Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Universe Story by Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry

The full title of this book is The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era - A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. It's quite a mouthful. But that is exactly what this book is about. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I began it - I had picked it up to read for a book club meeting that I never attended. But I thought it sounded interesting, so I kept it in my stack anyway. It certainly qualifies as an interesting read. I guess that I am still just trying to form my opinion of it more fully.
The book begins with a description of the formation of the universe, then following through in each chapter with the developments that led up to our (human) appearance on Earth. Each step forward, from the first prokaryotic cell to the first plant to make it on to land is given a name. These names exemplify how the authors feel about each of these profound steps, and individualizes it for the reader. But at the same time it felt a little silly. Once we get to human civilization, each chapter covers all of our technological changes, especially those that brought us into the current technological phase. It is the belief of the authors that we have lost the sense of the universe that our ancestors had, that we see it now purely in terms of science, and what technology can do with it, rather than as the glorious creation that it is. (I use the word creation, but the authors do not seem to believe in a "creator", at least not in the terms that we often think of it - more that the universe created itself.) The authors contend that if we don't get back some of our wonder and awe of the universe, we are in danger of thinking of ourselves separate from the fate that we have created for the Earth, and thus eventually dying along with it.
This book was written in 1994, and so has a different analysis of the environmental movement than we might see if it was written today. I think that if it was written today, the authors may have had more hope for the future of a Ecozoic Era, rather than a Technozoic Era. I really did enjoy their description of the universe as a celebration of life, and the authors did an excellent job of explaining how if each individual piece of the universe's creation had gone somehow differently, we would not be here. It was fascinating. I guess I've never really lost the awe and sense of wonder that I have about the universe and the Earth itself, but this book may be a good reminder for those who have. Overall, I agree with the authors, but I felt that this book was just a bit too heavy-handed in its attempts to inspire.

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