The Human Cosmos by Jo Marchant

by stephenpalmersf

Billed as a secret history of the stars, this book takes a journey through human history from Lascaux to extremophiles and planet hunting in a bid to illustrate how crucial the night sky has been (and should be now) for human beings.

Each of twelve chapters concentrates in chronological order on one aspect of stars, planets and the night sky, beginning with Palaeolithic people, heading through the agricultural revolution, fate and irrational faith, measuring time, science, art, biochronology and mind. Very well written, engaging and interesting this is a really good read which requires no scientific knowledge – just a fascination with the stars and our reaction to them.

A couple of niggles: the chapter on art is a bit wishy-washy, and the concluding chapter on mind perpetuates a few post-modern myths about “unusual” views, including the one about science not giving the whole picture. We know it doesn’t, because it’s an incomplete process. Meanwhile, consciousness is something we “have,” “in our brains,” rather than the experience itself. Minor criticisms however, in an increasingly complicated field.

All in all, highly recommended. The author ends with a plea for us to regain our sense of awe at the wonder of the night sky, a request for which respect is due.