January 23, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.
Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.
Looking for Great ‘Big History’ Books
Posted on Aug 10, 2009
By John Dean
It’s Long Past Time for a Big History Web Site or Blog
Ron refused to let me send him my favorite big history work. He said he only wanted to gather a list, and he would turn to them as time permitted. He did not want to depress himself by being faced with a stack of books that he wanted to read, but could not get to before the final bell. So I do not know if he got to my favorite, which I told him about while standing in the doorway of the lovely home a friend had made available to him and his family for New Year’s Eve. (A prior commitment precluded my wife and I from joining him.)
In 2000 – I no longer remember the date, but only the situation – I was listening to Los Angeles talk radio host Michael Jackson while I was driving. He was interviewing Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich about his latest book, “Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect”. I had recently finished Jared Diamond’s big history, and from the interview, it was clear that Ehrlich had also undertaken such a study. The interview prompted me to stop by a bookstore and take a look at the book. I purchased it and could not put it down. On many occasions I have referred to it. I strongly recommended it for Ron’s list.
In recommending the book, I explained that Ehrlich’s examination of our human natures (plural) is compelling and powerful. His analysis of “nature versus nurture” (it is both, and he obliterates claims of genetic determinism); his explanation of culture’s impact on our species; his tracking of the origins of states and governments; his look at religion, warfare, and human values—to name a few of the topics he explored—was (and is) for me big history at its best: provocative, revealing, entertaining, informative, and well-argued, with solid documentation. Rather than highlight Professor Ehrlich’s work further here, I would direct readers to the concise and interesting explanation of it that he published in the New York Times when “Human Natures” was released.
Ultimately, though, my sharing a big history favorite with a dear friend is not what prompted this column. Rather, it was Ron’s last words to me, which I have been thinking about for months. “Find someone to start a big history Web site,” he urged, “because there are a lot of baby boomers like me who want to know how it all fits together before they leave, and these books do the best job I have found, but they are too hard to find.” I agreed that it was a really good idea, and so I have been trying to encourage a couple of historian friends to do just that.
But they make a good point: They are not sure if there is much interest for such a book. Thus, this column is to test interest. First, I am looking for people who enjoy big history and their explanations of why they enjoy it. Second, I am looking for more big history titles. Finally, I am curious about who is interested. I have posted this inquiry as one of my columns at FindLaw, but I am also interested in the thinking of Truthdig readers. If you have titles and an interest in big history, and if you think that such a Web site is a good idea, please email me at email@example.com.
Square, Site wide
New and Improved Comments