A Human's Guide to the Cosmos by Jo Marchant
(Canongate, 2020)

A Human's Guide to the Cosmos

by Jo Marchant

Since Newton, we have developed an understanding of time and space which is sophisticated but abstract, and which discounts the value of subjective human experience. We can describe how stars are born and die, and model the early conditions of the universe in the milliseconds after the Big Bang. We can account for our location in time and space using GPS satellites and mathematics, and we track the passage of hours not by reference to the position of celestial bodies, but by the ticking of nuclear clocks and the fluid movement of digits on a screen. But all this has come at a cost. Just as we’re increasingly aware of the danger of losing our connection with the natural, terrestrial world, A HUMAN’S GUIDE argues that we have also lost our ability to directly experience our place in space – literally, in the sense that very few of us have anything but an occluded view of the stars.
Chapter by chapter, Jo Marchant will explain how this process occurred. She will tell a chronological story of civilisation’s relationship with the sky, encompassing the cave paintings at Montignac; the theological struggle between a heaven that was inhabited by spirits and demons and one in which God was a creator above time, space and motion; and ultimately a scientific worldview in which time flows steadily and autonomously, independent from the human observer. But she will explain how this view is being challenged by recent research; how our relationship with sunrise and the cycles of the moon is not abstract and cultural, but engineered into the very architecture of our cells, and what we lose when we discount the value of knowledge as lived experience. A HUMAN’S GUIDE TO THE COSMOS will be a history of the world through the lens of the night sky, but also a book about how we can reconnect with the rest of the universe.