Origins by Lewis Dartnell

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

We may think that we are a separate species from all the others but we are as much a part of the earth as the rocks and soil that we stand on. To start with we are made from the same elements and all the things that you can see around you we are an integral part of this planet. Secondly, if you know where to look and how to interpret the data you can see the traces of our long development in the rocks too.

To begin this story, Dartnell takes us back to that moment in time when we moved down a different and new branch of the family tree, along with other primates. This happened in East Africa in the rainforest belt around the equator, but instead of being dense forest, this part of the world was dry savannah grasslands and it was this difference that altered the trajectory from swinging primate to bipedal creatures. Why this part of the planet was so very different to similar latitudes was down to plate tectonics several million years earlier that led to the East African Rift, a wide deep valley with high mountainous ridges. These cause a rain shadow and stop the formation of forests, hence the dry landscape that was there.

This theme is repeated throughout the book. He looks at the geology of different regions and sees how human beings have exploited the water that seeps up through fault lines or taken advantage of the rich soils close to volcanoes. He explains why the civilisations of the Mediterranean were mostly on the northern coastlines, how we used the rocks beneath our feet to build our homes and how we used cooking to get more nutrients from food. He can even trace the voting patterns of the UK and US in the geology.

This is a book about deep time, how long some things take to come to fruition and pulling together these tiny but significant moments in our history. It also reinforces the view that I have that we are this complex interdependent system and that as a species we have pushed it to the very edge. It makes for a fascinating read and I really enjoyed it. Dartnell is an eloquent and engaging writer and I can highly recommend this.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh that sounds exceptionally good.

    • Paul

      It was. If you have read Sapiens then this is much better than that.

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