- Hardcover: 560 pages
- Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (May 6, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0767908171
- ISBN-13: 978-0767908177
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2,649 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Short History of Nearly Everything 1st Edition
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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
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.
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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.
"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.