Journey to Civilization
The Science of How We Got Here
Roger P. Briggs

280 page soft cover
Illustrated with nearly 100 charts, graphs,
 and full color graphics and photographs


Order Now

Also available as an e-Book!  

Roger Briggs, now retired, was an acclaimed high school physics teacher during a career that spanned thirty years. He collaborated as an educational writer with scientists from the Space Environment Lab of NOAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Colorado, Ball Aerospace Corporation, and other research centers to bring real science into classrooms.  

Seven years in the research and writing, the scope of Journey to Civilization is breathtaking. Authoritative yet clearly and fluidly written, it is a page-turning account of our human adventure from the birth of the universe to the birth of humanity.

Published by
The Collins Foundation Press

CFP Home                                                                     Press Release
Flourishing Earth Project                                 Amazon Customer Reviews

Table of Contents

(Or just scroll down)

Chapter Excerpts (pdfs)
Introduction     Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 10     References

(Copyrighted material)

Book Description and Contents


The traditional study of history goes back about 5,000 years to the first civilizations in Mesopotamia, where writing was invented along with government and politics, laws and taxes, monetary systems, military operations, and many other aspects of our modern world. Until recently, the story of humanity before this was largely unknown and loosely referred to as “prehistoric”.

We now know that humans in their present anatomical form, so-called Homo sapiens, were living in East Africa by about 200,000 years ago, which means that traditional history can account for only the most recent 2% of the time people have been living on Earth. What were people doing for the preceding 98% of that time? Can we know a fuller story of humanity that deals with the whole time we have been on Earth? And what was happening before 200,000 years ago? Who were our ancestors long before that? How far back can the search for our origins go? What about the Earth itself - how did it come to be? And was anything happening before the Earth existed?

The search for this “deep history” eventually leads to the question of creation. How was the world made and how did we get here?  All human cultures have ancient accounts of the creation of the Earth, and people, that were passed down through an oral tradition of story telling, until they were eventually written down. These traditional creation stories were universally important: they defined our place in the universe and gave meaning to our existence.

Then what is our creation story today?

In a surprising turn of events, science has recently made profound new discoveries about our deep history, making it possible for the first time to construct a new kind of creation story. Since about 1990, spectacular advances in paleoanthropology, molecular genetics, and astrophysics have answered some of the most fundamental questions about our origins.  A new field of study has now emerged that takes the search for our origins all the way back to the birth of the universe nearly 14 billion years ago, and weaves a fairly continuous account of an unfolding universe that gave rise to life on our planet and eventually humanity.

Journey to Civilization: The Science of How We Got Here reveals this new story that is based on the evidence and skepticism of science. It explores and explains the science itself, from the physics of stars and the formation of rocky planets, to the evolution of life and the epic journey of humans out of Africa to cover the Earth. Journey to Civilization is written for the non-scientist in clear, straight-forward language, and is richly illustrated with diagrams, charts, and beautiful color graphics and photographs.

There has never before been one creation story that was shared by all the people of the world. Today, however, nearly all of humanity shares the methods and products of science. Science has become a universal language across all cultures; and thus the new creation story produced by science is the story of all the people of the world. It is the common ground upon which we all stand.

Journey to Civilization will change your understanding of science, and it will change your view of humanity and our place in the universe.

                                                                Back to Top


      Main Events in the Story of the Universe

PART ONE – THE AGE OF THE COSMOS: Building a Perfect Planet
     Main Events of Part One

Chapter 1 – The First 380,000 Years
     In the Beginning
     Exploring Deeper: An Inevitable Question
          Science and Discovery: The Two Great Pillars
     Much Ado About One Second 
           Science and Discovery: The Particle Zoo
     The Rules of the Game
           Exploring Deeper: Big Bang or Big Bounce?
      Ancient Light: Microwave Soup
           Science and Discovery: The Cosmic Microwave Background

