Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything
Author: Bill Bryson
Publication: Broadway; First Edition edition (September 14, 2004)

Description: One of the world's most beloved and bestselling writers takes his ultimate journey -- into the most intriguing and intractable questions that science seeks to answer.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trail -- well, most of it. In In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand -- and, if possible, answer -- the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world's most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

My Thoughts: This was a fascinating look at the the development of science. It is amazing to me how little we know about the world we live on and how much is yet to be discovered. I found the personal details about some of the scientists my students study to be very interesting. It seems to me that every page of this book has something that is startling or amazing or frightening. And every page had something that was quotable.

I learned so many new things while reading this book. I do recommend reading it, as I did, one chapter at a time. There is so much discussed from the age of the universe to the tiniest microorganisms that I needed time to stop and process the information before moving on. And some of it, though explained quite clearly, is still baffling and awe-inspiring.

The prose style was clear and engaging. The descriptions were something any non-scientist could at least begin to understand. Some of the ideas are so amazing that I can't begin to imagine how they were developed in the first place. I found it interesting that so often someone would have an idea that was correct but nothing would be done with the idea until some time later. An idea needed to come at the correct time and in the correct place.

I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about our world and universe. I can see that this would be a very useful book to writers of science fiction. In fact, when I read about mitochondria, I thought of the works of Madeleine L'Engle. 

Favorite Quote:
It is fairly amazing to reflect that at the beginning of the twentieth century, and for some years beyond. the best scientific minds in the world couldn't actually tell you where babies came from.

And these, you may recall, were men who thought science was nearly at an end.
Challenges: RYOB Reading Challenge


  1. Thanks for sharing this. At first i thought that it would have been a bit of a rehash from some National Geographic documentary but it sounds really interesting. I'll look out for a copy of this one.

  2. I think my favourite part of this book was when he was discussing the super volcanoes, scary stuff!


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