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2.0 out of 5 stars Everything you already knew, April 13, 2012
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This review is from: Everything You Need to Know About Everything: Your world, and everything around it, in a nutshell (Paperback)
The first question that many readers will ask is: Does this book live up to its title? The answer is: Of course not. It can't possibly. What's disappointing is that it doesn't really try. In its effort to convey knowledge in bite-size illustrated morsels, it unapologetically skips over mountains of information. For instance, it makes no effort to explain theories about what (if anything) existed before the Big Bang, on the ground that there isn't enough space in the book to describe them effectively. True, but there isn't enough space in the book to answer most of the questions it poses effectively -- it explains the Big Bang theory in a short paragraph -- making the failure to try seem like a lazy cop-out. When the book tells me that scientists don't really know why the Earth is covered with water but fails to identify any theories (unlike Wikipedia's "Origin of Water on Earth" page, which conveys a brief summary of current thinking), I'm left to wonder whether this book is seriously mistitled. I'm even more troubled that the book claims there is no consensus among scientists on the issue of global warming, an assertion that is demonstrably untrue unless one incorrectly defines consensus as "universal agreement."

When the book does attempt to explain scientific theories or phenomena, it does so in such simplistic terms that the explanations often reveal nothing that a high school graduate who paid attention in science class wouldn't already know. The same is true of nonscientific data like theories of creation: the explanations for the creation of life posited by six major religions are each conveyed in just a few words, hardly even beginning to give a true flavor of their complexity (and, quite often, their contradictions). The illustrations accompanying the text tend to be equally useless (the Big Bang, for instance, is illustrated by the word BANG).

Text boxes on most pages highlight facts that might be useful in a trivia game ("Nephelococcygia is the term applied to when people find familiar objects within the shape of a cloud"). They are generally more interesting than the rest of the book.

As the title suggests, the book's scope is ambitious. Chapter 1 takes a quick look at the universe and our solar system. Chapter 2 focuses on the physical Earth (geology, atmospherics, weather) while chapter 3 addresses nonhuman life on Earth (trees, insects, mammals, fish, birds). Humans are the subject of chapter 4, which provides basic information about the body and brain and how they work (did you know that humans reproduce sexually?). Chapter 5 touches upon social organization, language, and the environment. It also has sections on art, music, literature, film, and television (relying largely on arbitrary lists of popular works). All of human history (well, maybe not quite all of it) is explained in chapter 6. Amazingly ambitious chapter 7 not only tells you everything you need to know about science, it covers medicine to boot. Technology and communications is the topic of chapter 8. Here, Facebook gets its own page, because Facebook is apparently more important than law or the myriad other topics the book ignores.

To the extent that the book has value, it is primarily as a refresher of facts we should have learned, or learned and have long forgotten, in high school. As a reference book, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone over twelve, at least not to anyone who has access to the internet, where more detailed information about the book's varied subject matter is easily available.

Does that mean I learned nothing from this book? Of course not. I suspect most readers will gain some basic knowledge that they may not have absorbed from other sources. Among other things, I learned the word "nephelococcygia." But as a reference or even an interesting read, this book is sorely lacking.
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Everything You Need to Know About Everything: Your world, and everything around it, in a nutshell
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