Chapter 2 – Large Scale Structure
     Dark Matters: The Cosmic Web
     Galaxies and Dark Energy
     The Physics of Stars
          Exploring Deeper: What is Nuclear Fusion?
          Exploring Deeper: Black Holes and Quasars

Chapter 3 – Sun and Earth
     The Birth of the Sun
      Where Do Planets Come From?
            Science and Discovery: Are We Alone?
      Early Earth

Part One Summary

PART TWO – THE AGE OF BACTERIA: Life on Earth Begins
      Main Events of Part Two

Chapter 4 – The Origin of Life
      Out of the Furnace: The Hadean Era
      What is Life?
            Science and Discovery: DNA and RNA
      The Origin of Life
            Exploring Deeper: Does Life Violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Chapter 5 – Prokarya: The Greatest Survivors
       First Life: Prokaryotes
       Harnessing the Sun: Photosynthesis
       The Sea of DNA
             Science and Discovery: Biological Evolution

Part Two Summary

       Main Events of Part Three

Chapter 6 – Eukarya: The Power of Cooperation
      The Great Oxygen Crisis
             Science and Discovery: Endosymbiosis and the Rise of Eukarya
      Snowball Earth
             Science and Discovery: The Global Thermostat and Plate Tectonics
      The Sexual Revolution
      Multicellular Life and the Fossil Record
             Exploring Deeper: The Cambrian Explosion
             Science and Discovery: Contingent or Convergent Evolution?

Chapter 7 – Living on Land
     Life on Land: The Age of the Reptiles
     The Rise of the Mammals
           Exploring Deeper: The Brain
     The Upside of Extinction

Part Three Summary

      Main Events of Part Four

Chapter 8 – The Apes Who Learned to Walk
     The Missing Link
     The Hominid Puzzle
           Science and Discovery: The Evolutionary Tree and Taxonomy
           Exploring Deeper: Divergence, Speciation, and the Molecular Clock

     First Hominids
     Genus Australopithecus

Chapter 9 – Homo: A Whole New Animal
     Tool Time
     First Out of Africa: Homo erectus
     Human Origins: Dueling Theories
           Science and Discovery: The Mystery of Atapuerca
     The Neanderthals
           Science and Discovery: Climate Variability and Hominid Adaptability

Part Four Summary

PART FIVE – THE AGE OF HUMANITY: Last Hominid Standing
     Main Events of Part Five

Chapter 10 – Idaltu: Facing Extinction
     The First Homo sapiens
           Science and Discovery: Finding Mitochondrial Eve
     The Great Leap

Chapter 11 – Sapiens: Inheriting the Earth
     Out of Africa (again): The Peopling of the Earth
           Exploring Deeper: Y-Chromosome Adam
     The First Americans
     The Neolithic Revolution

Chapter 12 – Consolidating Power
     Civilization and Empire
     The Rest is History

Part Five Summary


Appendix I: Finding the Age of the Universe
     Early Steps
           Exploring Deeper: The Evolution of Telescopes
     How Big is the Universe?
     The Expanding Universe
     The Big Bang
           Exploring Deeper: Are We at the Center of the Expanding Universe?

Appendix II: The Tools and Techniques of Astronomy and Astrophysics
     Parallax: Measuring Distances to Nearby Stars
     The Inverse Square Law
     The Stefan-Boltzmann Law
     Wien’s Law
     The Spectral Luminosity Method
     Measuring Distance using Cepheid Variable Stars
     The Doppler-Redshift Equation
     Hubble’s Law

Appendix III: Dating Earth’s History
     Some Background on Radioactive Decay
     Equations of Radioactive Decay
     Carbon-14 Dating
     Problems with Carbon-14 Dating
     Other Radiometric Dating Techniques
     Non-Radiometric Dating Techniques
     The Art of Dating: Putting it All Together

Appendix IV: Summary of Important Hominid Fossils

Annotated References by Chapter


Back to Top


My main motivation for writing Journey to Civilization came from two places: a life-long love of science and a deep curiosity about our origins, that is, how we humans got here. Regarding the first of these, I must acknowledge that many people today do not think of themselves as lovers of science, perhaps because they were confused or intimidated in some uninspiring science class. Yet science is one of the most natural of human endeavors, stemming from our innate curiosity about the world. We can experience a sense of awe and even joy when we learn about the secrets of nature. It is my hope that this book will help readers rediscover that sense of wonder and curiosity about the world that we had as children.

