A Short History of Nearly Everything

ISBN: 076790818X
ISBN 13: 9780767908184
By: Bill Bryson

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About this book

In Bryson's biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand -- and, if possible, answer -- the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.From the Hardcover edition.

Reader's Thoughts

Jason

I found the title of this work somewhat misleading. Perhaps it should have been called A History of the Natural Sciences or maybe even A Short History of Natural History. Nevertheless, science books often do not sell well so I am sure the idea in titling the book A Short History of Nearly Everything was to attract more of a broad readership. The book itself isn't awful but certainly reads like a survey work. In other words, you won't learn complicated how-tos of scientific methodology but you will get a good general idea of a lot of different topics. Some of the things discussed are the origin of the universe, the solar system, the arising of life, and of course man himself or homo sapiens. I found it slightly paradoxical that Bryson spends a good portion of the book building up this almost supernatural-like awe in the reader for the amazing position we find ourselves in of being alive and also of the magical wonder of the universe itself. It's enough to make even the most staunched atheist have reverence. In fact, I could see an atheist while reading the book saying that's God doing that! However, towards the end of the book Bryson seems to take the counter view that we are ultimately doomed to extinction and with continued acts of stuipidity will be just another blip on the evolutionary scale. Despite this the book reads okay for the most part but is interspersed with relative periods of dryness. However, it's difficult to talk about things like algae and lichens and keep everyone interested at all times. Nevertheless, a pretty good read recommended if you keep in mind that it's a survey book that will help you do well on trivial pursuit but is not going to give you the know-how to usurp the current model of the universe. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Jamie

Good grief if I had even one textbook half this enthralling in high school, who knows what kind of impassioned -ologist I would have grown up to be. I hereby petition Bryson to re-write all curriculum on behalf of the history of the world.I would run across things half-remembered from midterms and study guides and think, "You mean this is what they were talking about? You have got to be kidding me." It's never condescending, always a joy.In fact, what I loved most is the acute, childlike sense of wonder seeping through the pages. How fantastic little we know about the world in which we live. All the great scientific leaps fallen through the cracks, all the billions of leaps that will never be made, every scientist who with an amiable grin shrugs to say, "I don't know. We don't know. Who has any idea?" The world is a magically baffling, enchanting place, and after nearly everything there is infinitesimally more.

Marvin

This is without a doubt the finest science book I have ever read. Nobody can doubt Bryson for his audacity, attempting to describe what we know, and how we know it, of nearly every aspect of our universe. How did life begin, How did the universe begin, what are we made of, are only a few of the question he attempts to answer in a way that the non-science types can understand. And he does this with an abundance of entertaining stories making this one of those books you can put down until the last page. This should be the required text book for basic science classes.

Ioana Johansson

This book has inspired in me an almost continuous sense of wonder and awe. I am not a science buff, I would have been enthusiastic were it not for the dry and antiquated way some of the subjects presented in the book were taught during my day. Bill Bryson is not actually trying to "teach" anything, more like presenting it all as a good story. One of questions, curiosities, tons of work and research, misunderstandings, arguments, meanness, almost always of some kind of genius and being human all around. He did manage though to make me understand, in the way of a lay person of course, what string theory is, how would it be were I to visit a cell, what quantum leap refers to and many more other things which were dwelling in the realm of mystery. And he did all this in a fun and engaging manner. I also loved all the information about the people who discovered most of these things. I guess that was the most entertaining part for me.This book sets out to give a glimpse into the how and why of things and I think it does a wonderful job of whetting ones appetite for more information. It is the kind of book which will probably inspire kids to want to know physics, to want to become astronomers or marine biologists.

Sarah

Bryson's dead serious: this is a history of pretty much everything there is -- the planet, the solar system, the universe -- as well as a history of how we've come to know as much as we do. A book on science written by a non-scientist, this a perfect bridge between the humanities and the natural sciences. A course in the history of science should be mandatory for every teenager, and this should be the textbook.Yes, it's a big, chunky book. No, it can't be trimmed down any further: when you're addressing cosmology, earth science, ecology and zoology, with healthy doses of chemistry and physics, plus the historical development of each, you're going to end up with a doorstop of a text, no matter how smoothly written. The wonder of Bryson's writing is that the reader doesn't get lost in these sweeping surveys. When name-dropping, Bryson always gives a short description of the person in question; if mentioned earlier in the book, he drops in a quick reminder to the reader. This is fabulously effective at giving the names some context, not to mention a little personality.And indeed, isn't that what science education needs most: more humanity and less intimidation? Those science-phobes out there who freely admit their near-complete ignorance of the subject should do themselves a favor and buy a copy of this book. No, don't get it from your library. There's so much here you'll want to have a copy on hand to refer to later.To those nerds in the audience -- myself included -- don't think your degrees mean you can pass this one over. As hyper-specialized as science has become, it's refreshing as hell to step back and take a look at things with new eyes. While there's not a lot here I haven't encountered before, there's a lot of information about how our current theories were developed that I didn't know.(Also? It's heartening to read about the social ineptitude, blind spots, and how utterly incompetent many of these scientist were in other aspects of life. Makes me feel better about never finishing that PhD -- at least I have a life.)Thorough, humorous, engaging, and educational: what's not to like?

