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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » A Short History of Nearly Everything » User review

Wish this had been required reading when I was in school.

  • Jun 17, 2010
Rating:
+4

Bill Bryon is most well-known for his exceedingly funny travelogues, but A Short History of Nearly Everything is his first foray into science writing. In the intro, he describes growing up suspecting that science was actually incredibly fascinating, only to have this belief crushed when the authors of his science textbooks “remained mute on everything except anticlines, synclines, and axial faults, believed everything became crystal clear when expressed as a formula, and maintained the amusingly deluded belief that American schoolchildren appreciated having chapters end with a section of questions they could mull over in their own time.”

He maintained this belief for years, until one day he had a revelation, that he barely knew anything about the only planet he was ever going to live on. He devoted the next three years of his life to finding out the answers, and the book is a synopsis of everything he learned. In it, he essentially condenses the entire base of human scientific knowledge. Using his trademark wit and very language that pretty much anyone, even a science dunce like me, can easily understand, he condenses the basics of cosmology, astronomy, ecology, geology, paleontology, zoology, anthropology, chemistry, and physics—the text as a whole is an attempt to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to being us, and what we are now. It is less a science book than it is a history lesson in scientific discovery and development. Mixed in among the technicalities of how our planet works and came into existence as we know it are fascinating backgrounds of each field and mini-biographies of all the colorful and often highly eccentric scientists and explorers who did all the legwork—some are household names, but the majority are not. Some of the quirky people and stories you’ll learn about are

  • a geologist who preferred to do his fieldwork in a flowing academic gown and was determined to serve for dinner pretty much every animal in creation at least once.
  • a scientist cursed with such crippling shyness that even his housekeeper had to communicate with him by letter.
  • how the nation’s leading anatomist at the time failed to recognize the first discovered dinosaur bone for what it was, then gave it to a museum, who then lost it.
  • how Isaac Newton invented calculus, did work in optics that lay the foundation for the science of spectroscopy, and calculated that that celestial objects moved in an ellipse—a yet mysteriously chose not to share his results for three decades (on the last one, he actually forgot where he put the calculation, which at the time was so crucial that it’s like the modern-day equivalent of someone scribbling the cure for cancer on the back of their grocery list and then forgetting where they’d put it).


For anyone who took all their required science classes in high school and college, some or all of the material in the book will likely be already familiar to you, as it was to me, but Bryson still aims to deliver his readers several “whoa!” moments throughout the book at how incredibly complex and inscrutable the universe is, and amazement that we can comprehend even the fractional amount of it that’s outlined in the book.

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June 22, 2010
Great review! I'm adding this one to my TBR list on Goodreads! Keep up the great writing. I love finding these types of recommendations.
 
June 22, 2010
Good job on the review. I thoroughly enjoyed this one as well.
 
June 17, 2010
Looks interesting and worth a read. Thanks for your review!
 
1
More A Short History of Nearly Ever... reviews
review by . July 16, 2008
Frustrating book full of interesting insights into the edges of scientific inquiry where every mystery screams "omniscient design"; the book never mentions God.
review by . August 19, 2011
As someone who has spent almost all of my adult life studying and teaching science, I always appreciate getting across and reading a good book that can present even the most complex scientific ideas in an accessible and informative way. Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" sets to give a brief and fairly comprehensive account of most major scientific disciplines. As the title suggests, this account is primarily historical, both in terms of the dates of important discoveries, as well …
review by . August 19, 2011
As someone who has spent almost all of my adult life studying and teaching science, I always appreciate getting across and reading a good book that can present even the most complex scientific ideas in an accessible and informative way. Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" sets to give a brief and fairly comprehensive account of most major scientific disciplines. As the title suggests, this account is primarily historical, both in terms of the dates of important discoveries, as well …
review by . August 19, 2011
As someone who has spent almost all of my adult life studying and teaching science, I always appreciate getting across and reading a good book that can present even the most complex scientific ideas in an accessible and informative way. Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" sets to give a brief and fairly comprehensive account of most major scientific disciplines. As the title suggests, this account is primarily historical, both in terms of the dates of important discoveries, as well …
review by . August 19, 2011
As someone who has spent almost all of my adult life studying and teaching science, I always appreciate getting across and reading a good book that can present even the most complex scientific ideas in an accessible and informative way. Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" sets to give a brief and fairly comprehensive account of most major scientific disciplines. As the title suggests, this account is primarily historical, both in terms of the dates of important discoveries, as well …
review by . August 19, 2011
As someone who has spent almost all of my adult life studying and teaching science, I always appreciate getting across and reading a good book that can present even the most complex scientific ideas in an accessible and informative way. Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" sets to give a brief and fairly comprehensive account of most major scientific disciplines. As the title suggests, this account is primarily historical, both in terms of the dates of important discoveries, as well …
review by . August 19, 2011
As someone who has spent almost all of my adult life studying and teaching science, I always appreciate getting across and reading a good book that can present even the most complex scientific ideas in an accessible and informative way. Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" sets to give a brief and fairly comprehensive account of most major scientific disciplines. As the title suggests, this account is primarily historical, both in terms of the dates of important discoveries, as well …
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
This book attempts to explain (nearly) everything scientific in the world to the average reader and he certainly does a great job. He humorously discusses all kinds of things that happen in our world so that is easily understandable, but not superficial either.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
lots of information but worth the time
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
Fun read. I listened to this one on my iPod while training for a marathon, and it kept me entertained during long runs.
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Jenny Anderson ()
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Member Since: Jun 17, 2010
Last Login: Aug 3, 2010 01:31 AM UTC
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From primordial nothingness to this very moment,A Short History of Nearly Everythingreports what happened and how humans figured it out. To accomplish this daunting literary task, Bill Bryson uses hundreds of sources, from popular science books to interviews with luminaries in various fields. His aim is to help people like him, who rejected stale school textbooks and dry explanations, to appreciate how we have used science to understand the smallest particles and the unimaginably vast expanses of space. With his distinctive prose style and wit, Bryson succeeds admirably. ThoughA Short Historyclocks in at a daunting 500-plus pages and covers the same material as every science book before it, it reads something like a particularly detailed novel (albeit without a plot). Each longish chapter is devoted to a topic like the age of our planet or how cells work, and these chapters are grouped into larger sections such as "The Size of the Earth" and "Life Itself." Bryson chats with experts like Richard Fortey (author ofLifeandTrilobite) and these interviews are charming. But it's when Bryson dives into some of science's best and most embarrassing fights--Cope vs. Marsh,Conway Morrisvs.Gould--that he finds literary gold.--Therese Littleton--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.
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ISBN-10: 076790818X
ISBN-13: 978-0275980528
Genre: Professional & Technical, Science
Publisher: Broadway

First to Review

"Science for dummies"
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