Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution

By Neil deGrasse Tyson, Donald Goldsmith

8,425 ratings - 4.15* vote

Our true origins are not just human, or even terrestrial, but in fact cosmic. Drawing on recent scientific breakthroughs and the current cross-pollination among geology, biology, astrophysics, and cosmology, Origins explains the soul-stirring leaps in our understanding of the cosmos. From the first image of a galaxy birth to Spirit Rover's exploration of Mars, to the disco Our true origins are not just human, or even terrestrial, but in fact cosmic. Drawing on recent scientific

... more

Book details

Paperback, 352 pages
September 2nd 2014 by W. W. Norton Company

(first published September 28th 2004)

Original Title
Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution
0393350398 (ISBN13: 9780393350395)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Two excellent science writers collaborated on this book. The title describes the overall theme quite well; the origin of the universe, galaxies, stars, elements, solar systems, planets, and life. The last chapter discusses the search for extra-terrestrial life.

Some of the chapters are imbued with a fun sense of humor--while others are lacking in humor, though still well-written. I wonder if the reason is that and each author tackled entire chapters, so each chapter represents the style of its author. I suspect--based on other books of his that I've read--that Tyson is the humorous writer.

I enjoyed the end of Chapter 5, which describes what will happen to the universe in a hundred billion years from now:
By then, the Milky Way will have coalesced with its nearest neighbors, creating one giant galaxy in the literal middle of nowhere. Our night sky will contain orbiting stars, (dead and alive) and nothing else, leaving future astrophysicists a cruel universe....Enjoy cosmology while you can.
Another humorous digression starts out by mentioning that lithium has been useful as an antidepressant medication:
Lithium rides down a one-way street because every star has more effective nuclear fusion reactions to destroy lithium than to create it. As a result, the cosmic supply of lithium has steadily decreased and continues to do so. If you want some, now would be a good time to acquire it.
I also very much appreciated the mention of Alar and Juri Toomre, two brothers who simulated the effects of colliding galaxies. As a graduate student, I took a few excellent classes from Juri Toomre. And I remember a seminar that he gave on the subject of galaxies colliding! It's nice to encounter a professor who was influential in my life, mentioned in a popular book such as this one.

I read this book in the hard-cover edition--I would recommend reading a printed edition rather than an e-book, as it contains a number of beautiful high-resolution photographs. Most of the photographs are not mentioned in the text of the book, but extensive captions help guide the reader to understand their context.

I just loved the humor in the book's preface, which mentions a cartoon showing someone gazing up at the stars, and remarking,
"When I look at all those stars, I'm struck by how insignificant they are".


Almost all of my stars on this one is for the ease for which Tyson explains the cosmos, the clarity, and the breadth of astrophysics itself.

The one star that's missing is just because it's all stuff I've read before. :) In other words, it's great if you're looking for an introductory and nearly math-less course on everything from the Big Bang to the formation of the planets to the building blocks and observed results of our search for extra-terrestrial life.

That's it. It's a great refresher, too, if that's your thing, and as for the tidbits like how we're figuring out and classifying the planets turning around other stars, there's even a great explanation for that, too. Hint: doppler shift. :)

All in all, it's very well-written and enjoyable if not crammed with surprises. It's meant to put our feet firmly in the science of we know well and of the others, the ones we understand more or less well, we qualify that we're always on the search for new and better questions in a game of controlled ignorance. :)

I totally recommend this for laymen and the curious.


I wish that I could rate this book higher. I really like Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I really like this subject, but this book was... not great for me.

Maybe it was the fact that I did the audio rather than reading it with my own eyeballs, but it just didn't work for me. I found the technicality off-putting. It was hard for me to focus on this book when there are just random facts and figures being thrown at my ears. I've read quite a few science books this year, and they were all interesting and entertaining and accessible, and I learned something from all of them. But this one just didn't work for me. I really WANTED to love it, but I don't think that this book is really aimed at a casual reader who has an interest in science and cosmology, because the level of technical info is pretty high. I think that there's a middle-ground possible, but this one didn't quite get there. There seems to be a lack of cohesion. Facts and data points are just thrown out there and the reader is supposed to know what to do with them.

Or maybe it just really was the format... or just the wrong time for me to try to read it. It is a busy time of year and I'm way behind on my reading goals and maybe I just wasn't as focused as I should have been and missed some key things that would tie everything together. Regardless, I ended up returning the audiobook to Audible... Maybe I'll try to get this in a ebook or print form at some point down the road and see if that makes a difference in my enjoyment.

aPriL does feral sometimes

'Origins' is the best explanatory introduction to the formation and evolution of the Cosmos I have read! Co-author Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and co-author Donald Goldsmith is an astronomy writer, and in my opinion, they make a good team. The book is the most coherently arranged science book on this subject I have ever tried.

It has five parts:

Part I: The Origin of the Universe
Part II: The Origin of Galaxies and Cosmic Structure
Part III: The Origin of Stars
Part IV: The Origin of Planets
Part V: The Origin of Life (space aliens! - maybe)

There are 17 chapters.

