From Lewis Dartnell, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Knowledge, a book that takes us back through time to explore how the Earth itself has directed the human story.



When we talk about human history, we focus on great leaders, revolutions, and technological advances. But how has the Earth itself determined our destiny? How has our planet made us? 

As a species we are shaped by our environment. Geological forces drove our evolution in East Africa; mountainous terrain led to the development of democracy in Greece; and today voting behaviour in the United States follows the bed of an ancient sea. The human story is the story of these forces, from plate tectonics and climate change, to atmospheric circulation and ocean currents.

How are the Himalayas linked to the orbit of the Earth, and to the formation of the British Isles? By taking us billions of years into our planet’s past, Professor Lewis Dartnell tells us the ultimate origin story. When we reach the point where history becomes science we see a vast web of connections that underwrites our modern world and helps us face the challenges of the future.

From the cultivation of the first crops to the founding of modern states, Origins reveals the Earth’s awesome impact on the shape of human civilisations.


OUT NOW in Paperback:


*** Come see me speak live about the book at one of the tour events ***


  • Sunday Times top History book
  • Waterstones ‘Best of 2019’ book
  • iNews 11 best popular science books for 2019
  • Mail on Sunday recommended Science and Nature book for summer reads
  • Book of the Week, The Times
  • Book of the Week, Evening Standard
  • Book of the Month, BBC Sky at Night magazine

“Origins is one of those rare books that dissolves mystery through the steady application of sublime lucidity… Dartnell understands geology, geography, anthropology, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and history. That’s quite an achievement, but what makes him special is the way he communicates the interconnectedness of these disciplines in a clear, logical and entertaining way… Superb.”
THE TIMES, Book of the Week

“An excitingly grand argument driven by delight in detail. This thrilling look at how geography shaped us stands comparison with Harari’s ‘Sapiens'”

“Dartnell’s story is beautifully written and organized. His infectious curiosity and enthusiasm tug the reader from page to page, synthesizing geology, oceanography, meteorology, geography, palaeontology, archaeology and political history in a manner that recalls Jared Diamond’s classic 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

“Dartnell has found the perfect blend of science and history. This is a book that will not only challenge our preconceptions about the past, but should make us think very carefully about humanity’s future”
Simon Griffiths, MAIL ON SUNDAY

“Dartnell is an eloquent, conversational guide to these daunting aeons of time. Never has geological history seemed so current.”

“Dartnell’s approach is encyclopedic, marked by both a broad sweep and a passion for details.”

An “absorbing account of the planetary processes that have shaped humanity… Stimulating, entertaining stuff. Dartnell has an easy, light touch that mixes well with his considerable knowledge of our planet’s geological history”

“A sweeping, brilliant overview of the history of not only of our species but of the world. Whether discussing the formation of continents or the role that climate (and climate change) has had on human migration, Lewis Dartnell has a rare talent in being able to see the big picture – and explaining why it matters.”
Peter Frankopan, Author of The Silk Roads

“An original and timely way of looking at human history through the materials and natural resources that our species has employed to such effect. It should be read by everyone who ponders how long exploitation can continue on a finite planet”
Richard Fortey, author of The Earth: An Intimate History

“Endlessly enthralling, Lewis Dartnell explains why the history of humanity, and of human cultures, both take dictation from the deeper history of Earth herself – from broad generalities to surprisingly specific details. An entertaining and informative essay on contingency – and worthy successor to the writing of Stephen Jay Gould”
Ted Neild, author of Supercontinent

“What a treat to see history through the eyes of an astrobiologist! Lewis Dartnell’s absorbing new book shows, with many vivid examples, how deeply human history is embedded in the history of planet earth.”
David Christian, author of Big History


OUT NOW in Paperback:


Book tour events


Teachers’ educational resources


I have created a dedicated site containing educational resources for teachers based on the research and material within ORIGINS. Please explore


  1. Jeremy Bark

    Fascinating book, full of stunning revelations but the print quality is so poor that the crucial image of the earth at night on pages 282 and 283 is so indistinct as to be almost useless.

  2. Tim Harris

    Really enjoying the book’s broad sweep (only two chapters in so far). It’s very nit-picky of me but I think ‘Mali’ on page 10 should read probably read Malawi. One for the next edition…

    • lewis

      Yes, you’re absolutely right Tim, thank you! A father emailed me the other week to let me know that his 10 year old daughter had spotted that same typo. I feel embarrassed!