John

Bill Bryson is excellent... so witty and funny. His writing makes me laugh out loud and cry with laughter - sometimes I can barely breathe.His research is also wonderful and the facts, presented in this book, are not only interesting, but also startling, fascinating and stimulating. The whole book is wonderfully assembled and a delight to read, re-read and simply to dip into.Indeed... I am re-reading again....It is, however, a severe worry to me that many of the facts that I am re-reading for the umpteenth time appear to be as new to me now as they must have been the first time I read them. Oh my... I'm turning into my parents! Where is my memory going?

Dave Gaston

First off, this is a huge departure from Bryson's breezy, excellent travel logs. Secondly, this book should be read with some frequency. It is so densely packed with valuable insight, and sound bites of discovery that you could not possibly absorb it all with one pass. This is my second time reading it and I plan on doing it again next year. The organizational structure is a wonderful series of loosely connected cameos covering several essential and enlightened discoveries of man. As an added bonus, the book actually attempts to pay off on the cheeky title. Bryson's light, common man’s writing style “scats” from universal, to global, to biological with a loosely constructed cause and effect outline. His books (thankfully, including this one) are all peppered with wit and charm and a heavy snatch of sarcasm. Further and maybe more importantly, he has the good sense to skip over heavy deep dives into mathematics, theories or anything at an ivy graduate level. I love this guy. I feel like he wrote this book for me and I hope he writes 10 more just like this. 10/4/07I abhor cliches, but in honor of Bryson's incredible achievement I'll indulge in one. I might very well choose "A Short History" as the ONE book I'd choose over all others ...if ...I was stranded on the proverbial desert island. Bryson has created a true encyclopedic kaleidoscope. Imagine the fun he had writing this book as he allowed his mind to logically wormhole through and across time!

