June 18, 2013
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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