cover image The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars

The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars

Jo Marchant. Dutton, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593183-01-4

Journalist Marchant (Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind over Body) takes a thought-provoking look at how human fascination with the night sky has influenced beliefs throughout history. For example, tablets from the seventh century BCE unearthed near Mosul show that the Assyrians believed that lunar eclipses coincided with the death of their king, the earliest known occurrence of astrology. Marchant goes back even further, about 20 millennia ago, to explore the Lascaux cave paintings and the contentious theory that they represent constellations, and also surveys current cutting-edge research into how stargazing can trigger transcendental states. The book’s broad scope is made manageable by punchy storytelling; in explaining how cosmology influenced the American Revolution, Marchant begins by stating that Thomas Paine’s journey toward radicalism started “with a pirate ship, some astronomy lectures and a pair of globes.” Each section is informed by Marchant’s belief that technology that separates people from the actual world, such as using GPS to navigate, or computers to map the sky, comes at a cost. Integrating science, history, philosophy, and religion, Marchant’s epic account is one for readers to savor. (Sept.)