Misha

ბილ ბრაისონის "ყველაფრის მოკლე ისტორია" საინტერესო წიგნია ყველა სახის ცნობისმოყვარე მკითხველისთვის, რომელიც non fiction-ს კითხულობს და ზოგადად აინტერესებს საიდან მოვედით, სად ვხცოვრობთ, როგორ აღმოაჩინეს ახირებულმა მეცნიერებმა რა არის დედამიწის გულში, როგორ ანთია მზე და ა.შ.ავტორისთვის რომელიც არათუ მეცნიერი და მკვლევარი არაა, არამედ რომელმაც წიგნის დაწერამდე თითქმის არაფერი იცოდა მეცნიერების შესახებ,ასეთი წიგნი ნამდვილად შესანიშნავია.მან არ იცოდა რა არის პროტონი,რატომაა ჩრდილოეთ ამერიკის დიდი ტბები მტკნარი ვერ არჩევდა კვარკსა და კვაზარს ერთმანეთისგან და ა.შ. მწერალს, რომელიც მოგზაურობებზე წერს ტრანსოკეანური ფრენისას ზემოთ აღნიშნული კითხვები დაებადა და გადაწყვიტა ჩვენ პლანეტაზე უფრო მეტი გაეგო ვიდრე აქამდე იცოდა. ასე დაიბადა ამ წიგნის იდეა. როგორც წიგნიდან ჩანს ამისთვის ის არა მარტო კითხულობს, არამედ ინტერვიუს იღებს მეცნიერებისგან, დადის საბუნებისმეტყველო მუზეუმებში და ა.შ. რაც რეზულტატში აძლევს არაპროფესინალის კვალობაზე საკმაოდ კარგ წიგნს. სამყაროს ისტორიის მოკლე ჩანახატს. ეს არის ისტორია დიდი აფეთქბიდან, ჰომო საპიენსის განვითარებამდე. ისტორია იმის შესახებ თუ როგორ მივიდნენ ადამიანები აღმოჩენებამდე რომელიც დღეს ჩვენი ცოდნის მნიშვნელოვანი ნაწილია. როგორ აწონეს დედამიწა, როგორ გაიგეს მისი ასაკი. როგორ გაიგეს მანძილი მზესა და დედამიწას შორის. როგორ ჩაწვდნენ მიზიდულობის ძალას. ციური სხეულების მოძრაობის მიზეზს, როგორ გაიგეს ჩვენი წარმოშობა, როგორ აღმოაჩინეს ატომი, პროტონი, ელექტრონი. გარდა იმისა რომ ეს თემები ჩემი აზრით ძალიან საინტერესოა. წიგნის მნიშვნელოვანი ღირსება ისაა რომ ძალიან კარგადაა დაწერილი. დინამიურობასთან ერთად ძალიან ადვილად გასაგები და საინტერესოა თხრობა. 540 გვერდის ერთბაშად წაკითხვას დიდი დრო რომ არ ჭირდებოდეს. შეიძლება ისე წაიკითხო რომ არ დაიღალო, არ მოგბეზრდეს. აღსანიშნავია ისიც რომ წიგნში ცოტაა მეცნიერული შეცდომები. რაც არაპროფესიონალისთვის ტრიუმფია.ამ ყველაფრის ფონზე საკვირველი არაა რომ წიგნმა დიდი ყურადღება და ძირითადად დადებითი "რევიუები" დაიმსახურა. მცირე შეცდომები და არასაკმარისი ხაზსგასმა მნიშვნელოვან სახკითხებზე ნამდვილად საპატიებელია. თუმცა ერთ-ერთ რევიუში ჩემი ყურადღება მიიქცია ძალზედ ნეგატიურად განწყობილი მკითხველის შენიშვნებმა, რომლის გასწორებაც განვიზრახე: "გრავიტაცია, რომ სულ ცოტა მეტად ძლიერი ყოფილიყო, სამყარო ალბათ მცირე ხანში ისე შეანელებდა გაფართოებას რომ შეიკუმშებოდა" ამბობს ბრაისონი. მკითხველის აზრით აქ შეცდომაა, გრავიტაცია კი არა ბნელი ენერგია. გრავიტაციას არაფერი ესაქმება სივრცე დროის გაფართეობასთან!როგორ არ ესაქმება! ბნელი ენერგიაც ბევრი მეცნიერის აზრით, გრავიტაციის უცნაური სახეა, განმზიდავი გრავიტაცია. თუ სივრცე დრო გაჯერებულია ერთგვაროვანი ენერგიით, რისი კანდიდატიც ბნელი ენერგიაა, მაშინ ამ ენერგიას განზიდვის ეფექტი ექნება. ასეც რომ არ იყოს კლასიკური დიდი აფეთქების თეორიიდან გამომდინარე ძლიერი გრავიტაცია შეანელებდა გალაქტიკების და მატერიის გატყორცვნას და სამყაროს არ მიცემდა გაფართოების საშუალებას. ასე რომ ბილი 1 მკითხველი 0."ასტრონომები დღეს ისეთ საოცარ რამეებს აკეთებენ, ვინმემ მთვარეზე ასანთი რომ აანთოს, ისინი ალს დააფიქსირებენ" ამბობს ბილიადვილი გამოსაცნობია ალბათ რაზე ბრაზობს მკითხველი. ვაკუუმში, ჟანგბადის გარეშე ასანთს ვერ აანთებთ! ეს მართალია. მაგრამ აქ მკითხველს ფანტაზია აკლია და მხოლოდ შეცდომებს ხედავს. შესაძლოა ავტორი ამ შემთხვევაში მხოლოდ ხაზს უსვამს ასტრონომების შესაძლებლობებს და ყურადღებას არ აქცევს მაგალითის ფიზიკურ აკურატულობას. საკითხი მთვარეზე არსებულ გარემო პირობებს რომ ეხებოდეს ნამდვილად შეცდომას მივაწერდი, მაგრამ ჰიპოთეთური მაგალითის მოყვანა, თუნდაც ფიზიკურად არაკორექტულის გავრცელებული პრაქტიკაა. თუმცა როცა კორექტული მაგალითის მოყვანა შეიძლება მაშინ ჯობია ამ უკანასკნელს მიმართო. ბილს შეეძლო ჯიბის ფანარით ჩაენაცვლებინა ასანთი. თუმცა არც ეს ქმნის მნიშველოვან დისკომფორტს.მოკლედ წიგნი რეკომენდირებულია ყველასთვის, ვისაც ცნობისმოყვარეობა გააჩნია ყველაფრის მიმართ.

Emilian Kasemi

If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here-- and by "we" I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviorally modern human beings-- that is, people who can speak and make art and organize complex activities-- have existed for only about 0.0001 percent of Earth's history. But surviving for even that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune.We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that, almost certainly, will require a good deal more than lucky breaks.Bill Bryson.

Martine

I know virtually nothing about science, so it was with some trepidation that I began reading this introduction to life, the universe and everything, which deals with questions such as "How did the universe originate?" and "How much does planet Earth weigh?". I ended up enjoying the hell out of it, as Bryson's writing style is so witty and accessible that it frequently made me laugh out loud. He has a knack of telling you not just about major developments in the history of the universe, but also about the scientists who made the discoveries he describes, who were frequently larger-than-life characters leading very tragic lives. To be honest, I enjoyed the asides on the scientists more than the science itself, but that didn't stop me enjoying reading all the bits about the Big Bang, early life forms and quarks. It also gave me an understanding of how random and unpredictable life really is, and how little mutations can lead to massive changes. Impressive stuff.

