An aerospace engineer makes a reasonable argument that progress owes less to war, politics, or religion than love of exploration.
A mission manager at SpaceX, Rader is no scholar, but he has read the scholars as well as the popular books, so he has done his homework. As a result, his history of the human species, which makes up most of his book, has an air of authority as well as a lively pace. While no historical expert claims that East Africa circa several million years ago was overpopulated, almost everyone agrees that our ancestors wandered. Even before Homo sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago, hominids spread across Asia and Europe. Our species followed in several waves, arriving at America and Australia and, within the past 1,000 years, the Pacific islands. Rader emphasizes that these were not accidents. It’s likely that reaching America and certain that reaching Australia required a sea voyage, and finding isolated Pacific islands required almost superhuman navigation skills. Furthermore, these travelers brought along families, domestic animals, and plants as well as their culture and technology. The author marches quickly through the history of civilization, leaving no doubt in the reader’s mind that nations driven to explore—a word which he takes to include trading, conquering, or simply traveling—prospered. No good resulted if they gave it up (see 16th-century Japan or medieval Europe). With polar regions explored in the early 20th century, Rader drops geography to devote the final 100 pages to the history of flight and space travel and the possibilities of reaching the planets and stars. Inevitably, he ends with a great deal of speculation, but it is good scientific speculation that will leave readers yearning to see how it turns out. “If the history of exploration has taught us anything,” he writes, “it’s that amazing things happen when humans force themselves to try something no one has done before.”
An astute—and highly flattering—view of human aspirations.