46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite everything, but enough
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...
Published on Nov 24 2005 by FrKurt Messick
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but too detailed
This booked turned out to be different from what I expected. It's more about who INVENTED what and not how things formed on their own. The author throws a bunch of scientist names at you so it's hard to keep track of who's responsible for what. I give him lots of credit for research but that's about it.
Published on April 24 2005
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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite everything, but enough,
This review is from: A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (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. Bryson with gentle humour discusses the attitudes of scientists, as they shifted not quite as slowly as the continents, towards accepting this theory, making gentle jabs along the way (Einstein even wrote a foreword to a book that was rather scathing toward the idea of plate tectonics - brilliance is no guarantee against being absolutely wrong).
Bryson traces the development of the universe and the world from the earliest universe to the formation of the planet, to the growing diversity of life forms to development of human beings and human society. Inspired by Natural History (the short history refers more to natural history than anything else), this traces the path to us and possible futures. Bryson juxtaposes the creation of the Principia by Isaac Newton with the extinction of the dodo bird - stating that the word contained divinity and felony in the nature of humanity, the same species that can rise to the heights of understanding in the universe can also, for no apparent reason, cause the extinction of hapless and harmless fellow creatures on earth. Are humans, in Bryson's words, 'inherently bad news for other living things'? He recounts many of the truly staggering follies of species-hunting, particularly in the nineteenth century, calling upon people to take far more care of the planet with which we have been entrusted, either through design or fate.
Bryson's take on things is innovative and his narrative is interesting, but there is a point to it, just as there is with most of his writing. He writes not merely to entertain, or to inform, but to persuade. Bryson is intrigued by science, having a joy that comes across the page of someone who essentially did not know or understand a lot of the background of science and how it worked in the world until recently, and now wants to share that joy with everyone! He definitely has points to argue - for starters, the need for open-mindedness, even among (perhaps particularly among) those who are supposed to have the open and searching intellects, the scientists themselves. He also wishes others to know more about science, professionals and laypersons, and more about our own origins as a people, both in terms of where we've come from, and how we've come to know about it.
This is a new version of his already-published text, this time with graphics, paintings, pictures, maps and other things that make the history come alive in new and interesting ways. This is a good revision, adding quite a bit to Bryson's already interesting text. Unique among Bryson's writing in many ways, this is in some ways a travelogue through geology, paleontology, cosmology and evolution. A fun and fascinating read!
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Primer on Science for the Layperson,
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.
Things get a bit bizarre both in the macrocosmos (such as the superstring theory that postulates a universe with at least eleven dimensions) and the microcosmos (such as quantum physics that describes the quirky behavior of quarks, the erratic behavior of subatomic particles).
According to Bryson, some of the things scientists say begins to sound worryingly like the sort of thoughts that would make you edge away if conveyed to you by a stranger on a park bench. Matters in physics have now reached such a pitch that it is almost impossible for nonscientists to discriminate between the legitimately weird and the outright crackpot.
Alexander von Humboldt observed: "There are three stages in a scientific discovery: first, people deny that it is true; then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person." Bryson rehabilitates many of these unsung thinkers by throwing the spotlight on overlooked and underappreciated scientists.
Bryson devotes an intriguing chapter to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, as explained in two seminal works, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) and The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871).
Trouble is, the mechanism of natural selection ("Darwin's singular idea") needed a "deeper" explanatory mechanism. Not to worry. Thanks to the pioneering work of Gregor Mendel on dominant and recessive "genes" (Mendel himself never used the word) and the decoding of the "double helix" of DNA by James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins, the mechanism of Darwin's natural selection has been found, an "engine" that powers the evolutionary process.
Interestingly, the DNA code reveals that human beings are 98.4 percent genetically indistinguishable from the modern chimpanzee. There is more difference between a zebra and a horse, or between a dolphin and a porpoise, than there is chimpanzees and humans.
Readers well-versed in science may grumble that there's nothing much new here. However, Bryson wrote this book not for professionals but for laypersons. A Short History of Nearly Everything is an excellent primer for "the person in the street" wanting a (largely) comprehensible overview of science.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bill Bryson at his best!,
This review is from: A Short History of Nearly Everything (Paperback)A short history of nearly everything. What else can really be said about this book? Well written and thoughtful, this book can be read by anyone and appreciated by anyone. I have always loved Bryson's dark yet sarcastic sense of humour, and this book has no shortage of it. Although the actual text of this book covers a wide variety of subjects and interesting facts that you have probablly never hear anywhere else, I would deem this a bathroom book, mainly because the subjects aren't all that grabbing. If it weren't for Bryson's unique style of writing that I have come to love over the years, I would have to say that I wouldn't have picked this book up of the shelves. They now have 'A Short history of nearly everything' with pictures and a price tag almost triple the cost of the regular book, but if you find it hard to read purely text without any pictures, I'd say go out and get it, because its always nice to have a little bit of extra knoweledge, (even if most of it is irrelevant) in your brain.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Science for non-Geeks,
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable,
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book . An E- edition read on Kindle .,
This review is from: A Short History of Nearly Everything (Kindle Edition)Who am I to question this history , from the Big Bang onward . Was more or less previously
aware of molecular theory but mostly less . Have not yet finished the book but working on it and
enjoying the read .
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book!,
This review is from: A Short History of Nearly Everything (Paperback)It's been years since I read this book, but I still find myself quoting things from it - this is one of the most memorable books I've ever read. It makes a great gift for just about anyone.
4.0 out of 5 stars Very informative,
This review is from: A Short History of Nearly Everything (Paperback)I really enjoyed this book and bought it for my son who also found it very informative as well as amusing. One of the better Bill Bryson books in my opinion.
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!,
This review is from: A Short History of Nearly Everything, Illustrated Edition (Paperback)Excellent book, very informative and funny. Great book to put down and pick up again and browse through. Have read this author before and enjoyed him very much.
5.0 out of 5 stars This can be read again and again,
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (Paperback - Sep 14 2004)
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