A Short History of Nearly Everything Author:Bill Bryson Bill Bryson is one of the world’s most beloved and bestselling writers. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, he takes his ultimate journey–into the most intriguing and consequential questions that science seeks to answer. It’s a dazzling quest, the intellectual odyssey of a lifetime, as this insatiably curious writ... more »er attempts to understand everything that has transpired from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. Or, as the author puts it, “…how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since.” This is, in short, a tall order.
To that end, Bill Bryson apprenticed himself to a host of the world’s most profound scientific minds, living and dead. His challenge is to take subjects like geology, chemisty, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics and see if there isn’t some way to render them comprehensible to people, like himself, made bored (or scared) stiff of science by school. His interest is not simply to discover what we know but to find out how we know it. How do we know what is in the center of the earth, thousands of miles beneath the surface? How can we know the extent and the composition of the universe, or what a black hole is? How can we know where the continents were 600 million years ago? How did anyone ever figure these things out?
On his travels through space and time, Bill Bryson encounters a splendid gallery of the most fascinating, eccentric, competitive, and foolish personalities ever to ask a hard question. In their company, he undertakes a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only this superb writer can render it. Science has never been more involving, and the world we inhabit has never been fuller of wonder and delight.« less
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Fascinating!! This book was great. For someone like me who hasn't really studied any science since high school (many years ago), Bryson provides a great history of the earth and science through the ages that is written so anyone can understand it. It's amazing to me how many scientific principles have changed and theories introduced since I took high school physics in the 60s. There are so many interesting and fascinating facts in the book. It really makes me want to learn more about some of the specific areas. The quibbling among scientists such as the early discoverers of dinosaurs was great. The parts about dangers from space and the Earth itself were frightening: the possible future collision with a comet or asteroid, the inevitable huge earthquakes and volcanic activity, the possible ice ages, etc. And the insights into some of the great scientists personalities and eccentricities were marvelous. The part about the retiring scientist Henry Cavendish and his shyness was priceless. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to get a broad perspective on the sciences. I wish my grade school teachers could have made science this interesting.
This book is quite different from Bryson's usual fare. Here Bryson steps out of his usual travel and language focus to write about science. The product is an interesting combination of the social history of science, biographies of famous scientists, and discussion of significant scientific discoveries in very accessible language. What science does Bryson cover, you might ask? This is where "everything" comes in to the picture. Bryson has chosen a wide range of scientific discoveries, from working out the theory of evolution to discovering the size and shape of the earth. Mostly, Bryson focuses on the largest and smallest things in the universe. He looks at galaxies and volcanoes, but also DNA and atoms. Truly, this book is expansive. For the lay reader, it becomes clear that there's a tremendous amount of knowledge tied up in this book, and it's amazing just how much Bryson had to learn to write it. For the non-scientist, this book manages to create a sense of awe, wonder, and fear, all at the same time. Bryson does an excellent job of highlighting just how surprising and contingent the fact of our existence is, and how complicated it was to get here. He creates amazement as the reader is forced to consider almost unfathomable dimensions, both gargantuan and tiny. Contingency is clearly the most significant theme that emerges from the work. Bryson also paints an interesting portrait of the practice of science, scientific culture, and a sense of just how difficult and tenuous some conclusions are. While it's amazing just how much scientists have discovered, it's even more daunting to consider how much remains inconclusive. Overall, this is an extremely accessible discussion of some difficult topics, infused with Bryson's humor and style. It's a long read, but well worth the effort.
Wonderful book, written in "layman's terms", which means there's more biographies of 19th century scientists than I like, but he does manage to put in a lot of science, and also give a lot of the sense of uncertainty in the scientific evidence. Lots of good etymological (word origin) information (for instance, I now know where the phrase "cloud nine" came from [hint, there's probably a "cloud eight" and a "cloud ten"]). There's a lot of "if the earth was the size of a grain of sand, then theres...." and "if the time that humans were on earth was 1 second, then the trilobites...."
This had to be the best book I've ever read on how the earth and solar system were created (or became). It has a lot of "big words", but the author kept me interested. I couldn't put it down. I wanted to read more and more about how our earth evolved and how man, as we know him, came to be. He talks about huge numbers and trillions of years, but he doesn't get you lost in the fine details, though there are lots to digest.
Very scientific and well-researched in some places, but very heavily evolution-based, which always opens a ton of questions since the dates are such a wild guessing game. Probably my least favorite of Bryson's books. He rarely disappoints.
Angela H. reviewed A Short History of Nearly Everything on
I'm not done with it but the first 50 pages have been great. It's like no other bill bryson book in terms of content. He is explaining real science stuff. It's very interesting but at times dense, not bc of his writing but bc the information can be complex. While the content isn't typical Bill, the style and humor are fully present. I am really enjoying this.
I do not, on a regular basis, read science books. Since college, the only science book I can claim to have read was Simon Winchesters A Crack on the Edge of the World, which was one parts history to two parts plate tectonics and I skimmed and skipped over the more technical details. However, since I am very fond of Bill Brysons writing style, I decided to give his A Short History of Nearly Everything a try and I loved it. This is not a dry textbook; it is a narrative. It is just as much a history book as it is a science book, which increase its accessibility.
He begins at the beginning of the universe, and follows the story through to the formation of the earth, the continents and down to the emergence of life. Or rather, it narrates the stories of how scientists think all of this happened, and how they came to a consensus on the theories.
Not only do we get a history of the science of the earth, but we get a history of science itself. Through it all he sprinkles many-an entertaining anecdote about those crazy, oddball scientists who came up with it all. Eccentric, arrogant, endearing intellectuals, they squabbled bitterly over competing ideas and theories, pursued the wrong paths, stole credit from one another, often dying in bizarre ways. The mad scientist and absent-minded professor are cliches that came about for a reason. The reader gets to meet all of their prototypes here. The scientists noble quest for knowledge is given a messy, endearing, human face.
This book is warm, readable, funny, and very interesting. I thoroughly recommend it.
I read this 5 years ago, read it again this month, and didn't know that I had already read it until I went to post it on PBS! Anyway, he does manage to cover nearly everything in theoretical science (I'm sure there are parts he left out), and if you aren't a self-styled expert on those areas, it it quite informative.
I think this will be the book that I will go back to again and again. There were so many interesting facts to learn, and I enjoyed reading about how various scientists discovered new information that often surprised them. I liked reading about William Herschel's discovery of the planet Uranus in 1781 and how he wanted to name it after King George III (Georgium Sidus). I also liked learning about prehistoric guinea pigs the size of cows.
the book is of interest to nearly anyone who has even the smallest thoughts about the world, science, and nature. it touches upon all of the great discoveries about our world, and does so in a natural and clear language. almost anyone can pick this up, and come away with a deeper understanding of the world. epic, and brilliant.