A Short History of Nearly Everything

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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

One of the world’s most beloved and bestselling writers takes his ultimate journey -- into the most intriguing and intractable questions that science seeks to answer.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trail -- well, most of it. In In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his 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.

Customer Reviews:

  • like drinking out of a fire hose
    Great book with broad coverage of history and science. not a quick read. You need to have your brain awake and engaged while reading. ...more info
  • Very Interesting and Entertaining
    This is an excellent book and is very entertaining to read. It starts by explaining the beginning of time (big bang), and then goes chronologically from there explaining pretty much every aspect of the history of the universe and the Earth.

    Of course to fit this all into 400 pages Bryson has to be very brief, as the title of the book implies. But despite being brief, he never leaves out anything important. The book discusses many different subjects, including astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, and especially the biology of life on Earth. It talks a lot about important people from history and how they have advanced science, and often includes amusing facts about these people. The book also talks about lesser-known, but very important, scientists from history; scientists who are often ignored because other scientists have stolen their credit for discoveries.

    A major theme in the book is emphasizing how little we humans actually know about the world and universe, which is totally true. After reading this book you'll be amazed by how many species of animals and plants we know absolutely nothing about and how many are estimated to be discovered in the future; you'll see that we really don't know all that much about the history of the Earth; and that we don't really know much about the rest of the universe. It's also quite interesting to note that Bryson has no formal scientific background. He just researched this stuff very thoroughly and then simplified it so that almost anyone can understand the material.

    Overall it's a very good book and it was very hard to put down....more info
  • "Short History..." the Best Science Update
    I am a practising scientist working in many fields. I need to have a broad vision of both "what's new" and "what's old".

    I have just finished reading "Short History..." for the third time, this including the new illustrated edition.

    I've given copies to all my children and most of them have read or are reading it. Also grandchildren will probably read at the right time....

    A fun and comprhensive book...

    [...]...more info
  • Entertaining
    The book was an entertaining read. It briefly touches on just about every subject. The only real thing that isn't that great is that it will go through several historical figures very quickly leaving you with a lot of information to digest. Later, the author often returns to talk about that figure, but after you've already forgotten about him. Not a big deal though.

    Also, I thought the book would be more focused around history but it is actually more focused around the history of science....more info
  • Short History (Bryson) Review
    I loved the way Bryson tied together so many different branches of science in a digestible way. Very witty and full of fascinating facts, including connections to art and history, that one would not find in a textbook. I'm a science major, but it still gave me a new perspective on my field, and dare I say on life? Couldn't put it down--really. ...more info
    Summarizing such a vast topic in a simple and understandable way is no easy task. Yet Bill Bryson has done it very well. Listening to the audio book is enjoyable, explanations very clear, interesting and transitions from topic to topic are smooth and flowing. The listener learns about how the main theories in just about all the natural sciences developed, the related natural events, the controversies and about the lives and thinking methods of the scientists who developed them. The current state of scientific theories are also explained. It is a very good source for anyone who wants to have an overview of the history of development of the natural sciences....more info
  • A tour through history
    Fabulous, well written book that covers a wide variety of little known or understood topics. Bryson meanders through some of the most interesting parts of our history with his special gifts of quirky insights and stylish prose. This is the book that will have you saying "Wow, I didn't know that. That's really interesting!"...more info
  • Very Interesting and Informative
    Like I mentioned, this book is very interesting and informative. If you like to history and science this book is for you. I rated it a 4 because is not an easy read and so many facts after facts will sometimes out you to sleep. But if you are interested in the complete history of science and discovery then run out and get a copy NOW....more info
  • Powerhouse of discovery
    One of the most useful books I have read. In one, easily readable, volume Bryson explains everything from the big bang to nano technology and dozens of the great discoveries in between. Then to identify who developed an idea or product and who actually got credit is most instructive on making sure your own discovery gets timely review and credit. Perhaps some of the analogies to explain subjects are a bit fanciful but they actually add some lightness and fun to some very, heavy subjects.
    ...more info
  • Interesting but not up to my expectations
    The book covers the history of several scientific areas and tries to tell a coherent story covering the most important discoveries. Most chapters give interesting information, but sometimes the historic trivia outnumber the scientific facts and figures. Chapters 4-5-6 are long winded and almost caused me to stop reading (they definitely need rewriting!). The second half of the book (biology, anthropology) has sounder foundations and is better argumented. It is certainly an interesting work for later reference and it gives an interesting and very extensive bibliography. Some of the conclusions are biased or lack correct arguments (especially where physics is involved, it often comes down to popular talking rahter than correctly argumented science, so in the end you learn nothing new). All in all a book worth reading and owning but a little disappointing, considering the enormous expectations formed by some reviews....more info
  • Awe-Inspiring
    I picked this book up at the airport, thinking at first that it was a book about human history. I confess I did not know at the time who Bill Bryson is and was blissfully unaware of his widely acclaimed writing record. Obviously, the book turned out to be completely different from what I had expected. Bryson wrote a book about "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." In short, a story about the natural history of the world and much more.

