Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History
By David Christian
I’ve heard of, and been fascinated by, the concept of deep time—but big history is an idea that’s new to me. The concepts do seem related, but this book focuses specifically on taking a historical perspective on the world starting not just from the beginning of the human era, but the very beginning of time.
I haven’t studied history in much depth, outside of the standard stuff I learned in high school. I’ve never found it to be a particularly exciting area of study, and my inclination leans more to futurism than exploring the past. But this looks to be a particularly cool way to envision and trace history, encompassing “cosmology, geology, archeology, and population and environmental studies” in its wide-ranging explanations.
One really interesting thing about this book is how it aims at interconnecting knowledge from across so many disciplines. Christian says as much in his preface—that a big part of big history is apprehending the interdisciplinarity and underlying unity of different perspectives and scholarly disciplines. It gets at a lot of big questions that can’t be answered by any single siloed discipline, and I like that.
There’s a phrase from the blurb that I like a lot, too: “sweeping in scope, finely focused in its minute detail”, which implies that the book does a great job presenting information on multiple scales at once. It’s ultimately not just about the history of the universe, but about grounding and contextualizing our human experience, so being able to present both the huge scope of history/time and specific details likely makes this more relatable and vivid.