Review: Origins, Lewis Dartnell

Rating: 2 out of 5

The idea for a book like this—explaining how geography and geology have affected our development—sounds amazing. The problem comes in trying to strike a balance between determinism and randomness. Did the United Kingdom stand alone as a balancing power because of the Channel? Yes. Was it the only way things could have turned out? No. Far too often Mr Dartnell’s words read as an inevitability, that these geological features solely determined the course of history.

The tone of this book strikes me as arrogant—an ice sheet didn’t protect the world from Hitler (to paraphrase)! It is very easy to nullify human experience in this way. It would be far more interesting to relate the story of how these features came about without linking it into a fixed future, because to change any one “small” detail would also irrevocably change history.

My second problem is that despite the author tries to find interesting anecdotes, there is very little completely new here. Far more an introduction than an in depth look, I am not sure I’d recommend it to people who have read a few books or articles on this topic. It takes a lot, of course, to strike that right balance between intimidation and interest, but for the typical person to pick this up, I would assume a basic knowledge of the Earth’s workings already. This doesn’t mean these cannot be described, but it should mean the author builds every case up and offers something for everyone.

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