    Bryson's accomplishment inspires awe and envy. Here is a person with no scientific background who, driven by an insatiable desire to learn, has mastered biology, astronomy, paleontology, geology, chemistry and much much more, and then translated this knowledge into a readable account of "nearly everything". The New York Times Book Review wrote that A Short History of Nearly Everything "is destined to become a modern classic of science writing" and I fully agree. Bryson succeeds to explain where we came from and how our world works in terms that every person can understand, while at the same time peppering his tale with humouristic anecdotes about the greatest scientists in history: their lives, their mistakes and their feuds.

    This book is a journey in space and time. It takes the reader from the core of the Earth to the infinite reaches of outer space, and from the beginning of time to the future outlook for our planet. In this journey, Bryson brings home two messages, over and over again. First, how insignificant our lives are in comparison with the age of the world and the forces of nature, especially when we take into account the improbable odds of our very existence. Second, how little we know and understand about how we came about, how our planet works or indeed who and what inhabits it besides us. The book is full of facts which leave the reader open-mouthed; several times I had to re-read a sentence just to make sure I understood the full implication of the facts presented in it.

    The first thing I did today after finishing the book was to log on to amazon.com to search for other Bryson books and order them. I am looking forward to getting more acquainted with this wonderful writer in the very near future....more info
  • A Must Read for Everyone
    I purchased "A Short History of Nearly Everything" because of the glowing report of two friends who had read the book. This is a delightfully put together account of "nearly everything". If you are looking to know more about lots of things, this is your book....more info
  • Really Insightful
    Great Book. Read it for the 3rd time this week. The Audio Book is also very good. ...more info
  • A Short History is great for non-fiction reading samples!
    I'm not yet done with the book, but I love the style of the writing. Bryson keeps the wonder and humor of the physical sciences which is sorely lacking in academic textbooks. I originally checked it out of the library, but I had to buy my own copy so that I could mark all of the places that would be great to use for interesting and provoking selections for my eighth grade English classroom. If you teach chemistry, physics, or reading to middle school or high school students,I strongly recommend this book for the short episodes which are easy to pull out for quick supplemental reading. My eighth graders loved the passage where the German scientist tried to turn human urine into gold and accidentally discovered phosphorous--priceless!...more info
  • I could not believe this book.
    I could not believe this book.
    Trirobite is named for the three longitudinal lobes, a center axial lobe and flanking pleural lobes.
    But he says, "all shared a basic body plan of three parts, or lobes-head, tail, thorax-from which comes the name".(PG.323)
    That's the question of our junior high school admission exams, around 12 years old.
    Also there are too many lame notifications and lies that comfortable to the readers.
    He has the enthusiast to make money than to make credits.
    All his writings are not bat and I know the author is not the archetypal american but regrettable.

