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Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

short history of nearly everythingI asked a friend with taste in books similar to my own what he thought of Bill Bryson’s book, A Short History of Nearly Everything.

“That guy’s a charlatan, not a scientist,” he said, as if he’d been waiting his whole life to say so. “He pretends he knows a lot but he really doesn’t know anything.”

“Boo hoo” was what I should have said. I’ve read every book Bill Bryson has put out and I have never gotten the impression that he thinks he knows a lot. Most curious people are acutely aware of just how many things they don’t know, and how much knowledge there is that they will never have time to delve into.

But even that’s not why I read Bill Bryson’s books, and it has nothing to do with these short book reviews. I read them because every single time I close one, whether it was about the English Language, his time in England, his walk on the Appalachian Trail, or whatever else, I always enjoy spending time in his company. He asks questions that interest him and then he finds–or tries to find–answers.

In this case, the book is about science. Questions about science and layman’s explanations for some of the more complicated queries out there. Or at least, things I could never figure out on my own. I’m a scientific novice and A Short History is aimed right at me.

  • How much does the Earth weigh?
  • How old is our planet?
  • How did life begin?
  • Why is physics so hard?
  • Why aren’t lichens more ambitious?

You get the idea. This is a book that promises breadth, not depth. The scope is wide, the writing is lively and fun, and it is funny as well. There are descriptions of some bullying, horrible scientists in here that made me laugh out loud.

Bryson cites his sources, explores what he can, admits what he can’t, and it has resulted in a really cool book. I enjoyed every page. If you like science but are intimidated by it and aren’t sure where to jump in, A Short History of Nearly Everything might be for you.

And if you like this book, I think you would enjoy Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Just sayin’ is all.


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pim January 10, 2011, 5:57 am

    I love Bill Bryson’s books. I haven’t read the last one ( At home ) yet. A Short History, made me want to visit those museums and ask all those people. What like about Bill is his honesty and not taking himself to serious attitude.

    The Science of Discworld should be right up your alley if you liked A Short History.