In a forlorn stretch of desert, a tirelessly inquisitive Frenchman confidently builds his History of Humanity

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FELICITY, CALIF. -- A stiff wind blows grit across Jacques-Andre Istel's latest and greatest undertaking, a History of Humanity etched on hundreds of granite panels a few turns of a tumbleweed from the Arizona border. ...

"You've got to admit, that's interesting," Istel says.

He doesn't mean himself. Istel is talking about his History of Humanity, eight horizontal monuments spread out like spokes of a wheel between the church and the pyramid. When completed, it will serve as a Cliffs Notes of life on Earth: 416 kitchen-counter-size granite panels etched with words, timelines and drawings.

"How do you treat our galaxy?" Istel asks, pointing to a panel describing the Milky Way. He doesn't wait for an answer. "This one's interesting. . . ." And he is off to the next panel, another subject meticulously researched and condensed.

The Greek philosophers. Early music. Buddhism. The Han Dynasty. Early timekeeping. Ireland's golden age of scholarship. The evolution of math. Our sun. The night.

"Isn't that amazing?"

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