    ...more info
  • A wonderful book of knowledge
    This is a book covering a vast expanse of topics, just about anything that marks progress of mankind in discovering the complex world he/she lives in. He is not a technical writer. He goes and painstakingly researches everything and collates it all in a way everyone can enjoy. He shares his fascination and wonder with the readers in a very enjoyable way that is purely Bill Bryson. ...more info
  • Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything
    Bill Bryson narrates a brief yet epic journey of everything from the nothingness of which the universe sprang, to the development of technologies that only a handful of people on our planet understand in one of his best-selling books, A Short History of Nearly Everything. From the top of the world's tallest mountains to the bottom of the deepest petrie dish, Bryson tells the tale of nearly every event that has shaped the universe and the people that unlocked those mysteries. By rejecting the standard stale textbook format, Bryson has assembled a collection of stories that weave together to tell the tale of how we, and everything else, came to be. This book is an easy and interesting read for those who have ever questioned the intricacies of our world, wanted answers, but was unwilling to sift through college textbooks for them. ...more info
  • Short History of Eeverything
    One of the most stimulating, informative and funny book I have ever read. Since I can't remember everything, I am rereading it and enjoying it just as much as the first time....more info
  • Delightful
    Instantly one of my favorite books. My daughter taught English at Columbia and introduced me to this author. Who else could make geology and anthropology interesting and fun. No one I know. A great read that leaves you smarter....more info
  • Bill Bryson is One of My Favorite Authors
    A Short History of Nearly Everything is a fabulous book. Somewhat different from his usual travel books but really worth reading. At times you might not understand some of the topics like particle physics but keep going--it gives you a comprehensive picture of the history of the earth and all its denizens. If it's by Bill Bryson, you can count on its ability to hold your interest and attention. I really liked this book even though it made me feel pretty insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things....more info
  • I Heart Science!!
    No, actually I don't. In fact, you couldn't have coerced me into any science classes in college without brute force. But I was inexplicably drawn to this book by Bryson's witty writing and ability to help me comprehend the once thought-to-be 'impossible to understand' topics that are covered in depth is phenomenal. I was chuckling throughout this entire book. Science is fun with Bill Bryson and this book is simply amazing!! Who would have thought that chemistry could be such a page turner and that people like Rev. William Buckhead and Clair Patterson could be such interesting individuals? ...more info
  • Entertaining and funny introduction to a lot of science fields
    This book is highly recommendable, probably one of the best science books for lay people I have read and definitely the most funny one (since the author is no scientist, his humor is easy to catch). Mr. Bryson presents an account of a lot of topics, from the big-bang, the truly big numbers of the universe, life on earth (microorganisms that live in extreme conditions for example at very hot temperatures), the great extinctions, the meassuring of key distances of the earth, global warming, particle physics, genetics, fossils, volcanoes, Yellowstone, electromagnetism, darwinism, geology, etc. It is really about nearly everything, written in an entertaining and comprehensible way. The book is full of scientific anecdotes, amazing facts, funny comments and much more.

    The only drawback I found in this book is that, although the author made several references to other books in each field of study, he made them in such a way that he discouraged me from reading further about these topics (I don't know why, normally I finish a book and I already want to read something the author suggested). Fortunately I had already read The Seven Daughters of Eve, otherwise I wouldn't have done it, since the author's critic was not very encouraging. After reading the part on particle physics, I decided that this was nothing for me, since although this chapter was interesting, I did not feel like reading more about dozens of particles with strange names. I am glad I also started reading other books about it. So although the book is an excellent introduction to a lot of topics, I didn't feel like diving deeper into anyone.

    ...more info
  • Learn things and enjoy it
    Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything is an great read for people who are interested in Science. It describes in easy to understand terms what the current thinking is in the various sciences including Biology, Geology, Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry. It reads differently from your science text book in a number of ways. It covers the history of how we got to what we currently think and does so in a "warts and all" approach. It tells you which scientists were brilliant, which were loons and which were just jerks. Of course sometimes this describes the same person, say Sir Isaac Newton. It also describes some of the reaction in science to a new theory, and seldom is that pretty. It also is not afraid to say that many of the "facts" that we learned in school are either now wrong or speculation, sometimes based on a surprisingly small amount of data....more info
  • Surprisingly useful
    It seems kindof cheesy at first, and Bryson's writing style can be a little precious. (Although always easy to read, and I certainly never felt bogged down in this book; in fact, I finished the whole thing in a weekend.) But I read it toward the beginning of a long kick to learn about stuff, and as I've gotten more in depth in several fields, I find myself remembering things I read in this book. He's given me a firmer foundation in...well, nearly everything...than I realized.

    Many of you people know a lot of things, and for you this may be unnecessary. But some of you may be like me: high school chemistry is a distant memory, and you're not sure if you've ever even had a history course, and suddenly you sortof wish you knew all those things school was supposed to teach you. If that describes you, this book is a remarkably good place to start....more info
  • One of the best books that I have ever read
    Bill Bryson has raked together a sampling of all the technical knowledge that we have. Some of the conclusions may be questionable, but questioning is what man does best. This is a book that everyone should read. I am reading the book for the second time and have two other copies that I am circulating among my friends....more info
  • Top Notch Writer - worth every star!!!
    This book is exceptionally witty and fun to read. Somehow Bill has found a wit within himself that his other books couldn't achieve, albeit came close. What is wonderful about this work is that it covers a broad set of subjects while somehow molding the context of one subject into another, allowing this work to read seamlessly throughout.

