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Review – The Shortest History of Our Universe

Posted in Book Blogger

The Shortest History of Our Universe: The Unlikely Journey from the Big Bang to Us

by David Baker

Book Cover: The Shortest History of Our Universe

Series: Shortest History
Genres: History, Science, Space, Nonfiction
Release Date: May 2, 2023
Pages: 256
Purchase from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo
My Rating: ★★★★☆

A complete history of the universe, spanning 13.8 billion years in an ultra-accessible, uncommonly illuminating, exhilarating chronicle of key events

“Baker introduces us not only to the history of our species and our planet, but the history of our vast universe.”—from the foreword by John Green, author of The Anthropocene Reviewed and The Fault in Our Stars

In this thrilling history, David Baker captures the longest-possible time span—from the Big Bang to the present day—in an astonishingly concise retelling. His impressive timeline includes the “rise of complexity” in the cosmos and the creation of the first atoms; the origin of all galaxies, stars, and our solar system; and the evolution of life on Earth, from tiny single-celled organisms to human beings.

Weaving together insights across the sciences—including chemistry, physics, biology, archaeology, and anthropology—Baker answers the fundamental questions: How did time begin? Why does matter exist? What made life on Earth the way it is? He also argues that never before has life on Earth been forced to adjust to a changing climate so rapidly, nor has one species ever been responsible for such sudden change. Baker’s grand view offers the clearest picture of what may come next—and the role we can still play in our planet’s fate.


I purchased The Shortest History of our Universe (SHooU) because one of my favorite YouTube presenters, Simon Whistler, recommended it. Even though it’s by one of the writers for his channels, I figured that he reads so much on a day-to-day basis that SHooU must be good for him to have read and enjoyed it.

And it is! I thoroughly enjoyed SHooU. I had to limit the amount I read per day because it is A LOT of information. But, it’s well-written and interesting. If my world history or science books in school had been anything like SHooU, I likely would be a major history buff or scientist.

Dr. Baker does an excellent job of linking everything together in an easy-to-understand way. This isn’t just how our universe, galaxy, solar system, and planet have developed to get to where we are today. It also includes comparisons to help readers better process the information. For example:

There were an estimated 8 million copies of books produced in the fifty years between 1450 and 1500 CE. This quite likely exceeds the entire number of books that were hand-copied in Europe since the year 500 CE. Between 1500 and 1600 CE, between 140 and 200 million books were printed.

Ch. 9, pg. 151

I can’t imagine that was easy with a 30,000 foot view. What we consider major events get relegated to a short mention at best. But, this succeeds in keeping a 13.8 billion year history interesting.

And it isn’t just dry facts. Dr. Baker creates an interesting narrative with thoughtful — and sometimes thought-provoking — commentary. For example:

From a certain point of view, we are the Universe, one totality, and we are blessed — briefly — to be a self-aware part of it. As if the Universe were looking at itself in a mirror.

Ch. 2, pg. 27

He also doesn’t sugar-coat history. While there are certainly plenty of instances of the good and optimistic, there are also examples of the bad and depressing. Not that the book itself is depressing, it’s fairly well-balanced. The history of our universe has, of course, had its highs and lows.

Reflect back on the journey of complexity thus far. The firestorms of the Big Bang and exploding stars. The hellish formation of the Earth. The blood-soaked evolution of species. The propensity of primates for murder. The deprivations and disease of the Agrarian Era. And now this. Complexity is not synonymous with “progress.” All of our comforts and conveniences today have come at a tremendous cost that most people can barely contemplate.

Ch. 10, pg. 173

The backbone of SHooU is “complexity” and how the universe has gotten more complex as time goes on. Dr. Baker neatly summarizes this concept right at the start of SHooU:

The thread that runs through the entire grand narrative is the rise of complexity in the cosmos, from the first atoms to the first life to humans and the things we have made. It allows us to traverse eons without drowning in detail.

Introduction, pg. xi

I really can’t recommend SHooU enough, and will soon get Dr. Baker’s other book, The Shortest History of Sex.

About the Author

David Baker is a history and science writer for Simon Whistler who holds the world’s first PhD in Big History. He has delivered award-winning lectures at Macquarie University and the University of Amsterdam, is a visiting lecturer at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, and wrote the YouTube series Crash Course Big History, hosted by John and Hank Green in partnership with the Gates Big History Project. He is also the author of The Shortest History of the World and Shortest History of Sex.

Author links: Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

NOTE: This review is based on an eBook I purchased from Amazon.

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