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  • Ninay Desai

Origin Story by David Christian

Whether it is one’s life or the story of everything that has ever happened, to fully appreciate a portion of it, one needs to have at least a broad idea of the whole. It’s like the American astronomer, educator and creator of the television show Cosmos, Carl Sagan said,


“To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

Origin Story by David Christian

Origin Story by David Christian is a panoramic look at the unfolding of the universe since its birth – the explosive expansion of space, the formation of stars and planets, the birth of the Earth’s atmosphere and continents, the first sparks of life which billions of years later grew into dinosaurs, the evolution of our species, hunters and foragers turning to farming, the industrial revolution all the way to where science and innovation have landed us today.


This book, as a sample of the field of study that is increasingly being referred to as Big History, shows us what a long way we’ve travelled and how, regardless of all our perceived differences as creatures that live on this pale blue dot, we have a common origin story. A tale with enough plot twists, catastrophes and serendipitous links to make one sit up in wonder at the unlikelihood of our very existence on this planet. How did it all come to be? And why did no other animal or being achieve what we, as Homo Sapiens, have? And which bends in the river led us to our current position at the top of the food chain and a dominating force in the biosphere?


Reading this book also evokes a sense of wonder at the ties we all share with our ancestors who may have sat around a bonfire and gazed at a different night sky thousands of years ago and pondered the eternal questions – Who are we? Where do we come from? To seek those answers is part of what it means to be human. It is the reason we made up our myths and legends, why all religions have some version of the creation story and why the picture of a Black Hole’s Event Horizon was a top trend on the internet. You could say we are hard-wired to wonder.


Given the expanse of time that Origin Story sets out to explore, it is helpful that David Christian breaks up the timeline into blocks referred to as thresholds, depicting how some very complex and significant things appeared at key transition points. The thresholds give shape to the complicated and mammoth narrative of the modern origin story. Highlighting the major turning points, when things that existed at the time were rearranged or otherwise altered to create something new helps us see the causal relationship between these thresholds or key events. This makes it easier to grasp the links between seemingly unrelated and chronologically distant events.


Apart from a couple of chapters which I found crammed with too much detail about trilobites, for instance, Origin Story is an engaging read. It also places issues like climate change in perspective. As I understood it, our planet has seen much worse times and will survive and course-correct. What we need to think about is whether or not we, as a species, will survive? There are examples galore of species that didn’t survive ice ages and the varying levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. That’s the thing about Nature. While we may allude to its mother-like qualities, it would be wise to remember that Nature is a very impartial mother with no special concern for us and that in the grand scheme of things, our species’ survival is of little or no consequence to anyone other than ourselves. The way that we are different from any other species on Earth is that we can consciously choose to make a difference to our environment.


If you’re curious about our place in the universe and fascinated by stuff like how elements created in star nurseries billions of years ago ended up in our bones, Origin Story is right up your alley. I found it interesting and informative. You might too.

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