A Short History of Nearly Everything Hardcover – 2003
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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
“Stylish [and] stunningly accurate prose. We learn what the material world is like from the smallest quark to the largest galaxy and at all the levels in between . . . brims with strange and amazing facts . . . destined to become a modern classic of science writing.”
—The New York Times
“Bryson has made a career writing hilarious travelogues, and in many ways his latest is more of the same, except that this time Bryson hikes through the world of science.”
“Bryson is surprisingly precise, brilliantly eccentric and nicely eloquent . . . a gifted storyteller has dared to retell the world’s biggest story.”
“Hefty, highly researched and eminently readable.”
—Simon Winchester, The Globe and Mail
“All non-scientists (and probably many specialized scientists, too) can learn a great deal from his lucid and amiable explanations.”
"Bryson is a terrific stylist. You can’ t help but enjoy his writing, for its cheer and buoyancy, and for the frequent demonstration of his peculiar, engaging turn of mind.”
“Wonderfully readable. It is, in the best sense, learned.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“[A Short History of Nearly Everything] is a crash course in the basics of climatology, chemistry, biology, botany, geology and physics. Bryson’s enthusiasm is infectious, his explanations simple. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get them.”
—The Citizen’s Weekly
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Admittedly, I'm a fan of Bryson so bought this for my 18-years grandson who just graduated from high school. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Charmoose
Nice to find this older book to add to my shelves. It's a browser.Published 4 months ago by Murrie Redman
Amazing book.great book. Fantastic book.
Great overview of most of cirrent science. Very readable.
So much information I wish I could remember it all and look smart with all sorts of quotes from the book. Highly recommended.Published 7 months ago by Jean