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This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity
By David Christian
AP Summer Reading – 9th grade
Reading Guide
Welcome to 9th grade AP World History. First off, do not panic about summer reading, it
is under 100 pages. This short, yet very engaging informational text offers a great
introduction into historical analysis, key events, and periodization, Trust me, you might
actually like this book!
This Fleeting World is the starting point for your new journey into historical exploration.
Take your time with this book. Don’t let its brevity fool you; this book is full of great
“thought experiments” and engaging questions. Our year will start with this text so come
prepared to discuss, write, analyze, interpret, and explore. See below for more direction
and read carefully. We will frequently use this book throughout the year so make sure
you read and do your best to complete the process sheets attached. Feel free to contact me
if you have any questions. Please have the book purchased by July 1st. Have a great
summer and I look forward to meeting you in August. Until then, enjoy the journey!
Mrs. Massalha, TTE
Here is a picture of the cover:
P.S. – Definitions and “Further Exploration” sections below are strictly optional and are
only for you to use if you’re interested in something specific. Answer the Big Thought
Questions and the few chapter Comprehension Questions in a brief manner (2-4
sentences or a simple bullet list if appropriate).
Big thought question #1
Understanding history depends on asking good questions. This is a skill and art that we
will develop further this year. A good question is one that asks how or why; not who or
what. Good questions almost always lead to more questions than answers. Don’t feel you
need “correct” answers to any of these. Your teachers will not have “correct” answers
to all of them either!
What do you want to know more about? What do you WONDER about? Please create
separate sections for each main section of the book (Prequel, Beginnings, Acceleration,
and Our World) and arrange your questions/thoughts accordingly. Think of this as a kind
of journal for your questions, areas of interest or curiosity, etc. Please record this in a
notebook or binder to bring to class on the first day of school.
Prequel: Before the Beginning
Einstein said he could never understand it all:
Planets spinning through space,
The smile upon your face,
Welcome to the human race!
Isn’t it a lovely ride?
James Taylor, American songwriter
Comprehension Questions: Jot down brief answers here to ensure that you are getting key
information (2-4 sentences max, or bulleted points if you’d like).
1. How did planets form, and what was Earth like in its first 500 million years of
2. Christian describes life as “a new form of complexity” (xxiv). How did oxygen and
photosynthesis cause life to begin on Earth?
3. Eventually, multi-celled organisms emerged from water, to land, and eventually (about
7 million years ago) into human ancestors. What were some stages in the development to
our species, homo sapiens?
Linked definitions: These can help if you’re stuck on vocabulary.
The Big Bang
Interstellar space
Natural selection
Homo sapiens
For Further Exploration:
American Museum of Natural History “Hall of Planet Earth”: ; American Museum of Natural History “Hall
of Human Origins”:
Beginnings: The Era of Foragers (250,000-8,000 BCE)
Ceaselessly the river flows, and yet the water is never the same, while in the still pools
the shifting foam gathers and is gone, never stayingfor a moment. Even so is man and his
Kamo no Chomei, Japanese poet (1155-1216)
Comprehension Questions
1. What are some leading hypotheses (informed theories) about how our species
emerged? How are humans different?
2. What was the relationship among human foragers and the environment/nature, and
how was it different from our relationships to other humans today and to our
Linked definitions:
Creation myth
For further exploration:
Mark Twain’s 1903 essay, “Was the World Made for Man?” reprinted here:
UW’s Burke Museum archeology resources:
View resources from the Archeological Institute of America, including articles from
Archeology magazine:
On the World History for Us All site from San Diego State University, check out the
short video “A History of the World in Seven Minutes”:
Acceleration: The Agrarian Era (8,000 BCE—1750 CE)
Arjuna saw all the universe
in its many ways and parts,
standing as one in the body
of the god of gods.
From the Bhagavad-Gita
Comprehension Questions:
a) Why can the Agrarian Era be considered a time of acceleration (speeding up)?
2. What changes to human life were caused by settled agricultural development?
3. Where did cities first emerge, and what was earliest urban life like?
Linked Definitions:
Global climate change
Imperial state
Faith system
For Further Exploration:
World History Connected, a collection of articles and resources promoting global
citizenship and world history teaching:
The British Museum contains a treasure trove of objects from around the world and every
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a fascinating art history timeline with
overviews of specific eras and images from the Met’s vast collection:
Our World: The Modern Era (1750-present)
Dare to know!
Have the courage to use your own reason!
This is the motto of the Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant, German philosopher (1724-1804)
Comprehension Questions:
1. What are the major features and trends of the Modern Era?
a) What were the main causes of humanity’s revolution from agrarian societies to
2. Why is the 20th century considered a century of crisis?
Linked Definitions:
Democratic government
Commercial society
The Enlightenment
For Further Exploration:
Gapminder, a site founded by Hans Rosling, allows you to examine global changes in the
modern era through a variety of interactive statistical tools. See its “Health and Wealth of
Nations” in particular:
To hear the author David Christian explain what big history is, watch his TED talk:
Big thought question #2
The secret to “getting it” is often applying new information you receive to your own world. The
objective here is to have you think about the relevance to your own lives of studying history from
any era.
Applying your reading: After you have finished the book, find a current event that
relates to something interesting in This Fleeting World. It might be a new
archeological find or scientific breakthrough, or a prediction about population growth
in the future. Consider sources such as the New York Times, BBC,, or other reliable news sources.
In one paragraph, identify the page/section of the book that connects to the article and
describe how the two are connected in your thinking. Be sure to bring your article, or
link to it to class in the fall.