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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Second Edition, With a New Preface edition (Oct. 3 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520271440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520271449
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 4.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 885 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #55,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

San Diego State University historian Christian is one of the founding figures of the "Big History" movement. His basic premise is that to truly make sense of human history, history must be integrated with virtually all other disciplines-and in order to do this correctly, historians must reach back to the beginning of time. It is becoming fairly well accepted for historians to draw on biology, economics, environmental studies and politics as well as a host of other fields of study, and Christian does a very nice job of explaining the factors that led to the rise of states, the industrial revolution and the information revolution, as well as looking at future possibilities for humankind. What is far less successful is his integration of cosmology, astrophysics and evolutionary biology with the basic fare usually associated with historical analysis. Rather than using the cosmological principles associated with the Big Bang, for example, to demonstrate "underlying unity and coherence" in all systems across time, Christian leaves the reader with a weak metaphor and limited insight. By attempting to cover all of the universe's 13 billion years in a single volume, even one approaching 600 pages, Christian is forced to use such a broad brush that readers will find much of this book to be fairly superficial. 45 b&w illus., 9 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"No work in this genre [macro-history] is better than David Christian's Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History.... [I]t is a brilliantly executed act of provocation." - The Times "Forges bold and ingenious connections between the physical and social sciences." - The Age "A good read, a fascinating prospectus for a new kind of history." - American Scientist" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Gale Stokes on Feb. 15 2004
Format: Hardcover
David Christian's Maps of Time is a tour de force of macrohistory. Starting with the Big Bang, he leads readers up to the twenty-first century in only 500 pages. Contrary to the review that is listed with the book, he provides an up-to-date discussion of cosmology and related issues that lead to the emergence of hominids and homo sapiens. Always staying above any hint of favoring this or that theory, or this or that region, he pinpoints the considerable similarities that mark the human experience through broad time frames and using examples from the entire world. His remarks on the twentieth century, which he considers the most dramatic century in terms of change, are especially illuminating. Christian is not just writing a history book here. He is attempting to write what he calls a modern origin myth, that is, a way of placing human beings in the cosmos that makes sense in terms of the enormous range of information available to us. Whether he succeeds or not will be judged differently by different people, but one has to admire the grandeur of the effort. And it reads well too.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sean Brocklebank on July 11 2004
Format: Hardcover
Weaknesses of the book
-The cosmology section assumes a very low level of knowledge about the subject, and will not be terribly interesting to those who have read more detailed accounts.
-The part of the book covering human civilizations, meanwhile, assumes a great deal of foreknowledge about the details of history (Christian provides virtually no discussion of the rise or fall of particular empires or political systems), making the text rather less useful to those without a reasonable knowledge of world history in the last 3,000 years.
-Christian's use of scientific terms and statistics can be at times misleading (though this may be unintentional). For example, when comparing rich countries to poor countries, Christian uses data unadjusted for differences in purchasing power, thus greatly amplifying the magnitude of income gaps. And again when emphasizing the rise of the multinational corporation, Christian compares the total market value of large corporations to the annual GDPs of nations, thus increasing the apparent size of the corporations.
-Finally, Christian seems at times unreasonably defensive of Marx and critical of free markets, at one point bemoaning that "Sadly, the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century suggest that overthrowing capitalism may be an extremely destructive project." (478). Why is that sad? Why does "Communism" begin with a capital "C" while "capitalism" does not? I may be nitpicking here, but he goes on like this for some time (incidentally, and perhaps only coincidentally, Christian has his doctorate in Russian history).
Strengths of the book
-The dustjacket is really nice. That may be trivial, but boy does this tome look good on a bookshelf.
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By Mike Collins on Feb. 15 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Starts off quite fascinating but tends to drag on about 2/3 of the way through. Initially you'll be struggling to put it down but by the end you'll be struggling to pick it up. Overall quite an informative treatment of a very ambitious subject though. A high level history of everything from the big bang up to predictions about the possible future is almost by definition a large scale topic. If you can wade through some of the dull parts, you'll come away glad you read it. Because of its immense scope, there is probably something new and interesting for almost all readers.
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By A Customer on Feb. 22 2004
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Christian's view is that history should begin with the creation of the Universe and look at over-arching themes. While this is an interesting concept, Dr. Christian fails to provide enough background information to the non-historian to see how the details support the bigger picture. It is a good methodology book for historians looking to see larger concepts, but it assumes a level of historical knowledge lacking in many laymen.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 36 reviews
80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
An ambitious and well-written book July 26 2004
By Alan Roe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
David Christian's Map's of Time might bare the standard for non-parochial academic scholarship for years to come. Starting with the "big bang," Christian charts history from the beginning of the universe to the 21st century by drawing parallels between astronomical, biological, and historical phenomena. While the ambitious scope of this project might prove misguidedly off-putting to the narrow academic specialist (which certainly includes most academics), Christian deserves credit for painting a broad picture amidst an academic culture that prizes knowing more about less.