I learned a great deal that I had never understood or had known about recent mainstream discoveries and theories gleaned from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Galileo spacecraft that explored Jupiter in 1995, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft that explored Saturn in 2004, and WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) that was launched in 2001 to study the cosmic background radiation.

Oh my, but I wish that fricking James Webb Space Telescope is completed before I die...

The two authors filled in many gaps in my knowledge, such as why most scientists think there was a Big Bang. A fascinating narrative in Chapter 1 'In the Beginning' mixes speculations as well as what has been gleaned from actual measurements and observations about the expansion of the Universe. I never knew about how particles and photons were so energized it took a while before the production of atoms was possible - about ten minutes into the cool down of the Big Bang.

I have heard endlessly (another Universe pun, sorry) about the cosmic background radiation (CBR) which had been accidentally detected in 1965 (pigeon poop was involved) after years of predictions by respectable Big Brain scientists since the 1940's. I did not have a clue why everyone thought it was proof of the Big Bang, only that the CBR was it somehow.

Microwaves are coming from everywhere today, with maybe some matter/gravity gaps. Scientists can actually detect, measure and have mapped visually the CBR back to the beginning of the Universe. Atoms began to form shortly after the Big Bang and gravity began to effect what had been only a particle soup, maybe causing the gaps of matter. The CBR was a proof of concept for astrophysicists because these now evenly distributed microwave spectrum waves can be traced back to almost the beginning of time, maybe just when the Universe was 380,000 years old. These current measurable microwaves were once ferocious gamma-ray and X-ray photons in the era of the Big Bang. Eventually the CBR will be measured as being in the radio wave spectrum in another one hundred billion years, no longer microwaves photons anymore, as the photons lose more and more of their original energy from the Big Bang.

The temperature of the Universe, which scientists can measure, dropped as the size of the Universe expanded. How do they know the Universe is expanding, btw? The Doppler Effect of light! The explanation about how many ways scientists are using the Dopplar effect, such as to find exosolar planets, was astonishing!

Briefly, but with the most coherent explanations I have ever read, the authors explain the creation of atoms, space dust, types of suns and galaxies, dark energy, dark matter, elements (as in the element table), and what has been learned about some of the planets and their moons.

Included in the back of the book are a glossary of terms, a section for further reading, and an Index. Two sections of photos are included that add depth (sort of a pun, you know, it's all about Space) to the explanations.

Heisenberg and Schrodinger are driving along the Autobahn when they are stopped by a police officer. The cop says to Heisenberg, who is driving, "Do you know how fast you were going?!" Heisenberg says, "No, but I knew where I was." "OK, smart guy," says the cop, "I'm going to search your car." So he does, and then comes back to the window. "Did you know you have a dead cat in a box in the truck?" Schrodinger says, "No, but I do now."


“However, every advance in our knowledge of the cosmos has revealed that we live on a cosmic speck of dust, orbiting a mediocre star in the far suburbs of a common sort of galaxy, among a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. The news of our cosmic unimportance triggers impressive defense mechanisms in the human psyche.”

A short personal note: Forget hot actors and actresses, singers, models. If I had the chance to meet a famous person I'd totally go for Neil deGrasse Tyson. Or Michio Kaku, but preferably Tyson.
Astrophysics has always been a passion of mine, even before my love for literature so this book felt like a trip to my 8-year-old self who walked around with books on astronomy and suffered from severe sleep deprivation because she prefered to watch the stars and the moon rather than sleep. I was a strange child, I realise that, antisocial except when given the chance to talk about the nightsky, that's when I came alive.

This book covers an enormous period of time, fourteen billion years, and even provides some interesting thoughts concerning the future of our planet and galaxy. The theme of the book is clear, it deals with the origin of the universe, the various types of galaxies, the formation of the clusters, all the types of stars, the origin of the planets and life in general. It concerns itself with vague topics like dark matter and dark energy and black holes, all the mysteries of the universe, all that is still theory and will maybe remain a theory forever.
It provides answers or at least suggests possible answer to hundreds of questions one might ask him/herself about how everything turned out the way it did.
Despite the difficulty of the entire topic, it is an understandable, even fun read due to Tyson's unique sense of humour. The chapters that are less humorous are still highly enjoyable for the reason that both authors are talented when it comes to writing. Every single chapter is very well-written, elaborate and provides just enough explanations to intrigue but not confuse.

I repeat, the book is not as intricate as the majority of the books that concern themselves with astrophysics, which is a great think because it is more likely that people who are generally curious pick such a book up rather than a highly scientific monster with formulas and one technical term after another. Let's be honest, people who aren't deeply "into" that topic will never understand a highly scientific beast, but they will easy get this one.
And I think it is a good thing for it encourages people to think outside the box, to question and doubt and look for more.
“... informed ignorance provides the natural state of mind for research scientists at the ever-shifting frontiers of knowledge. People who believe themselves ignorant of nothing have neither looked for, nor stumbled upon, the boundary between what is known and unknown in the cosmos.”