  3. Steve Kostoff

    Just listened to your interview on ABC Radio Australia in the car as I drove across Melbourne traffic to the airport…it was an absolute pleasure and you summarised my Geography degrees in just one hour! With Dr Google, no one does Geography anymore, you brought tears to my eyes! I’ll buy the book tomorrow!

  4. Nick Rimmington

    Fascinating book, it should be read by every A level student. It opened my eyes to the story of planet Earth and how each event in its lifetime connects with each other.

    I got lost from time to time such as the Hadley cell and the Milankovitch cycles but so much was accessible to an ordinary reader.

    More information on the population levels at various times would have been interesting, the figure of 10 million slaves and only 5% going to America was a surprise.

    I listened to a World Service programme which said that home sapiens came to New Zealand only 750 years ago, if true would be worth a mention.

    Finally a typo at the bottom of page 266 words instead of world’s I think.

    Thanks for a great book.

    • lewis

      Hi Nick, thanks ever so much for letting me know about that sneaky typo! The manuscript went through multiple editing rounds, has been checked by a proofreader and a copyeditor, and some things have still slipped through…

  5. Alan Davies

    A great read, and so nice to see our place in the Cosmos given another viewpoint. Much appreciated and very sobering, just like Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot!

  6. Joseph G. Bohlen, Md, Phd

    After 30 years of practicing psychiatry, I have been challenged to explain the violence, inhumanity and evil of humanity. These books have helped to understand it, but also leave me skeptical of our social and political future:
    Wrangham & Peterson, 1996: Demonic Males: Apes and The Origins of Human Violence
    Sagan & Druyan, 1993: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
    Diamond, 1992: The Third Chimpanzee
    de Wall, 1982: Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among the Apes
    Carthy & Ebling (eds.), 1964: The Natural History of Aggression

    I look forward to reading your new book Origins!

    • lewis

      Thanks very much Rob! What also helps out authors enormously is if you were able to post a review to Amazon as well…?

  7. Jonathan Brereton Jones

    Fantastic eye-opening read – the sort of book that makes the reader feel not only massively better- informed regarding previously unimagined sweeps of information and connections but, at least temporarily, slightly more intelligent for having read it.
    To help that feeling last could I (as a lazy reader – who doesn’t take notes etc) ask a favour? Would it be possible in another edition to include a summarizing chart, (or something similar) of the most salient points? Something which could only make sense to those who have read the book but would help for reference, revision and memory jogging?But in any case thanks for your inspiring work.

    • lewis

      Thanks very much Jonathan – good to hear you found ORIGINS interesting! One thing that does genuinely really help authors is if you leave a review for the book, even if only short, on its Amazon page… And a good idea about the summary page – I’ll look into that for later editions!

  8. Pat Morris

    Pat Morris, Millstone, NJ USA
    Will there be a digitized version (.mobi etc.) of the book?

  9. Pat Morris

    Re my precious question: I assume this book is the same as the one at Amazon US, listed as Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History, which does have a Kindle and audible version. True?

  10. Gregory Dykhouse

    As a high school “Big History” teacher in Michigan (USA), I applaud the book and look forward to using it with my students. I have greatly enjoyed reading the opening chapters.

    • lewis

      Grand, thanks very much Gregory – so glad to hear you found it interesting! One thing that does genuinely really help authors is if you leave a review for the book, even if only short, on its Amazon page.

  11. Labhras White

    Have thoroughly enjoyed Origins. A sweeping, interconnected treasure trove. I was particularly taken with the section ‘Tge periodic Table in your pocket’. As a science teacher it can sometimes be a struggle to engage some of my younger students. Upon finishing this section however I have begun to plan a units content around this idea, encompassing the periodic table, plastics, electricity, fusion, mass/area/volume and recycling.
    Thank you.

    • lewis

      Oh wonderful, thanks very much for letting me know! Can you send me the lesson plan when you have it please? I’d be really interested to see!

  12. David van Rooyen

    I was born in Zambia, travelled in East Africa, and I now live in South Africa. I have read extensively on the origins of humans and so the context of the East African Rift resonated with me. I read “Origins” three times, making my own summary of the parts that had particular interest for me. A fascinating book – thank you for writing it. David.

    • lewis

      Hi David, thanks for that – so glad to hear you found ORIGINS interesting! What genuinely does help-out authors is if you were to post a review on the book’s Amazon page – even if only exceedingly short!