No one, even Christian, could possibly claim expertise in all the fields that this book traverses. Appropriately and refreshingly, rather than obscuring their works in the footnotes, Christian gives credits to the works of experts whose arguments he draws from within the main text. With a work of this scope, such credit is necessary often. Christian does not use much primary source material, which, again, will make professional historians question the work's greater relevance. But as he states in the introduction, while less accepted in academia, synthesizing information is often as important a task as discovering and presenting new information. This approach is more appealing for many intellectually engaged individuals who do not have the time or energy to keep up with the cutting edge of narrowly defined fields. If academics do not embrace such broader interdisciplinary projects then writers with less scholarly discipline will find eager audiences.

Without much prior knowledge of astronomical jargon, I found Christian's explanation of the big bang, quasars, black holes, star formation, the basic laws of gravitation, and many other complex astronomical phenomena both accessible and fascinating. His coverage of the controversies surrounding precise dating of human ancestors is exhaustive and his explanation of human evolution is cogent. As a historian, however, I think he probably dedicates too much time to these two sections (nearly half of the text).

From the agricultural to the industrial revolution, Christian stresses the interaction between different civilizations or "global zones" of influence as the primary dynamic in history, at least in Africa/Asia/Europe. This methodology illuminates the importance of interaction between civilizations and attempts to display the parochialism of studying "western" or "eastern" civilization in isolation. In this vein, this book responds to the increasing importance of globalization and the subsequent push in the academy and secondary schools for "world history." Yet while this might be an effective approach to analyzing dissemination of technology, the transmission of disease, and the integration of economies, it leaves much to be desired in the way of ideology and world views, which undoubtedly shapes history.

With the coming of the industrial revolution and the emergence of the nation state, Christian shifts his focus to Europe and eventually America. This focus is appropriate given that, for better or for worse, western nations have shaped most of history for the past two centuries. Christian's analysis of the environmental degradation that resulted from industrial nation states past and continuing attempts to consume more in the twentieth century is particularly powerful. Through extensive use of statistics, he shows that the current rate of population increases and consumption is unsustainable. This is not new news but putting this within a broad panorama of history goes a long way towards showing us just how profligate our society is. Ultimately, it makes Christian's speculation on possible futures especially relevant.

