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Fifteen Myths That Explain Our World

Oren Harman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Evolutions Download image

ISBN10: 0374538417
ISBN13: 9780374538415

Trade Paperback

256 Pages



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We no longer think, like the ancient Chinese did, that the world was hatched from an egg, or, like the Maori, that it came from the tearing-apart of a love embrace. The Greeks told of a tempestuous Hera and a cunning Zeus, but we now use genes and natural selection to explain fear and desire, and physics to demystify the workings of the universe.

Science is an astounding achievement, but are we really any wiser than the ancients? Has science revealed the secrets of fate and immortality? Has it provided protection from jealousy or love? There are those who believe that science has replaced faith, but must it also be a death knell for mythology?

Evolutions brings to life the latest scientific thinking on the birth of the universe and the solar system, the journey from a single cell all the way to our human minds. Reawakening our sense of wonder and terror at the world around us and within us, Oren Harman uses modern science to create new and original mythologies. Here are the earth and the moon presenting a cosmological view of motherhood, a panicking mitochondrion introducing sex and death to the world, the loneliness of consciousness emerging from the memory of an octopus, and the birth of language in evolution summoning humankind’s struggle with truth. Science may not solve our existential puzzles, but like the age-old legends, its magical discoveries can help us continue the never-ending search.


Praise for Evolutions

Evolutions is a breathtaking race through the immense scope of time and space that is our universe. The processes of evolution are at times so huge and ungraspable for the mind—so magical—that they can perhaps only be fathomed through the language of myth.”—Karin Altenberg, The Wall Street Journal

"In Evolutions [Harman] explores the mysteries and miracles of science in majestically human terms, showing what science so often leaves out—the love, passion, and discovery in life as we actually know it."—Samantha Power, Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

"[Evolutions] gives the reader an accessible model of how science ought to contribute to our sense of values and the way we think about ourselves. Harman bypasses all the clichés that pit science against religion and juxtapose fact and myth."—Leon Botstein, President of Bard College

"Oren Harman brilliantly adapts the story-telling form of myth to present the evolutions that have shaped our physical world and its living inhabitants—from the origins of the universe through the advent of sex and on to vision and consciousness. He affectionately personalizes Nature—his Sun and Moon speak to each other—making it accessible without distorting it. He matches scientific erudition with a humanist’s sensibilities and a poet’s flair for language."—Daniel J. Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University

"Evolutions is a dazzling voyage of the imagination, the story of our origins from the Big Bang to planets to life, told in the language and style of an epic poem."—Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice of the Humanities, MIT, and author of Einstein's Dreams

"In this daring, learned, and humane book, Oren Harman attempts to create for a modern scientific understanding of the universe the myths in which, for as long as we can remember, human beings have always encoded their deepest perceptions of the truth."—Stephen Greenblatt, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

“Brilliantly conceived stories of the evolution of our universe and ourselves. With impressive erudition, Oren Harman shows the impossibility of a science free from myths and metaphors."—Denis Noble, Fellow of the Royal Society and author of The Music of Life

"In Evolutions, Oren Harman captures the poetic and emotional depths of processes uncovered by modern science such as the big bang, sex and death, multicellularity, consciousness, language. More bizarre, more incredible than the ancient myths, the myths of science told by Harman are based on exacting and arduous research yet go to the roots of human perceptions and emotions making explicit the sense of beauty and awe that drives scientific activity. It is a book that will bring the poet to science, and the scientist to poetry."—Eva Jablonka, author of Evolution in Four Dimensions

"[Evolutions] is a science text like no other . . . Although Harman follows a standard progression, from the creation of the universe and planet Earth through the emergence of life up to modern humans, he does so quickly via a series of 15 vignettes that are more poetry than pedagogy . . . Ideal for readers who find traditional science books lacking in philosophy."Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


The great creator Viracocha rose from Lake Titicaca during the time of darkness to bring forth light. First he made the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. Then, breathing into the stones, he made the humans. But the humans were...

About the author

Oren Harman

Oren Harman’s book The Price of Altruism won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Science and Technology and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is a renowned professor of the history of science and the Chair of the Program in Science Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University.

Oren Dai

Oren Harman

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