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A Short History of Nearly Everything [Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 14 2004
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.


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From Amazon

There must be a special place in author's heaven for writers like Bill Bryson (In a Sunburned Country, Neither Here Nor There), those bold enough to tackle the seemingly insurmountable and, improbably, succeed. With the aptly named A Short History of Nearly Everything Bryson has, quite simply, documented the advent of the universe in just under 500 pages, charting the evolution of man, planet Earth, its oceans and mountains, and all the atoms holding them together. And he explores the cosmos beyond. He asks how each was created and then sets out, quasi-scientifically, to explain it. And he doesn't just regurgitate scores of books, although that's part of it. Bryson introduces pioneering researchers into the fray, giving face to some pretty impressive (in some cases outrageous) theories of why things are the way they are. It's an astonishing synthesis of information, and if contemporary paleontologists, geologists, astronomers, physicists, chemists, and various other people of science dismiss History as strictly layman, then Bryson has truly succeeded in his task. He tells us why there are diamonds in South Africa but not Iowa, why old panes of glass are thicker at the bottom than on top, and why the Earth's oceans are more mysterious to us than the Moon. Best, Bryson tells us things that should be dry as dust in language as sparkly as sunshine on chrome, often through inventive personification. Take his description of carbon: "It is shamelessly promiscuous. It is the party animal of the atomic world, latching on to many other atoms (including itself) and holding tight, forming molecular conga lines of hearty robustness." Or this: "White cells are merciless and will hunt down and kill every last pathogen they can find." At times the sheer breadth of data conveyed is overwhelming, but Bryson consistently inspires awe--in himself and his subject matter--while teaching us really neat stuff along the way. --Kim Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As the title suggests, bestselling author Bryson (In a Sunburned Country) sets out to put his irrepressible stamp on all things under the sun. As he states at the outset, this is a book about life, the universe and everything, from the Big Bang to the ascendancy of Homo sapiens. "This is a book about how it happened," the author writes. "In particular 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." What follows is a brick of a volume summarizing moments both great and curious in the history of science, covering already well-trod territory in the fields of cosmology, astronomy, paleontology, geology, chemistry, physics and so on. Bryson relies on some of the best material in the history of science to have come out in recent years. This is great for Bryson fans, who can encounter this material in its barest essence with the bonus of having it served up in Bryson's distinctive voice. But readers in the field will already have studied this information more in-depth in the originals and may find themselves questioning the point of a breakneck tour of the sciences that contributes nothing novel. Nevertheless, to read Bryson is to travel with a memoirist gifted with wry observation and keen insight that shed new light on things we mistake for commonplace. To accompany the author as he travels with the likes of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton is a trip worth taking for most readers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite everything, but enough Nov. 24 2005
By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I was first acquainted with Bill Bryson through his works on the English language and various travelogue types of books. In these books he proved to be an entertaining writer, witty and interesting, with just the right amount of I'm-not-taking-myself-too-seriously attitude to make for genuinely pleasurable reading. Other books of his, 'Notes from a Small Island' and 'The Mother Tongue', are ones I return to again and again. His latest book, one of the longer ones (I was surprised, as most Bryson books rarely exceed 300 pages, and this one weighs in well past 500), is one likely to join those ranks.
Of course, a history of everything, even a SHORT history of NEARLY everything, has got to be fairly long. Bryson begins, logically enough, at the beginning, or at least the beginning as best science can determine. Bryson weaves the story of science together with a gentle description of the science involved - he looks not only at the earliest constructs of the universe (such as the background radiation) but also at those who discover the constructs (such as Penzias and Wilson).
A great example of the way Bryson weaves the history of science into the description of science, in a sense showing the way the world changes as our perceptions of how it exists change, is his description of the formulation, rejection, and final acceptance of the Pangaea theory. He looks at figures such as Wegener (the German meteorologist - 'weatherman', as Bryson describes him) who pushed forward the theory in the face of daunting scientific rejection that the continents did indeed move, and that similarities in flora and fauna, as well as rock formations and other geological and geographical aspects, can be traced back to a unified continent.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Science for non-Geeks June 17 2003
Format:Hardcover
A great book for putting "science" in entertaining and relatively easy to understand terms. I was constantly finding myself truly excited by what was being written. This book puts the amazing grandness of the universe into perspective, showing what a miracle it really is that we exist at all, no less that we exist as the highest known form of life. It covers physics, chemistry, biology, geology, paleantology, etc. in a way that ties together and keeps the rader very interested. This is not your college text book. Bryson makes (re)learning fun.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable Nov. 9 2003
By "soz11"
Format:Hardcover
Who would have thought that a book on physics and chemistry (among much else) which was such drudgery at school would be so unputdownable!! Went into it thinking it would be an interesting read but ended up having my life revolve around it for two days...even taking it to the beach. Not just fascinating but quite inspiring to think how lucky we are as humans to be here at all. And really admired the level of research and objective presentation of competing theories, as well as the insight into the interesting (to put it mildly) characters in science. Even if you're not science minded you'd be hard pressed not to enjoy it. Thanks Bill Bryson for a smashing book!
