We are only a brief second in the long history of the universe; many things have preceded us to make us the most complex creatures that ever walked the Earth. We are a “new level of complexity” which makes us different from all other creatures that have come before us. Our species has only been around for 250,000 years, a short time compared to the formation of the Earth at 4.5 billion years ago and the creation of the Universe at 13.7 billion years ago, but the time we have had on this Earth has greatly affected the outcome of history. In an attempt to provide an overview of human history in his book This Fleeting World, David Christian introduces it in the context of the history of the universe and then systematically breaks it down into three distinct eras providing a logical framework that can be used in a more detailed study. His goal is to provide a “big picture” of world history and the interconnections that exist among the peoples of this world.
Christian introduces the book in the context of the history of the universe to put it into perspective. He also has you realize that we have not been around for a long time to have us understand what came before us and to better appreciate our time in history. He uses the Big Bang Theory, the scientific creation story, to explain the formation of the universe. He relates wildly accepted principals of chemistry and physics to explain how the stars and the Earth formed. He then applies Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to explain how life came to be and evolved. Finally, he ends it with talking about man’s earliest ancestors. In his prequel, Christian did a good job of setting up the first part of his book, the Era of the Foragers.
The Era of the Foragers is the time in history when humans were hunter-gathers. Christian summarizes 240,000 years easily and in an understandable fashion. Christian also explains that most of that era is from logic and reasoning because no written records exist from that time. He talks about how humans came out of Africa in the “Out of Africa Theory.” Humans migrated searching for food which explains how they spread to every corner of the world. Humans also had to limit their population with practices like abortion because they had limited resources, just like how China only allows family’s to have one child. At the end of the last ice age, foragers became affluent because the land was rich and they could settle down. Once the land was depleted, they were stuck because that happened to all of the people around them. They now had to develop ways to live off their section of the land and the seeds of agriculture were planted.
The Agrarian Era was when farming became the main occupation of humans as they no longer migrated in search of food. Farming provided the main food source made possible by the domestication of plants and animals. Humans lived in villages that turned into cities and finally into civilizations. Written language was created in this period so much more is known about it. Villages were dirty places where disease was atrocious and the life expectancy was much lower than any other era.
Soon empires formed as rulers conquered vast lands and law and order was established. Better technologies evolved and spread throughout the world over trade networks. The entire world was linked together because travel was made possible to other parts of the world by ship just like how it is now connected by the internet. The World was in full contact at that point and not separated by any geographical barrier. As technological advances improved agricultural output, more people moved into other occupations. At the end of the Agrarian Era, humans began industrialization which set the scene for the Modern Era.
The Modern Era is the shortest but most important era of human history. It has shaped today’s world. Many major powers were formed and later collapsed while others are still around today. Governments started working harder to keep its citizens happy so they would not rebel. Industrialization occurred and humans had their first profound impact on the environment that helped cause global warming. Humans began to significantly manipulate the environment. Sanitation and healthcare improved and people began to live in urban areas. For the first time in history, women were given equal rights of men.
Also, racial discrimination ended with apartheid in South Africa and desegregation in the U.S. Strong nationalism is characteristic of this era which can be seen during the Olympic Completion, however, in the 1900’s, it erupted in World War I which led to World War II. After that, two main powers emerged, the United States and the U.S.S.R. In a Cold War that lasted half a century with a constant threat of nuclear war, the U.S. prevailed over the U.S.S.R. and capitalism became the dominant economic system instead of communism. Humans have progressed over the millennia and now can determine the fate of themselves and the world; we are in control of our environment.
Christian does an excellent job in setting up the book to tell the history of the world. He starts out telling about the universe to help us understand where we came from. Secondly, he discusses the Era of the Foragers and the breakthroughs that were made. Next, Christian describes how humans got more advanced and developed agriculture, which defined their lifeways. Finally, he explains how humans have become industrialized and can now manipulate their environment in many ways. Humans have greatly impacted the Universe in their short time and have created an amazing legacy of technological advances which have defined the course of history. Christian ties it all together in an excellent book that is short and compact but easy to understand.