256 pages, 35 illustrations
One in a million doesn't even come close.
Not when we're talking about the odds that you would happen to be alive today, on this particular planet, hurtling through space. Almost fourteen billion years of cosmic history, over four billion years of Earth history, a couple million years of human history, the rise and fall of nations, the unbroken string of generations necessary to lead to you – it's staggering to consider. Yet behind everything in our world, from the phone in your pocket to even the force of gravity itself, lies a similarly grand procession of highly improbable events.
This panoramic viewpoint has captured the imagination of historians and scientists alike, and together they've created a new field – Big History – that integrates traditional historical scholarship with scientific insights to study the full sweep of our universe and its past. Famed geologist Walter Alvarez – best known for the impact theory explaining dinosaur extinction – has championed a science-first approach to Big History, and A Most Improbable Journey is one of the first Big History books to be written by a scientist rather than a historian. Alvarez brings his unique expertise and infectious curiosity to give us a new appreciation for the incredible occurrences – from the Big Bang to the formation of supercontinents, the dawn of the Bronze Age, and beyond – that have led to our improbable place in the universe.
"Evocative [...] Alvarez [enables] readers to experience the power of Big History."
"Fans of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything will appreciate Alvarez's enthusiastic, clearly written tour of contingencies that have shaped our world. [...] A compelling case for Big History as a fun, perspective-stretching exercise – a way to dust off familiar topics and make them sparkle."
– Science News
"Imagine a campfire chat with your favorite teacher sharing the biggest story you ever heard. A Most Improbable Journey is a thrilling synthesis from a brilliant scientist who discovered one of the most important chapters in our history. An instant classic."
– Sean B. Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful
"A wonderful account of Big History by a geologist. And not just any geologist, but the geologist who showed that the dinosaurs were done in by an unlucky asteroid strike! Alvarez writes with precision and great charm. And he reminds us how absurdly improbable is the role we play in this colossal story, and how many things had to go right for you and me to exist."
– David Christian, founder of the field of Big History and author of Maps of Time
"For the past three decades, Walter Alvarez has been at the center of a revolution in how scientists think about the history of life and the Earth. In A Most Improbable Journey he gives us the biggest history of all, going from the Big Bang to our own place on the planet. Lively and profound and flavored with his infectious enthusiasm, Alvarez shows how each of us has won a truly massive lottery just to be a sentient being on this planet."
– Neil Shubin, best-selling author of Your Inner Fish
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Walter Alvarez is a professor of geology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the best-selling T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and a past recipient of the Penrose Medal, the highest award given by the Geological Society of America. He lives in Berkeley, California.