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on March 18, 2017
A friend of mine recommended this book knowing that I like science. I'm used to reading about the sciences in single topics. This book surprised me in the amount of effort the author took to go through book after book of different sciences, both old and new, and proceeded to connect the dots into several cohesive stories about our home, planet Earth, and its residents. The biggest surprise is how little we truly know about both and just how much luck was involved that both exist in their present form. This book is an easy read and should be understandable to anyone who has a basic interest in science.

Be prepared though to being overwhelmed because there is a lot of information in this book, with references to other works. This book is best read in sections allowing yourself some time to think about what you have learned; and I'm sure you are going to learn at least a few things.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to understand what an amazing place our planet is and life that exists on it.
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on May 27, 2015
Excellent, highly readable short history of science. I didn't think it could be done but Bryson is a superbly understandable writer. Best part was seeing how venal and sometimes whacko scientists can be, yet they can produce great things almost despite themselves. That is both disturbing and reassuring, and it reminds one that greatness is where you find it, sometimes in very distasteful places. Best take-home: scientific "fact" is just the current majority opinion of scientists as reported by the press, and nothing more substantial or reliable than that. We always know far less than we think we do, and it is essential to remember it, especially when reading the current party line on food, health and medicine.
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on January 21, 2012
This book, in common with just about everything Bill Bryson writes, is absolutely wonderful. It is an entertaining romp through, well, just about everything, as the title suggests. It is a potted history of science, mostly, which describes how we have studied this planet of ours and some of the astonishing conclusions that can be drawn from that study. Bryson's prose style is fluid and wickedly funny. To cite just a two examples:
"Smith's revelation regarding strata heightened the moral awkwardness concerning extinctions. To begin with, it confirmed that God had wiped out creatures not occasionally but repeatedly. This made Him seem not so much careless as peculiarly hostile....God, it appeared, hadn't wished to distract or alarm Moses with news of earlier, irrelevant extinctions."
"We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms - up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested - probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name. (The personages have to be historical, apparently, as it takes the atoms some decades to become thoroughly redistributed; however much you may wish it, you are not yet one with Elvis Presley.)"
This book is chock-full of homages to famous scientists and many who were less lauded. There are some wild theories (and bad science) discussed, but always illustrated with surprising examples:
"When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimetre), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy."
Placing the human species within the context of the history of our planet, Bryson does end on a sobering note:
"Most of what has lived on Earth has left behind no record at all....It is a curious fact that on Earth species death is, in the most literal sense, a way of life....99.99 per cent of all species that have ever lived are no longer with us. `To a first approximation,' as David Raup of the University of Chicago likes to say, `all species are extinct.' For complex organisms, the average lifespan of a species is only about four million years - roughly about where we are now."
A thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating book which does not pretend to be scientific, but is more about scientists and how they have changed the way we look at, and live in, our world.
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on July 30, 2013
Some parts aren't quite as fascinating as others, and there's even the very occasional, small mis-statement of fact (Don't take the thing about glass flowing downward over the centuries as gospel, because it's not). But taken as a whole: This book is GREAT. It's so good, I, like many people, immediately read it a second time and took notes on all the stuff I found super-fascinating. Bryson not only gives you the straight dope on the nature of the universe and life's history in it, he gives you a lot of compelling human interest stories on the people who made the major discoveries and how they came about (Let me just say: Many, many scientists are at least as weird, vain, vindictive, stubborn, dishonest, or crazy as people in general. And many, many times, the chief roadblock in the way of scientific progress has been the united front of a face-palmingly hidebound scientific establishment). I love anecdotal stuff, and Bryson's retailing of the chain of events that led to the publication of Newton's "Prinicipia" (involving a forty-shilling bet, the astronomer Edmond Halley, and a worst-selling book called "The History Of Fishes") is, to me, worth the price of the book all by itself. And that's just one of dozens and dozens of fascinating stories. By the time you finish this book, you almost can't fail to have a better picture of certain aspects of the universe (like, for example, how mind-blowingly big it really is), as well as a better understanding of how even the greatest scientists and thinkers can be, at times, spectacularly mistaken. Is it a perfect book? No. But the only people I WOULDN'T recommend it to are people who just have no interest whatsoever in science or scientific history.
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on August 18, 2017
Awesome book. I wish i had read this book in high school. I may have turned out to be a completely different person. The author has a talent for making areas of study that I previously thought incomprehensible seem like just another step forward.
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on May 5, 2017
Thoroughly enjoyable reading about a variety thought-provoking subjects. Nobody is better at explaining complex subjects in a more readable manner than Bill Bryson. I enjoyed every page.
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on March 17, 2017
Really great reading, I throughly enjoyed it. Explains a lot of history that we don't really hear about very often. Should be mandatory high school reading.
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on July 29, 2014
I have recently been looking for a single book that tells the story of the discovery of science, and our understanding of the world, and how we came by this knowledge...how we figured all this stuff out. One that I could give to my 13 year old daughter so she can have a basic understanding of the world as we understand it. And also, one that would show her that our understanding of the world has been wrong at every step, each discovery overturning the previous "truth". In other words, don't trust conventional wisdom and don't be so certain of your understanding of the world, or anyone else's. No one really knows anything for certain. Wonderful.
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on September 7, 2015
This book develops the history of Earth with the assumption
that our planet has been in existence for billions of years. Included are
the very beginnings (and ends) of living creatures, including humans. If
nothing else. it makes one appreciate the fact that ours is the only
known sphere in the universe occupied by people like us. It also makes
one realize that history goes back much longer than recorded; putting
an end to the myth of creation told in the bible.
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on October 13, 2013
Bill Bryson tells us that he was flying across the Atlantic once when it dawned on him that he knew pretty much nothing about the planet he lived on. Thankfully for us he decided to do something about this and spent 3 years researching this fascinating book. Bryson takes us through the formation of the universe from the first billionth of a second onwards. Question - how big is the universe?; answer - REALLY big. In fact, a lot of this book is so mind-boggling that it's hard to get your head around it but Bryson is great at comparisons and analogies so you don't feel too stupid. His humourous and easy writing style makes it a page-turner (I should confess that I'm still not even halfway through the book yet but I love getting back to it). One thing it has done is made me sorry that I didn't pay more attention in school to science. It would be very interesting to know what someone with a literal belief in the Bible would make of it - there's quite a gap between a universe that's 6,000 years old and one that's 13.7 billion years. Probably wouldn't change anyone's mind but it could make for a lively discussion. In the meantime, if you have any interest in the big questions...but this book.
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