins was a little unfocused. Human history is a huge topic to squash into one book, and the lens of of "how the Earth made us" is loosely interpreted to include many factors of the Earth. It probably didn't help that I've read a few things lately that had covered the same ground.

Areas on the same latitude as East Africa are heavily forested with tropical rainforest. This is where our ape ancestors started their long journey, and Lewis explains why this region became savannah, which forced apes to evolve to adapt to a treeless environment. Then, climate change pushed them to new lands.

I did enjoy the fact that I could link some of this to the Broken Earth series, the Rift in Africa is a real thing, and orogeny is actually a real word. I was kind of a bit sad it wasn't more about the geology and climate.

We are the children of plate tectonics.

It goes on to talk about the animals and plants we came to depend on, how ice ages work, how winds and ocean currents dictated later humans' paths around the globe. And of course, the impact of fossil fuels and how they were created. I loved the part explaining how the vast grasslands helped Mongolia become an empire, whilst the Americas hunted horses into extinction and crippled their progress.

Lewis has a habit of saying "we will get back to that in chapter x" or "as we saw in chapter y", which made it feel a bit textbooky. I did learn some interesting facts, and it would probably be a better introduction for someone with less knowledge on the subjects.

Of the 83 stable (non-radioactive) elements in existence, around 70 are used in making an everyday consumer device like a smartphone - which means you carry over 85 percent of the entire available terrain of the periodic table in your pocket.

Origins is published by Bodley Head and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 31st January 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

ATY: 40. A book you stumbled upon

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

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