In this age of worldwide climatic deterioration, many authors have documented what we are doing to our planet. Lewis Dartnell turns the tables in his book Origins. He asks how Earth has affected us, through our long evolution to big brains, small jaws and scrawny bodies that somehow cooperate with each other enough to make us the planet’s dominant eukaryotic species. All this began, Dartnell argues, with the tectonic processes that created the East African Rift — the area that today runs from Somalia and Ethiopia down to the coast of Mozambique. The uplift of mountains here caused a rain shadow that dried and warmed East Africa, turned jungle into a park-like savannah, and enticed early hominins to leave the trees and become game hunters, runners, thinkers, cooks and, eventually, empire builders.
…Dartnell’s story is beautifully written and organized. His infectious curiosity and enthusiasm tug the reader from page to page, synthesizing geology, oceanography, climatology, meteorology, geography, palaeontology, archaeology and political history in a manner that recalls Jared Diamond’s classic 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel. … Dartnell juxtaposes facts as different as the sources of stone for the pyramids and the natural geographic divisions that separate Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity.
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