The Human Cosmos

A Secret History of the Stars

Jo Marchant

The Human Cosmos by Jo Marchant (Hardback ISBN 9781786894021) book cover

Available as Hardback, eBook, Downloadable audio

A journey through the history of science and man’s relationship with the night sky and the cosmos beyond, from the author of Royal Society Prize-shortlisted Cure

For most of human history, we have led not just an earthly existence but a cosmic one. Celestial cycles drove every aspect of our daily lives. Our innate relationship with the stars shaped who we are – our religious beliefs, power structures, scientific advances and even our biology. But over the last few centuries we have separated ourselves from the universe that surrounds us. And that disconnect comes at a cost.

In The Human Cosmos Jo Marchant takes us on a tour through the history of humanity’s relationship with the heavens. We travel to the Hall of the Bulls in Lascaux and witness the winter solstice at a 5,000-year-old tomb at Newgrange. We visit Medieval monks grappling with the nature of time and Tahitian sailors navigating by the stars. We discover how light reveals the chemical composition of the sun, and we are with Einstein as he works out that space and time are one and the same. A four-billion-year-old meteor inspires a search for extraterrestrial life. And we discover why stargazing can be really, really good for us.

It is time for us to rediscover the full potential of the universe we inhabit, its wonder, its effect on our health, and its potential for inspiration and revelation.


“A dazzling cultural account of our enduring and ever-changing relationship to the cosmos. Beginning with cave paintings and stone circles, Marchant traces humanity’s epic journey from a sky filled with gods, spirits and celestial events that shaped people’s lives and beliefs to the Big Bang and the search for alien life. This book will change the way you look at the night sky”
Manjit Kumar, Author Of Quantum

See more reviews

“Vast in scope and meticulously researched this brilliant book traces humanity’s enduring relationship with our physical and cultural ancestors: the stars. Full of fascinating stories, Jo Marchant weaves astronomy with astrology, mathematical physics with gods and spirits. It made me question my reality and left me starstruck”
Gaia Vince
author Of Transcendence And Adventures In The Anthropocene

“Marchant is a deft writer. Her characters are vivid, and her stories flow. The unexpected connections she makes … are often quite satisfying … A reminder that the forces that shape humanity far precede modern people and will persist long after we’re gone”
new York Times

“An important and delicious book. Jo Marchant, whipsmart, sensitive, and eloquent yet unforced as ever, mines the history of stargazing to show that today’s cosmology can’t reveal the “intrinsic nature” of anything, whether stars, stardust or human existence, because omitting human consciousness from its equations impoverishes not just our comprehension of the universe, but the notion of understanding itself”
David Dobbs

“This thematic, engaging overview of our stars and skies has something for all readers of geography, exploration, religion, philosophy, and politics”
library Journal


Jo Marchant

Dr Jo Marchant is an award-winning science journalist. She has a PhD in genetics and medical microbiology from St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College, London, and an MSc in Science Communication from Imperial College. She has worked as an editor at New Scientist and Nature, and her articles have appeared in the Guardian, Wired, Observer, New York Times and Washington Post. She is the author of Decoding the Heavens, shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, and Cure, shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books and longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize.

@JoMarchant | jomarchant.com


Jo Marchant and Helen Czerski take us on a journey through humanity’s relationship with the heavens, in this brilliant Intelligence Squared discussion of Jo’s new book The Human Cosmos.