    I think books with subject matter like this are abundant, however, books written and structured like this are exceedingly rare. Perhaps Brian Greene's work comes close. Loved this book and so do my kids.
    ...more info
  • A biography of the universe
    The most amazing thing about this book is that it manages to live up to its title! Bryson covers a whopping amount of material in just under 600 pages - discussing everything from the expanse of the universe to the confines of a single cell. And he does a more than admirable job. Scientific technicalities are presented in a highly readable manner through the smart use of analogies. His chapter on the solar system, for example, left me with an infinitely more vivid picture of the make-up of our planetary neighbourhood than a dozen other science textbooks would have. Full credit to Bryson as well for writing with a boldness and authority that belies the author's background as a non-scientist.

    Many reviews have labelled the book as "a rough guide to science". The book offers so much more. It is really a biography of the universe - a an elegant blend of scientific fact, history and lovely anecdotes that makes everything come to life. Nearly everything at least. ...more info
  • Bringing science down to earth
    To me, the sciences are fascinating but elusive. The concepts are marvelous and compelling, but the details are difficult and tedious, especially if your grasp of mathematics is as tenuous as mine. I grew up with a love for what I knew of astronomy and the underlying physics, and an interest in such things as geology, paleontology, and meteorology. These subjects are taught badly, if taught at all, and I never understood them well enough for my curiosity to deepen into understanding.

    That's where The Short History of Nearly Everything comes in. Bill Bryson explains much of what we know and how we came to know it through an abundance of examples and similes, not through formulas and theories. Not surprisingly, he's at his weakest in the most difficult areas. He tries to explain particle physics but is forced to fall back, fairly enough, on, "The fact is, there is a great deal, even at quite a fundamental level, that we don't know . . . The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don't truly understand." When it comes to string theory, he throws up his hands helplessly, which is understandable since most physicists seem to find it nearly impossible to articulate. Bryson is on firmer ground with Einstein's theories, which make more sense to me now--gravity is not a force, per se, but "a product of the bending of spacetime . . . no longer so much a thing as an outcome." Even here, though, he admits, "Our brains can take us only so far because it is nearly impossible to envision a dimension comprising three parts space to one part time, all interwoven like the threads in a plaid fabric."

    Where Bryson shines brightest is on terra firma, geology and the earth as well as ocean sciences. As Bryson shows in numerous cases, once upon a time, science wasn't just for scientists. Charles Smithson of The French Lieutenant's Woman was not just a figment of author John Fowles' imagination, but representative of a Victorian spirit of scientific interest and discovery. Even Einstein, at the time he published his special theory of relativity, had attended only a four-year course "designed to churn out high school science teachers" and was working in the Swiss patent office--not exactly the type of credentials associated with today's Nobel Prize winners. The 1800s were an especially fruitful time for dedicated amateurs represented in literature by characters such as Smithson and Roger Hamley of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. There was Roderick Murchison, who "became with rather astonishing swiftness a titan of geological thinking," or fossil collector and seller Mary Anning, who was the first to discover a plesiosaurus (not, as Bryson puts it, to "find the first plesiosaurus") and who "could extract [fossils] with the greatest delicacy and without damage." Lest we think the entrepreneurial spirit of science dead, however, Bryson introduces Reverend Robert Evans, who, from his home in Australia, had as of early 2003 discovered 36 supernovae. To help the reader comprehend the magnitude of this feat, Bryson provides ample context.

    Science is often focused on the numbers, but it's difficult for the human mind to grasp the very large and the very small that are well outside our physical perception. If my teachers had used comparisons and analogies like Bryson's and his sources, I and my classmates might have understood the significance of all those swirling numbers and formulae. For example, most of us have seen the typical solar system chart neatly tucked into a textbook or displayed on a poster. But the planets don't come one after the other at "neighborly intervals." If Earth were the diameter of a pea, "Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away and Pluto would be a mile and a half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn't be able to see it anyway"). Bryson adds that the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, would be nearly 10,000 miles away at this scale. It's easier to appreciate the size and wonder of the universe when presented in a tangible way rather than as a bunch of 10s with superscripts.

    Bryson covers a lot of territory--astronomy, earth science, oceanography, physics, chemistry, biology, evolution, origins of man, and even the microbes that keep us healthy and make us miserable. Earth and its life depend on delicately balanced systems and processes, with the potential for natural or man-made disaster ever present. The chapter on the Yellowstone supervolcano ("Dangerous Beauty") would keep any nervous soul up a few nights, while humbling chapters like "Lonely Planet" reveal how much of what we rely on is beyond our control--the molten nature of Earth's interior, our moon that is just the right size and orbit to keep our planet stabilized, the position of the Earth relative to the sun (five percent closer or 15 percent farther, and we would cease to exist as we know ourselves). Bryson reminds us that we are a hair's breadth from unpredictable and/or unpreventable disaster, whether from space or from within our own home.