The second of these, the need to know about our origins, is something that is deeply rooted in human culture and consciousness. By about 100,000 years ago, ancient people were beginning to acquire spoken language and telling stories, passing them on from old to young, down through the generations. These mythical traditions, the stories of "our people," were important in all human societies because they provided a common ground of meaning by explaining to people how the world was made, how people came to be, and what human life means. Myths gave people a sense of order and place in the universe.

However, in the last few hundred years, we have lost our creation stories as modern science has compelled us to question their validity and diminished their cultural power. Now our stories, our myths, are about sports teams and charismatic media stars, or cowboys clearing out the Indians so America could be built, or the lives of people on television. But these stories cannot satisfy our need to know our origin and place in the universe. We have been left disconnected and adrift, as we casually exploit and ravage the Earth.

Since the late twentieth century, a new kind of origin story has been emerging from the discoveries of science. Journey to Civilization tells this new story, the story of the universe and life and humanity, based entirely on mainstream, well-accepted science. But unlike every origin story before, this new story is universal: it is the origin story of all the people of the Earth. It establishes a common ground for all of us, regardless of nationality, religion, race, or any other difference among us; and it points toward a new sense of our place in the universe.

There were two pervasive challenges that I faced in writing this book, aside from the monumental task of covering nearly 14 billion years of history. First was the question of how much depth and detail to go into with each new part of the story and each new area of science. Too much depth would make this book thousands of pages long and lose all but the most hardcore science geeks. Too little would trivialize the magnificent knowledge that we have amassed and the achievements of the remarkable scientists who devoted their lives to discovery. So I tried to strike a balance, and I apologize right up front to the many scientists who will feel that there was so much more that could be said about their field of expertise.

The second challenge, more a frustration, comes from the fact that scientific knowledge is constantly changing and expanding. The pace of scientific discovery and the rate of growth of our knowledge have been continuously accelerating for the last century, and one has to wonder how long this can continue, even though there are no signs of this slowing down. For this reason, a book of this kind will be out of date in some ways from the moment it is published, no matter when. We plan to publish revised and updated versions but it is my hope that, in the bigger scheme of things, the origin story according to science will be a project that humanity will continue to take up and improve upon. This book is a contribution to that project.

I would like to acknowledge some of the people who generously offered their time and energy to improve this book. I am grateful to Ron Biela, Beth Bennett, Bill Briggs, MaryAnn Briggs, Scott Brown, Chip Chace, Jeff Etter, Beverly Hackenberg, Chip Lee, Dan McBride, and Scott Winston for reading my manuscript at critical stages, and for their constructive suggestions.

Thanks also to astronomer Roger Linfield for helping me get the astronomy and astrophysics right; to paleoanthropologist Robert Corruccini for his suggestions on Hominid evolution; to Eric Miller for inspiration and support throughout my science teaching career, and for access to his incredible fossil collection; to Mark Bekoff for his encouragement and guidance at times when I really needed it; to Russ Genet for his thorough reading of my manuscript and his many suggestions to strengthen it; to Joanne Ernst for editing, counsel, and support throughout the project; to Vera Wallen for her keen eye and sense of clarity in late stage editing; to Cheryl Genet for believing in this project from just about the moment she saw it; to Collins Foundation Press and Cheryl Genet for turning my work into a book; and to Jim Collins and Jon Krakauer for their ongoing inspiration and encouragement.

Roger Briggs
Boulder, Colorado

Back to Top