All told, this book is well-written, imaginative, and cogent. Realize, however, that Christian is not an expert in all these fields and will not leave readers with more specialized knowledge satisfied with his coverage of their areas of specialization.
93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Re: the 2011 edition, a mild Caveat Emptor April 23 2012
By Working Woman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I bought the prior 2004 edition some time ago, and finally got around to reading it, only to recognize that since the book was initially published, while many of the basic outlines of "big history events" such as theories regarding the origins of the Universe haven't changed, some of the details have. This is due to research conducted in the interim, as for example, in relation to findings from the Hubble telescope. I therefore considered buying the 2011 version, instead of trolling through the 2004. But careful scrutiny of the 2011 edition revealed that the 2011 version is in essence a re-issue, rather than the kind of thorough-going revision that I was hoping for. The author essentially admits this in the Preface when he notes that just 3 areas were revised, one of which has to do with the development of the academic field of Big History. I'm sure the latter will be of interest to some readers, but probably not to the run-of-the-mill lay reader. A look through the reference list at the end of the book confirms that this is essentially a re-issue--many of the references date from the mid-1990s into the early 2000's, but not beyond. I'm therefore recommending that if interested, readers should buy the initial edition, which I'm sure is now probably a little less expensive than this one. And with regard to the 2004 edition, I have started reading it, but will be reading other books besides to address some of the points where it is a bit out-dated or where more details would be helpful.
68 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Maps of Time July 11 2004
By Sean Brocklebank - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Weaknesses of the book
-The cosmology section assumes a very low level of knowledge about the subject, and will not be terribly interesting to those who have read more detailed accounts.
-The part of the book covering human civilizations, meanwhile, assumes a great deal of foreknowledge about the details of history (Christian provides virtually no discussion of the rise or fall of particular empires or political systems), making the text rather less useful to those without a reasonable knowledge of world history in the last 3,000 years.
-Christian's use of scientific terms and statistics can be at times misleading (though this may be unintentional). For example, when comparing rich countries to poor countries, Christian uses data unadjusted for differences in purchasing power, thus greatly amplifying the magnitude of income gaps. And again when emphasizing the rise of the multinational corporation, Christian compares the total market value of large corporations to the annual GDPs of nations, thus increasing the apparent size of the corporations.
-Finally, Christian seems at times unreasonably defensive of Marx and critical of free markets, at one point bemoaning that "Sadly, the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century suggest that overthrowing capitalism may be an extremely destructive project." (478). Why is that sad? Why does "Communism" begin with a capital "C" while "capitalism" does not? I may be nitpicking here, but he goes on like this for some time (incidentally, and perhaps only coincidentally, Christian has his doctorate in Russian history).
Strengths of the book
-The dustjacket is really nice. That may be trivial, but boy does this tome look good on a bookshelf.
-The book really does cover a lot of ground, going from the dawn of the universe through all of human history, rounding off with predictions which extend right through to the death of the last stars and the ultimate victory of thermodynamics' second law.
-Every chapter ends with a recommended reading list which is alone almost worth buying the book for.
-The writing style is at times irresistible; I could scarcely put down the book to relieve myself in pages 335-440 about the rise of the modern period.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
The modern model Aug. 5 2005
By Stephen Balbach - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Intellectually stimulating, rapid-fire journey, the "powers of 10" movie specialized for history buffs. Some of the material I found superficial/generalized to be of substance, but the author acknowledges that can be the nature of Big History. An ambitious book which talks directly to ideas that most historians only philosophically discuss. A charge of inductive reasoning would not be far fetched, ie. cherry picking of facts to support prefigured models. Excellent overview of Big History and World History ideas and methods and themes. Annotated bibliographies at the end of each chapter, and large one at the end of the book, are very good for further exploration, most book recommendations are recent (1990s and early 2000s). Despite criticisms learned some new and important perspectives and recommend it highly.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A very important book on Big History July 13 2013
By Edwin Relf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is one of the most important books I've read in 65 years of life. It covers history from the Big Bang and goes on to when the universe will fade away as the physicists predict. Of course the most complex part of the book is the genesis of life with particular focus on the brief span we homo sapiens sapiens have been around and interpreted the goings on from beginning to end. It leaves us with a question on the role we are playing in altering the biosphere.

I found this book a delight to read and have alongside one a laptop so that salient points of history, anthropology, science could be explored further. Christian is an historian though he has pulled enormous amounts of information from academic disciplines to elaborate and illustrate his text. The footnoting is extensive.


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