    As we live day to day, going to work, shopping, eating, sleeping, spending time with friends, even vacationing with the family at Yellowstone, it's easy to forget that we're part of more than a neighborhood, a city, or even a country. We're also part of the complex systems that sustain us, our planet Earth, and the universe around us. If you have, A Short HIstory of Nearly Everything may help you to recall the wonder and the fragility of it all....more info
  • Decent overview of the sciences
    This is a good overview of the fundamentals of science. It meanders through astronomy, chemistry, physics, biology, geology, and paleontology and is very well written. Through Bryson's style, you can tell that he enjoys the subject matter. The "History" part of the title refers to both history in the sense of the universe, but also the history of the bright individuals and their insights that have allowed us to know that history.

    What makes this book distinct is that Bryson was not too long ago in the reader's position (i.e. learning the basics of the sciences) and thereby rarely omits something pertinent to understanding, and his enthusiasm is still fresh and obvious; both of which are a welcomed change from classical science writing. Unfortunately, his lack of expertise leads to the occasional oversimplification, exaggeration, and falsehood- but understandably (and forgiveably) so.

    In the regrettable trade off between expertise and comprehensibility, this settles on the "comprehensible" side of the spectrum. If that's what you're looking for, you'll find it here....more info
  • I Just had fun
    I dont know much about Sci. but just had a good time reading this book/...more info
  • excellent
    wonderful book, both educational and entertaining. It's one you can read over and over. There is so much information that it is really not possible to remember it all but it is delightful to read....more info
  • A nice summary of the vast scope of scientific understanding
    Covering topics from geology to physics and chemistry, to biology, genetics and paleontology, this book provides a sweeping overview of the state of modern scientific understanding. While it deals with a number of complex and difficult concepts, such as quantum physics and relativity, the material is presented in an extremely approachable manner, which should help even the most science-phobic reader grasp the broad concepts in these areas.

    Perhaps the most lasting impression from this book is the almost unbelievable scales involved in many of these fields. Bryson does a good job of convey just how unimaginably big the universe is, how incredibly small the realm of the atom is, and just how vast a stretch of time is involved in the history of the world. It is truly a blow to realize just how little of the universe we have explored, and how little time we have existed. The other point that Bryson drives home well is the notion that we are far from possessing even close to a complete understanding in any of these fields. The more we learn, the more we discover how incredibly complex everything is. In all, it is incredibly humbling to contemplate how much we know, and how very much more we don't know....more info
  • A Resource for Us All
    This is not a book to be devoured, or scanned lightly, though Mr. Bryson's fluid prose and wit would allow us to do so. This is a work to be pulled from the shelf more frequently than not and re-examined like a long Del Prado wall. It possesses the richness of a Qalicheh carpet or a Benares silk--an item to be held with awe. What an amazing compilation and composition. ...more info
  • 2000 Shock
    This might very well be the 2000 version of Future Shock. If you care it is not hard to follow....more info
  • Well almost everything
    This book presented an account of history of science in 18th, 19th and 20th century. It made science interesting with stories of scientists and their rivalry. Hmmm almost like a soap opera.
    The book also brings out the complexity of life and tries to define the same through simplicity of atoms. It almost succeeded in explaining origin of life. Its a great book.
    Now, what got left out. It concentrated too much on western scientists of 18th to 20th century. It does not give any space to ancient scientists who built the foundation of western science. Well, that's why its "nearly" everything.
    The last word...go for it... its good....more info
  • Uncredited watchmaker
    Frustrating book full of interesting insights into the edges of scientific inquiry where every mystery screams "omniscient design"; the book never mentions God....more info
  • Almost a great book
    I love science from a historical perspective. The people who do the science and the cultures that surround them make for exciting and inspiring stories. The book starts out well, but gets bogged down in the last chapters in a depressing rant against the human animal, and it is sometimes filled with pages of details that seem to lead nowhere. A really good science editor is needed to make this book what it should be....more info
  • Not really short, nor about everything, but worth the effort
    This book is quite different from Bryson's usual fare. Here Bryson steps out of his usual travel and language focus to write about science. The product is an interesting combination of the social history of science, biographies of famous scientists, and discussion of significant scientific discoveries in very accessible language. What science does Bryson cover, you might ask? This is where "everything" comes in to the picture. Bryson has chosen a wide range of scientific discoveries, from working out the theory of evolution to discovering the size and shape of the earth. Mostly, Bryson focuses on the largest and smallest things in the universe. He looks at galaxies and volcanoes, but also DNA and atoms. Truly, this book is expansive. For the lay reader, it becomes clear that there's a tremendous amount of knowledge tied up in this book, and it's amazing just how much Bryson had to learn to write it. For the non-scientist, this book manages to create a sense of awe, wonder, and fear, all at the same time. Bryson does an excellent job of highlighting just how surprising and contingent the fact of our existence is, and how complicated it was to get here. He creates amazement as the reader is forced to consider almost unfathomable dimensions, both gargantuan and tiny. Contingency is clearly the most significant theme that emerges from the work. Bryson also paints an interesting portrait of the practice of science, scientific culture, and a sense of just how difficult and tenuous some conclusions are. While it's amazing just how much scientists have discovered, it's even more daunting to consider how much remains inconclusive. Overall, this is an extremely accessible discussion of some difficult topics, infused with Bryson's humor and style. It's a long read, but well worth the effort. ...more info
  • How we got here
    It's a little odd that many popular books that deal with astronomy and cosmology don't start at the beginning, i.e., the Big Bang. Instead, they usually start with more familiar matters like the solar system and work their way towards the more exotic concepts like black holes and the Big Bang. This is not the case with Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which does start out not only with a bang, but a Big Bang.

