Christopher Lloyd is a bestselling journalist who, in the Fall of 2018, released his new book titled “Absolutely Everything!: A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention.” The fun and factual book offers readers a comprehensive look at the history of Earth, from the Big Bang to the ways in which we can shape the future. Although it’s intended for readers between the ages of 10 to 14, anyone who enjoys reading fact books will enjoy it.
Each chapter of this educational and entertaining narrative focuses on a different period and travels the globe from a legendary Chinese Empress said to have invented silk, to researchers figuring out how ancient Egyptian embalmers really got the brains out of dead people, to an African emperor on a gold-laden pilgrimage. Then there’s mention of T.Rex, King Tut, Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, wars, climate change, conquistadors, revolutions, religions, computers, artificial intelligence, and more! Hundreds of illustrations, photographs, maps, and quotes bring the distant past to vivid life. The perfect Christmas gift, “Absolutely Everything” will inspire a thirst for knowledge in even the most reluctant young historians, making connections and giving larger context to the isolated topics taught in school.
Christopher Lloyd graduated with a double-first class degree in history from Cambridge University. He was Science Correspondent with The Sunday Times newspaper in London and is now a bestselling author of more than fifteen books. A TEDx speaker, he is in great demand throughout the world at conferences, educational seminars, museums, festivals, and schools. Christopher recently took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his books, his career, and “Absolutely Everything!”
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in writing and what led to the creation of “Absolutely Everything”?
Christopher Lloyd (CL): Well, I explain in the Foreword how when we were home educating our kid’s we went on a giant campervan tour around Europe. I realized whilst I was doing the washing up at a campsite one evening near Rome how little I actually knew about the environment around me – the name of the tree beside me, the type of bird in the tree – even the age of the Earth. I suddenly felt embarrassed and ashamed (having studied history at college and been a science reporter on the London Times). So, I figured I needed a book to connect knowledge together so I had a framework. There was no book like this in any bookshop I could find, so I decided I’d write that book. That’s really when the concept for Absolutely Everything! was born.
MM: How did you select the topics and how long did it take to complete overall?
CL: Well, since that moment in the campsite I have actually written several world history books, but Absolutely Everything! is the one I have wanted to write most. A book that is easily accessible for kids and adults alike. Something they can read together, talk about and that would act as a kind of lightning rod for natural curiosity. This book took over a year – but it would have taken longer had I not already written two previous world history books. Once of them for adults (called What on Earth Happened?) and another a timeline book to tell the story in a giant infographic – called The Big History Timeline Wallbook. Selecting the topics was key. I wanted to cover everything, of course, and I realized I had to limit the number of words so it was not too daunting for kids. Also, the font must be big enough to make it easy to read and every page must be a visual delight. So those parameters meant the story was 60,000 words divided into 15 chapters. Then there needs to be a balance between Natural History, The Stone Ages, Ancient History and Modern Times. I am hoping all the key stories people would expect to find are there plus a whole lot more they didn’t know about. That’s was my plan, at least!
MM: Be honest, do you have a favorite section? If so, which one and why?
CL: I really like the transition between the Stone Ages and the first civilizations and this happens at the start of chapter 6. The key is writing, which I describe as mind-reading technology. It’s really what allows humans to collaborate with each other at a distance, in ways no other animals can. The whole story pivots around this amazing capability – and we take it totally for granted. Describing it as mind-reading technology is, I think, a fun way of making the ordinary extraordinary once more. Just as all non-fiction is – the real world, after all, is far more amazing than anything you can make up!
MM: What do you think kids will like best about the book?
CL: I hope above all else they will love it as a story. So many nonfiction books are reference works that uses bite-size chunks of information that destroy narrative and obliterate context. Narrative is like the cross-stitch that binds knowledge together and gives it purpose. By having a flowing story, I hope this book will help kids and adults take a step back and see the story of the Universe as a beautiful stained-glass window rather than a random pane of shattered glass!
MM: You have won awards for your work, so what have those experiences been like?
CL: Well, that’s ALWAYS a thrill. To have acknowledgments from a judging panel (be they adults or children) give me a huge sense of pride. The feeling of having an impact is tremendous. It gives me purpose, motivation and a deep feeling of gratitude.
MM: Can you tell us a bit about your TEDx speeches and the topics you cover?
CL: I think one of the best parts of being an author is having the chance to gives talks about the books you write. In fact, I think of myself more of a storyteller than an author these days because I do so many talks! My favorite technique it to take the audience on giant journey’s through time using a timeline, and a series of everyday objects. I use objects because when you put something ordinary (like a bottle of water, or an empty glass jar) into the content of Big History you make it extraordinary (most of the water on Earth may have arrived on a giant bombardment of comets from outer space 4 billion years ago and the empty jar contains something so special that without it we would all die in 3 minutes – oxygen!). I then place these objects in a storytelling coat of many pockets. This creates an atmosphere of curiosity and intrigue at its best – since the audience are always keen to see what’s inside the pockets. I ask for volunteers and we have a genuinely interactive experience, using physical reality not digital fiction. It’s super powerful and very exciting to orchestrate. So, I use this technique for a wide range of topics from Absolutely Everything! to the history of sport and 10,000 years of science and inventions to the complete plays of Shakespeare.
MM: What experiences with fans have been most memorable to you and why?
CL: I am very fortunate to be invited to go abroad to give my talks and launch my books. Over the last few years I have been to Japan 4 times and China 6 times! I find that the appetite and enthusiasm for my approach to storytelling amongst Asian people is hugely gratifying. Parents and children seem to have an enormous appetite for learning together in many Asian countries and that’s just the environment I love. I recently gave a talk in Wuhan in Central China and I had to sign 2,000 books in a day! I had a team of helpers and a fresh cup of tea after every 100 books. So, as you can imagine, I was up most of the night for a variety of reasons!
MM: Are you currently working on any other books or planning to start working on anything soon?
CL: My biggest life mentor was my great uncle and namesake – he was a famous gardener and always wrote a book every year in the winter, when there was less to do outside. Ever since he died, in 2006, I pledged to try to carry on his tradition of writing a book a year – so of course, I have more in the pipeline. In fact, I am currently working on two new books. One, called Humanimal, is for 7-11year olds, and shows the inextricable interconnections of the human and animal worlds in ways you never before imagined… Inside you will discover how slime moulds can solve a maze; how rats tickle and laugh out loud; how elephants have funerals for their lost loved ones; how bees vote in elections; how crows use cars to crack nuts and a whole lot more! The idea is that humans and animals don’t just LIVE on the same planet, they also share many of the same patterns of behavior, making us all fellow players in the drama that is life on Earth.
The other book is a sequel to Absolutely Everything! called Absolutely Everyone! This time we’ll go on a journey through all human history learning about all the movers and shakers who have shaped the history of the world, many of which will be familiar but many of which will not. My plan is to reveal all kinds of people you have never heard of that have really made a difference. History is generally written by the winners, it’s time to redress that balance!
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future?
CL: Well – I want to carry on my mission of trying to connect knowledge together, to convince people that the real world is more amazing than anything you can make up. This is really about a state of mind. When you see the world this way, every day I as journey of discovery – every moment an opportunity for a new story to unfold. The human brain LOVES new things – so much so that it rewards itself with a shot of joy every time it makes a surprising connection or discovers something new. If I can play a small part in helping that happen for some people, then hurrah!
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
CL: Only that I always love to hear from anyone who has read my books or who has any questions. So please, if there is a chance of including my email at the end of this piece then I’d be thrilled to hear from anyone who has read this far. I’m at [email protected]
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