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A Short History of Nearly Everything Paperback – September 14, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1st edition (September 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076790818X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0275980528
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,584 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From primordial nothingness to this very moment, A Short History of Nearly Everything reports 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. Though A Short History clocks 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 of Life and Trilobite) 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 Morris vs. Gould--that he finds literary gold. --Therese Littleton --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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. For twenty years he lived in England, where he worked for the Times and the Independent, and wrote for most major British and American publications. His books include travel memoirs (Neither Here Nor There; The Lost Continent; Notes from a Small Island) and books on language (The Mother Tongue; Made in America). His account of his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, was a huge New York Times bestseller. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his wife and his four children.

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Customer Reviews

I've read this book three times and listened once.
O'Neill Williams
If you already know a lot of this but just like to read enjoyable writing--it's also a wonderful book.
David C. Hay
Bill Bryson is a Great Writer and this book was a very easy read to me.
Charles Watson Jr.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

666 of 682 people found the following review helpful By Eric P. Neff on May 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I picked this one up expecting "good". Instead, I got one of the most delightful reading experiences in science that I have ever had. What a wonderful surprise.
Bryson tries to do what most school textbooks never manage to do, explain the context of science in a way that is relevant to the average person. At the beginning of the book, he recalls an event from his childhood when he looked at a school text and saw a cross-section of our planet. He was transfixed by it, but noticed that the book just dryly presented the facts ("This is the core." "This part is molten rock." "This is the crust.", etc.), but never really explained HOW science came to know this particular set of facts. That, he quite correctly points out, is the most interesting part. And that is story he sets out to tell in this book.
Bryson obviously spent a great deal of time and effort developing and checking his facts and presentation. He obviously enjoyed every minute of it too, and it shows. Never have I read a book where the author conveyed such joyful awe of what we have learned as a species (with the possible exception of some of Richard Feynman's books).
My benchmark for this kind of book is usually; How well does it explain modern physics? There are few books out there that manage to explain relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory in a way that doesn't make your eyes glaze over. The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav is the best of the lot in my opinion. While this book did not change my opinion, Bryson's explanations of these mind-bending theories are not only lucid and sensible, they are also full of his telltale tongue-in-cheek side comments and therefore are just plain fun to read.
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203 of 210 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on November 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" is beautifully written, very entertaining and highly informative--and now, it is lavishly illustrated as well.

Bryson is not a scientist, but rather a curious and observant writer who, several years ago, realized that he couldn't tell a quark from a quasar, or a proton from a protein. Bryson set out to cure his ignorance of things scientific, and the result was "A Short History of Nearly Everything," which was originally published in 2003.

For readers who are new to science and its history, "A Short History of Nearly Everything" contains one remarkable revelation after another. It is amazing how enormous, tiny, complex and just plain weird the universe is. Learning about "everything" is a humbling experience, and I kept thinking of Stephen Crane's blank verse: "A man said to the Universe: 'Sir, I exist!' 'However,' replied the Universe, 'the fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.'"

Just as engaging as Bryson's story of what we know is the parallel story of how we know it--from the first clever experiments to figure out how much the earth weighs to today's ongoing efforts to describe the origins of the universe itself, it becomes obvious that science is not an answer but a process, a way of learning about a world that always seems to have one more trick up its sleeve.

Whatever else may be said about the universe, Bryson explains that learning about its mysteries is a very human endeavor.
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164 of 174 people found the following review helpful By David C. Hay on May 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am a big fan of Bill Bryson's travelogues. I was therefore surprised when I cam across this, somewhat more weighty, tome. But I am pleased that I picked it up.
The author says he didn't do very well in science when he was in school because the teachers and texts seemed to be hiding all the good stuff. Now, as an adult, he's gone after the good stuff. And he's the guy to write it so the rest of us can understand. Not only does he write clearly, but he's very good at explaining as much as a normal person can understand (of relativity, for example), while pointing to the stuff that's weird, and setting aside the stuff that you have to be a specialist to understand.
He also is very good at giving credit to people who thought of things but were ignored until someone else came along and took credit. This has happened all too frequently, and it's good for the record to be set straight.
If you too were afraid of science, this is a wonderful book. If you already know a lot of this but just like to read enjoyable writing--it's also a wonderful book.
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124 of 133 people found the following review helpful By Trip on October 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is the type of book that would inspire you to become a biologist or a geologist or an astronomer. From this book you are able to see bits and pieces of famous scientists lives and get a feeling by the end that its not all fun and games but at the same time it soooo very worth it to dedicate your life to the pursuit of furthering the knowledge of your fellow human beings and in some small way pushing our species in a positive direction. From reading this book you find out how all the knowledge from hundreds of years ago has become the basis of where we are today. This is conveyed extremely well to the audience. The other thing which is conveyed so very well is the power and destructive force of mother nature here on earth and in space. Parts of this book read better than seeing an end of the world movie because the author is so good at getting a vivid picture drawn in the reader's minds eye.
This book is so good and so comprehensive I can see myself reading this over again.
Thank you Bill Bryson for your hard, extensive research! Quite remarkable.
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