Sweeping across the whole of human history over the last 10,000 years, this work addresses some of the most fascinating questions about our past. Why did we first emerge as a species in Africa and why was the Ancient Near East the place where civilization took off? Why did civilizations develop, and also decline, at markedly different rates around the world? How did the great world religions arise and the worship of many gods give way to just one? And why did Britain, peripheral to world history for millennia, play such a dominant role in the last few centuries? Michael Cook explores the great forces that have shaped our past – natural disasters, human ingenuity, availability of resources – and along the way zooms in on some of the details of history, from the arcane burial customs of ancient Mexican kings and the erotic temple carvings of India, to the design of snuffboxes and the forging of antiques in ancient Rome. Cook shows that humankind has rarely been slow to take advantage of an opportunity when it has come within grasp – from the domestication of the horse to the exploration of space.