What I also appreciated was the fact that in every chapter scientists who are usually overlooked were mentioned, their theories who led other scientists to question and doubt and in the end find answers where they had never expected them to. I loved how the development of the various theories, experiments, simulations was dealt with and how one scientist's thought was based on another one's and so on and so forth back to Newton.
Thus, this book provides not only an insight into the past of the universe but into the human discoveries and mentions all the important personas in this field of studies.

Loved it.
I hope I will find enough free-time to read Tyson's book Death by Black Hole soon though it seems unlikely with all the required reading for university...
“In the beginning, there was physics.”

Raoufa Ibrahim

Me when I finished the book
Part 1: Origin of the universe
If you ever saw our earth -the complete photo- or the the Milky Way
description description
and wonderd how it became like this? why it look like this? HOW we reached this point? THEN this book will answer you, it may not answer you fully since there are questions until now scientist couldn't answer.
"knowing where you came from is no less important than knowing where you are going"
Part 2,3,4: The origin of the Galaxies
The final parts: Life on other planets
what are the essential elements for life? which of the planets have potential to contain life?
the most important is to apply "Copernican theory‏" .. We are NOT the center of the universe so we must stop searching for life in other planets assuming it must look like us or they must have our air and water to sustain life!
And If by a miracle- which actually happened- we found planets like Earth
"leaving us face to face (as F.Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby )with something commensurate with man's capacity to wonder."
At the end of the book and as Carl Sagan liked to say "you had to be made from wood not to stand in awe of what the cosmos has done."
We shall not cease for exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time



DeGrasse Tyson and Goldsmith give us a wide ranging look at the beginning of everything: The universe, galaxies, stars, planets, even life itself. They discuss a myriad of topics such as: The Big Bang and cosmic inflation; how the elements are made; the structure and composition of the universe; the likelihood of alien life. With this extensive scope in a relatively short book nothing is covered in depth. For the science enthusiast who has read similar books there isn’t much new. Still I enjoyed this one. It was very well written and nicely tied together diverse concepts.

I read a 2014 reissue but it was written in 2004 and had not been updated. So for descriptions of the planets and moons in our solar system or the discovery of exoplanets, the results of a decade of additional exploration are not included. Neither, of course are recent discoveries in particle physics such as the Higgs boson. Still, I think the book is a good choice for someone who just wants to read one book to survey astrophysics. Readers who have some knowledge of physics will, of course, get more out of it. While not highly technical the text is beyond introductory.

The writing is pretty straight forward but there is some tongue in cheek. Science buffs may already be familiar with the story of the student science project about a risky chemical: dihydrogen monoxide. At the fair the student set out a sign that listed its dangers: A component of acid rain; can kill you if inhaled; dissolves most things it contacts; causes severe burns as a gas; found in cancerous tumors. 86% of the people who visited the booth signed a petition to ban this peril. You may know it better by its chemical notation H2O. The authors wonder if this is the real reason we can’t find water on Mars.


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time . . .

-- T. S. Eliot, 1942

Hardly any scientific discoveries of the past century have flowed from the direct application of our senses. They came instead from the direct application of the sense-transcendent mathematics and hardware. This simple fact explains why, to the average person, relativity, particle physics, and eleven-dimensional string theory make no sense. Add to this list black holes, wormholes, and the big bang.
-- Neil deGrasse Tyson, from Origins

The universe is fascinating and complex. Despite the diligent efforts of the brightest minds of the past few centuries, no unifying "theory of everything" has emerged or seems likely to emerge. Instead, it seems, the more we learn about the universe, the more we find new unexplained (and seemingly unexplainable) complexities.

This was really a great book for explaining our current level of understanding of the universe. I am sure that I will never be able to comprehend even a sizable percentage of what the great scientists understand about it. But likewise, I am also sure (especially after reading this book) that the great scientists are equally unable to comprehend even a sizable percentage of all that there is to know and understand. I really appreciate Neil deGrasse Tyson for his efforts to make this truly important and fascinating information more accessible and understandable to ordinary people like me.

Yesenia Cash

I’m buying this on audible!!!! I love science, if I was reborn I’d definitely be some form of scientist. Not that I know all the terminology, far from it! However, I feel like the repetitiveness of listening to these types of books will one day make it stick to my brain!

Ripu Jain

When a book with the title Origins: 14 Billion Yeas of Cosmic Evolution, starts with an opening line “In the beginning, there was physics”, and is written by NDT the man himself, you cant go wrong with it. An extraordinary story needs an extraordinary story-teller, and NDT is no ordinary human - does an exceptional job translating the modern understanding of astrophysics to normal language.

Its the ultimate origins story told - from origin of the universe at the moment of creation (10^-43 second after the big bang), to the exponential inflation of universe in 1st 3 minutes, to plasmaoidal era of the universe for next 300,000 years, to era of 1st particle formation and photon releases (which get stretched into CMBR waves), to formation of vast cosmic structure (thanks to gravity and dark matter and energy of empty space aka dark energy), to formation of first galaxies and supermassive black holes, to the formation of first starts and solar systems, to formation of planets and moons, and finally to origins of life itself.

This is one of the few books I managed to finish within 2 weeks of starting. If a casual science enthusiast wants to read a cosmology book this year, make it this one. You will feel your brain get blown and smarter at the same time