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Primer on Science for the Layperson June 14 2003
Format:Hardcover
Popularizers of science abound: Isaac Asimov, Marcus Chown, Richard Dawkins, Paul Davies, Timothy Ferris, Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, and Steven Weinberg, to name a few. Add another name to the list: Bill Bryson.
In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson, who lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, has written a lucid work on, well, just about everything: physics, biology, chemistry, zoology, paleontology, astronomy, cosmology, geology, genetics, meteorology, oceanography, and taxonomy.
From "the Big Bang" (the beginning of the universe) to "the Big Birth" (the appearance of life on Earth), Bryson translates the arcane, esoteric mysteries of science into comprehensible language, and does so with wit, wisdom, sharp-eyed observations, and hilarious comments. He shows that science need not be boring; it can be fun.
In the Introduction, Bryson confesses that not long ago he didn't know what a proton was, didn't know a quark from a quasar. Appalled by his ignorance of his own planet, Bryson determined to take a crash course in science, and for three years he devoted himself intensively to reading books and journals dealing with science, and pestering scientific authorities with his "dumb questions." This book is the result of his project.
By reading Bryson we learn that a physicist is the atoms' way of thinking about atoms and that a human being is a gene's way of making other genes. Whether writing of nematode worms or Cameron Diaz, Bryson uses analogies and anecdotes that help make science accessible, and less intimidating, to laypersons.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)said, "The closer one gets to a subject, the more problematic it becomes." The truth of this aphorism also applies to the baffling questions of science.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and quite enjoyable June 22 2003
Format:Hardcover
This book is more in line with Bryson's "The Mother Tongue" about the English language. So if you are expecting humor, you may want to choose some of his other titles.
If you want to learn a ton of stuff, read this. Over the years, I have read a lot of Sagan, Gould, Lederman, etc. and Bryson does a great job of bringing their best ideas together plus many more. I enjoyed his book greatly. I find it especially interesting how he weaves the story about we humans muddling through just about everything all the while the universe is unwittingly trying to snuff us out. It puts things in perspective.
Overall, I'm very impressed at Bryson's accomplishment with this work and recommend it without reservation.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Must have on any bookshelf
Yay for people who research everything so we don't have to, right? Bryson did a great job of telling the story of science, to sum it up, and although I found a few inaccuracies (it... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Heather Caldwell
4.0 out of 5 stars A short history of nearly everything
Very good to get an appreciation of evolution of mankind. Strange that he wonders why Farenheit put its scale at 32 and 212 for water. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Rbtjean
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Interesting read.
Published 25 days ago by Cohomeister
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It's a mighty handful of information and somehow Mr Bryson keeps our interest and attention. Well worth the cost.
Published 1 month ago by Kathleen Small
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic read 10/10
Published 1 month ago by ilya
5.0 out of 5 stars Wolf Willow
Wolf Willow... an amazing book about the 1890's Saskatchewan prairie itself with fascinating stories about the bison and the people who lived there. Read more
Published 1 month ago by mitzimouse
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Absolutely fascinating, and very well written.
Published 1 month ago by John
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost everything.
Almost everything but provocative and informative and I couldn't put it down.
Published 2 months ago by Leo Hebert
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic fun read!
Wow. A true pleasure to read. Nothing was written over my head. I understood it clearly and also enjoyed the entertaining way in which it was written. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Danielle Turner
3.0 out of 5 stars Is the sky falling?
I found the surmises too muchof a fairy tale-best guesses. Actual historical facts interesting but best guesses do not necessarily mean that changes cannot occur.
Published 5 months ago by Ruth Turnbull
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