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What is the book about?

The book offers an easy to read and relatively short history of our entire past, while introducing a simple original model underlying all of history, including human history.
 
This model works as follows: all forms of complexity, including ourselves, consist of matter, while they have needed an energy flow to emerge. Some more complex forms also require matter and energy flows to keep going. Stars, for instance, do so by converting their supply of hydrogen into helium, while a sufficiently large rocky planet like Earth releases geothermal energy resulting from the fission of large chemical elements, thus driving plate tectonics.
 
Life forms have evolved more sophisticated forms of harvesting matter and energy, namely by actively gathering them from their environments. This is also what humans have been doing during most of their history.
 
While doing so, as a result of the Second Law of Thermodynamics all these forms of complexity, including ourselves, inevitably produce chaos, or waste, known as entropy. Because over time the universe has become very large, cold, and mostly empty, it can function as a trash can for getting rid of this entropy in the form of low level radiation.
 
This means that humans can only continue to exist on the surface of our home planet, because our existence is positioned very close to the rest of the universe, where we can dump most of our entropy, while the sun and geothermal energy provide our energy sources.
 
Furthermore, all forms of complexity have their own boundary conditions, known as Goldilocks circumstances, only within which they can exist. The sun, for instance, needs a lot of empty and cold universe around it to dump its radiation. Without it, our central star would explode very soon. Humans, a form of greater complexity, need more refined Goldilocks circumstances, which can only be found on Earth’s surface (or imitations of it).
 
This underlying model, elaborated in the book, appears applicable to all of history. Yet it is not meant to replace other established theories. In fact, every level of complexity requires its own relatively autonomous theory, ranging from big bang cosmology, plate tectonics, the theory of biological evolution, to human history. All of these theories are work in progress, while some theories, such as a comprehensive theory of the biosphere, still appear to be lacking.
 
By looking at all of history in this way, the book provides a much better understanding of how and why things have gone the way they did, while considering all of history in as much detail as possible.
 

The book is organized along the following lines:
In the first two chapters, general aspects of big history are discussed.
 
In chapters 3 to 7 an overview of big history is presented using the proposed model, while chapter 8 focuses on what the future may bring.
 
Within the chapters, a wide range of topics is discussed in 23 new text boxes, varying from the 'Origin of Cosmic World Views' to 'How Violent Have Humans Been?'
 
 
More in detail:
Chapter 1 opens with a discussion of the need to re-examine our daily concepts of past and present while examining the history of the universe. This is followed by a detailed history of big history.
 
Chapter 2 examines the model used to summarize and analyze big history. Types of complexity, the importance of matter and energy flows, and sufficiently good (Goldilocks) circumstances required for the existence of complexity are all discussed. In all these cases, the price of greater complexity has inevitably entailed more disorder somewhere else.
   This is as much applicable to you and me as to the universe as a whole. In fact, our lives can be described as a large and ceaseless struggle to make sure that both our complexity and the complexity of the people we care about survive in reasonable well-being. This is, in my view, the bottom line of human intentions in human history.
 
Chapter 3 looks at the history of the universe, from the big bang to the emergence and development of galaxies and stars, including the formation of heavier chemical elements that are required for the emergence of further complexity.
 
Chapter 4 focuses on the emergence of our solar system, most notably Earth compared with its neighboring planets Mars and Venus. The chapter also includes a discussion of the origin of life on our planet.
 
Chapter 5 offers an overview of the history of our planet and life over the past 4.5 billion years.
 
Chapter 6 concentrates on early human history, from the emergence of Australopithecines on the East African savannas to the rise of anatomically modern humans in Africa and their subsequent migration all around the globe.
 
Chapter 7 tells the story of the last 10,000 years of human history within its ecological context, from the rise of agriculture to our current information societies.
 
Chapter 8 examines scenarios of the future at all scales using the model proposed in the book. It focuses on human history, most notably on diminishing natural resources, and on what needs to be done to move to more sustainable life ways if we want to maintain our complexity as a human species.
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International Big History Association
Un. of Amsterdam big history
Cosmic Evolution
Big History Project
Chronozoom
Book: Teaching Big History
Bill Bryson: Short History of Nearly Everything
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