  13. David van Rooyen

    Apologies – I need to correct my email address as given in my previous message – see below

  14. Gordon Drummond

    Stimulating book, figures could have been a bit better, pity that the grayscale was all you had. However – and it’s not a big gripe – the vikings got to America from Europe before anyone else did!
    It would be good to have the geological history figure on a bookmark!

    • lewis

      You’re absolutely right of course Gordon that the Vikings established colonies in Newfoundland long before Columbus, but that had no real ramifications for either the Americas or Europe (but the Medieval Warm Period that enabled this is fascinating in its own right) — the first significant contact between the civilisations of Eurasia and the Americas didn’t occur until dawn of the 16th century.

  15. Harvey Falk

    Love the book! Will be giving copies to my kids, and recommending to friends. Believe quote on bottom of US edition page 48 is Tina Fey’s.

  16. Kevin Donihoo

    Thank you for this fascinating book! As a geologist, I really enjoyed the “big history” approach, showing how geology and geography have influenced human history, and how humans have in turn influenced the Earth’s history.

    However, one geological error needs correcting. In the geologic setting of convergent margins and plate subduction, magmas do not result from the melting of subducting plates. Instead, when a plate subducts, increasing heat and pressure with depth liberates water from that plate. That water rises into the wedge of mantle rocks which OVERLIE the subducting plate, where it depresses the melting temperature of the mantle rocks, resulting in their partial melting. This melt becomes the magma that rises higher into the crust, ultimately producing the igneous rocks which make up the “volcanic arcs” above subducting plates, such as granites which intrude the crust, and andesites and rhyolites that extrude onto the surface, most often explosively as pyroclastic deposits such as ash falls, debris flows and the like.

    So in summary, the source of these magmas is not the subducting plate, but the wedge of mantle rocks which overlie the subducting plate.

    I hope this helps when it comes time for a second edition. Best regards!

    • lewis

      Thanks for getting in touch Kevin – I’m really glad to hear that you found ORIGINS interesting! Thanks ever so much too for bringing this to my attention. All that you write here I understand to be the case, so I’m wondering where in the book the writing/editing process has introduced an oversimplification. On p.9, the text says “Where two plates butt into one another, along what is known as a convergent plate boundary, something has got to give. The leading edge of one of the two plates is shunted beneath the other and is dragged down into the rock-melting heat of the mantle, triggering frequent earthquakes and feeding an arc of volcanoes.” Is this where you mean? It’s ambiguous in that I don’t specify what is melting to produce a rising magma, but this isn’t wrong _per se?

      • Kevin Donihoo

        Hi Lewis. Actually, it was the following, in Chapter 5, on Page 145 in the section “Tectonic Sweat”: “As oceanic crust is suducted, the water-bearing rocks of this descending plate are melted by the considerable pressure and temperature at depths of between 50 and 100 kilometres, while also being heated by the grinding friction as they slide underneath. This molten magma rises up into the overlying crust and pools into huge subterranean chambers.”

  17. James in Washington, DC


    I found the book very enlightening! I think over the years that I have probably have read/learned just about all the individual facts and stories in the book but have never seen such a great way to weave it all together into a history of humankind on earth. Thank you and I look forward to reading more of your work.

  18. Ignacio

    a great book. lots of knowledge. beautifully presented and summarised. clear, concised, pleasure to listen (I had the audio book). lots of vague loose concepts finally understood. Connecting the dots amazingly well.

  19. Paul Ventris

    Great book! I’m a geologist myself and I really enjoyed the way you are able to integrate the geological backdrop with so many aspects of human evolution and its influence on the development of civilisation into the world we take for granted today. Some of the subjects touched on in the book can be quite dry to a lay reader but I really appreciated your communication skills to make things accessible without specialist knowledge and weave a tapestry of different disciplines into a fascinating story of the links between the geology, geography, climate, ocean currents through to their impact on exploration and trade. Very enjoyable. Thanks!

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  21. Peter Aughton

    A remarkable, erudite, mind-blowing and slightly terrifying work. Should be read by anyone who care for the planet and our future. More importantly by those who don’t give it thought. Thank you.

  22. Ian Bradford

    Thank you so much for writing this book. I have so enjoyed reading it.
    I would have loved being given this when I was a teenager.
    All the connections made would have captivated me then as they have done now, but would have helped me see and appreciate those connections sooner.
    Thank you.

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