Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

“Tune your television to any channel it doesn’t receive and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.”
~Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

Plot summary

“In Bryson’s 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.

Reading a book at the beach. Photo: Simon Cocks (CC BY 2.0)
Reading a book at the beach. Photo: Simon Cocks (CC BY 2.0)

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.” More on Goodreads

On Bill Bryson

“Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to New Hampshire in America for a few years, but they have now returned to live in the UK.

Bill Bryson has also written several highly praised books on the English language, including Mother Tongue and Made in America. In his last book, he turned his attention to science. A Short History of Nearly Everything was lauded with critical acclaim, and became a huge bestseller. It was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, before going on to win the Aventis Prize for Science Books and the Descartes Science Communication Prize.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Science for the curious layperson
  • Physics can be fun!
  • Excellent journey to the history of the sciences
Review

“There are three stages in scientific discovery. First, people deny that it is true, then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.” ~Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything is the ultimate answer to pretty much anything that has happened in the realm of science and scientific discovery. Bryson, not a scientist but a layman himself, offers a simple solution to questions posed by millions of humans on a daily basis. The humor and witty details take the reader on an enlightening journey: learning and having fun at the same time is guaranteed. To counter various alternative facts, this book comes highly praised.

NASA Blue Marble 2007 West. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Reto Stöckli. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC BY 2.0)
NASA Blue Marble 2007 West. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Reto Stöckli (CC BY 2.0)

Bryson has done an immense research for his book, just as he did later for At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010) and earlier for Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (1994). He has a sense for the anecdotal importance and manages to keep normally rather boring fields of science, such as chemistry and physics, on an interesting and fascinating level.

Bryson also manifests a love of the exceptionally large and the infinitesimal, and even after warning us that ”we mustn’t swoon over every extraordinary number that comes before us,” he liberally sprinkles his text with quantities like ”a million million million million (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) miles across” (the size of the universe), and ”0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001, or one 10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second” (the time after the birth of the universe to which scientific knowledge extends).” (Regis 2003)

Science is definitively not boring, Bryson offers the reader an inexpensive journey to discoveries and scientific theories, the learning is immense for any curious mind. In The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson elaborates on what it was like to grow up as a kid in the 1950’s in Iowa. The story is engaging, warm and funny at the same time, and it describes the times known perhaps as the childhood of Indian summers less stereotypically. Have fun and enjoy!

It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” ~Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

Science. Photo: Jeffrey Beall (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Science. Photo: Jeffrey Beall (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In France, a chemist named Pilatre de Rozier tested the flammability of hydrogen by gulping a mouthful and blowing across an open flame, proving at a stroke that hydrogen is indeed explosively combustible and that eyebrows are not necessarily a permanent feature of one’s face.” ~Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything is very enlightening and improves one’s understanding of how the world works, how science has progressed and more. And most of all, the book is hilarious and the level of detail is astonishing, one does not get bored with all the scientific curiosities and knowledge. I seriously recommend the book to anyone interested in broadening their horizons. Next up for me with Bryson is One Summer: America, 1927 (2013). Looking very much forward to it.

On a different note, this was the last in the series of My Top 30 Books. Next up is random reviewing of all kinds of books as they come and go in my life. And let me know what you would like to read/find in this blog.

Best regards,
fictivestina

More information
Bill Bryson answers your questions, published in the Guardian on 10 March 2005, link retrieved on 15 January 2017
– Nick Curtis: Bill Bryson: Britain used to be a more orderly and well-behaved society, published in The Times on 25 June 2016, link retrieved on 18 February 2017
– Alison Flood: Bill Bryson hails ‘thrilling’ Royal Society science book prize shortlist, published in the Guardian on 4 August 2016, link retrieved on 15 January 2017
– Tim Radford: Travel writer Bryson wins science prize, published in the Guardian on 15 June 2004, link retrieved on 15 January 2017
– Ed Regis: Atoms the Size of Peas, published in The New York Times on 18 May 2003, link retrieved on 15 January 2017
– Elsa Vulliamy: Bill Bryson: ‘The British have become more greedy and selfish’ like the US, published in the Independent in June 2016, link retrieved on 18 February 2017
– John Waller: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know (but didn’t dare ask), published in the Guardian on 21 June 2003, link retrieved on 15 January 2017
Nicholas Wroe: Bill Bryson: ‘When I came here the UK was poorer but much better looked after’, published in the Guardian on 14 March 2015, link retrieved on 18 February 2017

Other novels and stories by Bryson
  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America (1989)
  • Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (1992)
  • Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (1994)
  • Notes from a Small Island (1995)
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1997)
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away (1998)
  • Bill Bryson’s African Diary (2002)
  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006)
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010)
  • One Summer: America, 1927 (2013)
  • The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain (2015)

“It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be , is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.”
~Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

Advertisements

Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s