    In the cosmic sense, human civilization has been around for a mere sliver of time, so it is not part of Bryson's Short History. Instead, he gives us a look at all that went before: from the Big Bang to the creation of matter, the galaxies and eventually the Sun and Earth. Then, we get the development of life, followed by the development of human life, or at least man's predecessors: homo erectus, Neanderthal man, etc. We get billions of years in around 500 pages.

    A constant theme that runs through the book is not only how much we know, but how much we don't know as well. Much of the evolution of the universe, Earth and humanity is understood, but there is also uncertainty. It makes sense: much of this knowledge comes from inference, and the material we have to work with is sometimes sketchy. This does not, however, give credibility to non-scientific alternatives such as creationism. A conflict as to whether the universe is 10 or 20 billion years old does not invalidate both ages and mean the universe is only 6000 years old (as I have heard creationists argue). Similarly, while an argument can be made as to whether Neanderthal man was a direct ancestor to modern man or more like a cousin, it doesn't refute the fact of human evolution. The broad picture is certain, even if not all the brushstrokes have been made.

    Bryson, as usual, relates all this in his standard manner, which is to say, with immense readability and a good amount of humor. This is not a book of dry facts: Bryson humanizes science, giving life to the many individuals who discovered these concepts. Even if you familiar with much of the material in this book, Bryson presents it in a refreshing way with lots of interesting trivia as well. If you have an interest in general science (even if you're unfamiliar with it), this is a great book to read....more info
  • A book for everyone ...
    Whether or not you're interested in science, I believe you'll love this book. Each chapter covers another aspect of science in utterly accessible language. Breathtaking chapters on the cosmos, the atom, caldera, and much, much more. It was easily the best book I've read on the subject -- ever. ...more info
  • My Bible!
    In this book, Bill Bryson brought organization and purpose to my own disjointed thoughts on religion and spirituality. This may sound odd for a book on science, but his "average man view" of science (and side trips about the often imperfect people who generated much of our modern knowledge base) strikes a cord with those of us who are not scientists. I have recommended the book to several people who have been delighted and fascinated as I. Stephen Hawkings I don't not understand, but Bill Bryson - when he writes about the same subject matter - I do. For example, from Bryson I learn the Evolutionists and Creationists are basically in disagreement over the first 10 seconds of existence. I also had an "Ah-Ha" moment in reading about evolutionary dead-ends about the possible explanation for homosexuality (it's evolutionary! - I'm not gay but I have family & friends I love who are). Not only do you get understanding on subjects most us us have not read about since we were in the classroom, but you get Bryson's dry wit thrown in - a real bonus. This book is destined to be a classic (I'm currently on my second reading). I highly recommend this book as a basic volume in anyone's library who is a modern thinker. ...more info
  • Informative and very funny science book!
    I ordered this book for a senior citizen (OLLI) class I am taking. I wanted to know what information had been learned since I was in science class at least an eon ago. Expecting a dull recitation, like books in science that I was exposed to, I was surprised and thrilled to read a fascinating, informative and very funny book that I could not put down! None of that chapter a week, them let's discuss it for me. I read it from cover to cover, then ordered one for each of my sons. You will love it!...more info
  • Everyone should read or listen to this book
    Anyone interested to know where we come from, how big is the universe is, how tiny is human history, how and where life "is", etc... must read this book.

