The best books on big history

Lewis Dartnell Author Of Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History
By Lewis Dartnell

The Books I Picked & Why

Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years

By Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years

Why this book?

Guns. Germs and Steel is an absolutely thrilling ride through world history in pursuit of the deepest answers to the question: why was it that European powers came to dominate those of the Americas from the sixteenth century, and not vice versa. The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and is a cracking example of what has come to be known as ‘Big History’.


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The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

By J. R. McNeill, William H. McNeill

The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History

Why this book?

The historian William McNeill studied the effects on world history of diseases and contact between different civilizations; ideas which have been hugely influential on other books such as Guns, Germs and Steel (above). In this book, he teams up with his son John, to deliver one of the best overviews of the grand themes and trends within human history that I’ve read.


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Prisoners of Geography, 1: Ten Maps That Explain Everything about the World

By Tim Marshall

Prisoners of Geography, 1: Ten Maps That Explain Everything about the World

Why this book?

Tim Marshall has had a long and illustrious career in journalism as a foreign correspondent and Prisoners of Geography absolutely sparkles with his fascinating insights and clarity of thought. How have the development and fate of modern nations been defined by their locale? This is Big History lapping right up to the newspaper headlines of today.


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A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves

By Walter Alvarez

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves

Why this book?

This is a much lesser-known book than the others I’ve picked, and I feel it deserves a load more attention. Walter Alvarez was instrumental to the development of the theory that the dinosaurs were wiped-out by an asteroid impact. Here, he casts his professor-of-geology eye across the whole of Earth’s history to show us the astonishing ways that our world – and the cosmos around us – have nurtured life on the planet and influenced the human story.


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Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

By David Christian

Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History

Why this book?

Few thinkers have done more to advance and popularize the discipline of Big History in recent years than David Christian. He coined the term and has worked with Bill Gates to deliver Big History teaching to high school students around the world. The book I’ve picked out here is a little more academic and detailed than the others, and provides a really solid overview of this approach to integrating large-scale history from the Big Bang to the present. 


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