Grumpus

This is based upon the audio download from [www.audible.com].Narrated by: Richard MatthewsDon’t let the 3 star rating mislead you. This was an awesome book and I’m certain others will think more highly of it. It is a great introduction for those not into the biography of the universe and the history of science. However, if you watch the Science Channel, History Channel, PBS, etc., then you’ll already know much of what’s covered. It is the true "Once upon a time. . ." story. As someone with an interest in all things science, I was still impressed with the witty style of the writing and use of analogies to drive home various points. It’s a very entertaining listen and the narrator does an excellent job in reading it.The most salient point of the book for me was the human paradox of how we are changing the world through our presence but at the same time how precarious our existence on it is. A favorite quote from the book for me is, “All life is one, is one of the most profound true statements there is.” Think about this, for you to get where you are today, all of your ancestors had to survive long enough to find someone willing to pair up with. Not an easy task surviving disease, war, or just being eaten. One break in the chain, one moment sooner or later in the conception process anywhere along the line and you don’t exist. It’s a miracle you’re here. And yet you are despite the odds against it. Just when you think you were meant to be here, you have to remember we could all be wiped out by a meteor strike at any moment.Humans have been apart of only 0.0001% of Earth’s history and yet we have been chosen. As the author states, “We are the least there is. We may be all there is. We are the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.” One last quote to end with comes from Edward O. Wilson in his book, The Diversity of Live, “One planet, one experiment."

David

I am a scientist, and I found much of this book quite fascinating. The book certainly isn't comprehensive in any sense of the word--in fact it seems to roam in a semi-random sort of way; but the author's sense of humor and attention to colorful historical facts kept my interest from beginning to end.One of the themes of this book, is that when someone comes up with with a new discovery, there are three stages before it is accepted:1) Nobody believes it. 2) Nobody thinks it is important3) It gets attributed to the wrong person.These three stages come up again and again in this book. I guess it can be attributed to the fact that most scientists--and most people--are, at heart, conservative in nature.

Vasia

This should be mandatory reading. Bill Bryson not only makes science cool effortlessly and with style but he also gives away some of the quirks of the great minds that will definitely make you laugh.

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Bill Bryson is one of my favourite travel writers. He is immensely funny. He's an American married to a Brit and lives in the UK now. That has an influcence is his writing: he has taken up the dry, self-depreciating humour of the Brits while, at times, remained blunt and straight-forward, as Americans do.This is his first attempt to write something other than travelling. The book is about science, general science for general public. It covers everything from astronomy to zoology, from the universe to whatever -the-name-is -for-things-smaller-than-atoms in its 573 pages. Notes, bibliography, and index occupy another 113 pages. Thus, as you can imagine, it is very brief and general for each of the topics.But the book is suprisingly well arranged and deeply reseached. That's the amazing thing about this book: it is brief but not shallow; it explains without going into unnecessary techinal details; and it flows smoothly from one branch to another. He must have understood the subjects very well in order to be able to do that and thus, this book is invaluable in term of education.In term of readibility, he peppers the content with human-interest stories. For example, little-known facts about scientists (do you know that Einstein worked as the Swiss patent clerk for seven years and that he was denied a promotion, a job as a university lecturer and then, as a high-school teacher?), simple explanation (" On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with the Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over 300 meters away and Pluto would be two and a half kilometers distant ..."), etc.I cannot recommend this book enough: both for its educative content and for its fine writing style. This is definetely the book to enjoy and to keep.

Marian

You're probably looking at this book thinking it is so far off my normal path. And it is. I'm chalking it up to penance for doing so poorly in every science class I ever attended. I truly gave this book an honest effort, but at 2/3 of the way through I cannot continue. In all honesty, the book probably deserves a 5-star rating given there is no fault to be found with either the research or the writing. The problem here is this reader has a 1-star IQ. So I split the difference with 3 stars.Bryson does have the ability to take mind numbing topics such as hiking the Appalachian Trail and, with this book, all things science yet keep your interest with snarky insights and funny details. So, yes, there were parts that peaked my interest such as the lunatic scientist who thought he could distill human urine into gold, instead stumbling onto the element phosphorus. The part about all the bickering paleontologists was especially interesting. And its always nice to be reminded that at any given moment we're carrying around about a trillion bacteria on our person. But as for the rest, I'll save it for those of you who do not feel you want to shove a hot poker in your eye while learning about the earth's crust. I like my eyes. So I quit.

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