    Hands down, one of the greatest books in its category written by a funny author with the ability to make complex things pleasant and easy to grasp.

    I suggest the complete audio CDs (17 hours). Started to read this book and the experience was somehow less interesting. Too many names are acknowledged throughout the book, I'd guess around 1000, and that makes it a bit hard to follow.

    I intended to write a longer review but after seeing more than 640 reviews on Amazon alone with a rating average of above 4.6/5.0, I would suggest to just get the audio CD and listen to the whole book twice!

    Kudos to Bill Bryson for this magnificent masterpiece....more info
  • A valuable service to society - don't quibble over facts
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I'm not normally a "deep" reader, so I really appreciated Mr. Bryson's effort to make these subjects more accessible. In fact, after reading this, I was inspired to take another look at some of the more challenging titles in this genre. Therein is the real value of this book, from my perspective. He opens a door to us who tend to be a bit intimidated by the scholarly tomes about such topics as the life-cycle of a proton. Maybe we just need a little encouragement to dig a bit deeper. Those who focus on pointing out factual mistakes are missing the point....more info
  • Like a village in a mountain landscape.
    Bryson's book is comparable to Lee Strobel's "Case for Faith" series. Bryson is not an expert in any of the subjects he covers. He reads up on the issue, then goes and interviews experts. What he brings to the table is a good idea for a book -- a history, not of "nearly everything," but of how some important scientific things were discovered -- and a talent for bundling great stories into a lively and compelling narrative.

    If the main knock against Strobel is that he only interviews people who agree with him, the main criticism of Bryson is that he doesn't understand science well, and gets too many facts wrong. A two-star reviewer from California pointed out several errors in January. Let me add a few more. On page 266, Bryson says Spring starts in March, but it doesn't start FEELING warmer until April, because the temperature lags the "official, astronomical" start of the season since water takes a while to warm. Nonsense. If one calculated Spring astronomically, as the three-month period centered on the equinox, it would begin in early February. The argument from design was not "first put forward by William Paley in 1802;" (390) it was popular among the ancient Stoics, and probably others. "There is more difference between a zebra and a horse . . . than there is between you and the furry creatures your distant ancestors left behind when they set out to take over the world." (452) Such a comment should be the reducto ad absurdum of the facile equation of physiological and genetic identity. Bryson claims that "for the first 99.99999 percent of our history as organisms, we were in the same ancestral line as chimpanzees." (443) If that were so, we would have diverged from the chimps in 1629. (Bryson is particular bad at math.)

    Nevertheless, I DO warmly recommend this book. It is fascinating, it is witty, it is delightful -- and I hope most of the facts are true!

    I don't agree with reviewers who complain about Bryson talking too much about the personal lives of scientists. Sure, if you don't want that, you don't want this book. But I enjoyed that aspect of the story very much. As Augustine said long ago, we go to look at the stars and the sea and wonder, yet pass by ourselves without wondering. As Bryson shows in this lively, often humorous, always engaged narration, the observer often turns out every bit as fascinating and quixotic as the observed. Bryson thus adds a new and human dimension to the story of science. For someone like myself, schooled partly in China, pristine nature becomes even more fascinating with something human -- an ancient village, a temple, a woman carrying a load of vegetables to market -- in the foreground. ...more info
  • Great seller
    Just got the book, have not read it yet, but the seller was great. Can not wait to read the book!...more info
  • One of the Most Useful and Best Science Books I Own
    This is a fantastic book. If you're interested in science and history, this is the book for you. Bryson brings up interesting trivia about key people and events in science history.

    He shares the story of Thomas Midgley. His two great claims to fame were putting lead into gasoline and the development of chlorofluorocarbons. Bryson shares the observation that seldom has one person inflicted so much damage with his inventions.

    I have a "junk" copy of the book that I have marked and written in. I use this to read to my 6th & 7th grade students when we are discussing that topic in science. I also love the way he begins the book. I can't think of a better way to start the school year to the read the beginning of the book.

    Each year I recommend this book to my student's parents when I send out my monthly newsletter to them.

    I strongly recommend this book and assure you that you won't regret your purchase!...more info
    It's a tough call trying to squeeze earth's history into approximately 450 pages, but Bill Bryson has done it. With his trademark gentle humour and a focus on making even the most complex subjects (such as the nature dark matter and our evolution from chimp to Homo sapien) easy to grasp, Bryson has created a thoroughly readable and more importantly, enjoyable, book.
    I am no science whiz, and I will freely admit that there were certain topics that confused me or just didn't hold my attention (for example, I'm not particularly interested in the nature of clouds). Yet despite this, there was so much that I learnt from this book.
    This really is a fascinating read, so if you're interested in learning a little more about this amazing planet we call home, `A Short History of Nearly Everything' will keep you captivated for hours.

    Zara Stevens
    Boy Meets Girl: A Pocketful of Wedding Stories...more info
  • Review
    The book is in great condition. The only complaint that I have is that it took over a month to receive the book....more info
  • Great Science And History Presented In An Entertaining Way
    Bill Bryson has created a wonderfully informative book, A Short History of Nearly Everything. In it, he presents a large amount of scientific findings and history in a very entertaining fashion. This book made me laugh out loud many times. This is a great book for anyone, but particularly people who enjoy science. This is one of the best science books I have ever read. Schools should replace science textbooks with this book. It is unlike many other science books, because it is so entertaining. Bryson does not simply ramble on in a boring fashion about a boring science topic. Instead, he presents the information in a way that makes you care about it, and entertains you at the same time. You will never regret reading A Short History of Nearly Everything.
    ...more info
  • Wonderful
    An instant, microwave version of the history of science covering various disciplines and told in the distinctive, witty voice of Bill Bryson. Wish school text books were this fun ! ...more info
  • Where were you when I needed you?
    I just wish that Bill had been my science teacher in Junior High. I was turned off by the boring old dude in suspenders and a pocket protector. He had bad breath and kept looking at the wall clock, clearly bored with himself as well. I love Bill's hilarious writing in his other books, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" and "A Walk in the Woods.' This was quite a departure from his other books, but once you love an author, you take what you can get.

    Thank you Bill, I now know from whence I came!
    Dodie Cross, author of A Broad Abroad in Thailand

    ...more info
  • Can we trust this author
    I almost bought this book, but after reading the review from FrKurt Messick, (a 5 start positive review of this book), I was intrigued to also order "The Mother Tongue" by the same author, for my wife (a spanish teacher). However, when I read the reviews of "The Mother Tongue", I found numerous linguists stating that the author had made numerous, inexcusable factual mistakes and he stated controversial concepts as facts. To me, an author who does this in one book, should not be trusted to tell us true, factual information on "The History of Nearly Everything" (a much more challenging book)....more info
  • One-sentence review
    As the title promises, this entertaining popular science book does attempt to chronicle the history of nearly everything--the universe, the earth, life and the human species--but what it does particularly well is chronicle the history of science and just how we figured out all this stuff, which leads, inexorably, to the conclusion that we don't know nearly as much as we like to think we do....more info
  • The history of our world for dummies
    Bryson does a great job of compiling a huge amount of information into a mere 475 pages. It is well organized, easy to read, and surprisingly enjoyable considering the complexity of certain topics. While some subjects, like geology, microbiology and atomic structure were a bit tedious, I really enjoyed reading about astronomy and especially anthropology (my favorite class in college). This comprehensive book embarks upon the history of the world we live in, from the nothingness of a pre-Big Bang universe, to the atoms that compose everything, to the primordial soup that yielded life, and to our most ancient hominid ancestors. What makes this book work is not that Bryson presents the history of nearly everything, but how these everythings were discovered. He investigates the history of exploration and narrates how scientists discovered answers to some of the most fundamental questions pertaining to who we are and how we came to be (especially during the 18th and 19th centuries). Bryson's goal was to fulfill his readers in ways that textbooks never did and he did that in an entertaining and often humorous way. For someone like me who often cringes at the mention of certain science topics (physics, chemistry), Bryson's delivery felt comfortable and was not intimidating. Best of all, Bryson left me with awe and wonder at the sequence of events that led our planet to enable our existence....more info
  • Magnificent overview of empiricism and science history
    I enjoyed this title tremendously. The book is an expansive review of science history with an emphasis on history. It may give shallow treatment to the subjects, but it excels in exciting a curious mind to go back to the bookstore in search of more in-depth material. Great as an introduction and philosophical backdrop in science history....more info
  • Entertaining Journey Through the Universe
    I got this book because I could not find the one I wanted. I was hoping I made the right decision. I have been really enjoying this book. Bryson explains Science in a way that makes it extremely interesting and understandable. I'm very glad I got took a chance on it. ...more info


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