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Monday, September 02, 2013

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

From Goodreads:

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.

My first Bill Bryson book was a A Walk in the Woods that details his time on the Appalachian trail and I really enjoyed it. It was humorous and interesting and I was immediately a fan and interested in more. Not to mention I love the cover with the giant bear face staring out at you!  Unknowingly I had already gotten my Dad hooked on his writing through a couple of his others about language that I have yet to read.  So he's getting a copy of this one for his birthday, shhh... don't tell him internet, it's a surprise!  It's okay, I don't think he reads this!

Non-Fiction is very difficult for me to read no matter how interested in the subject I am it's a real struggle. Until I tried listening instead. I recently discovered that I can check out audiobooks online from one of our local libraries. I don't even have to go there, it's awesome! Not that I don't want to go there, but this is so convenient! A quick click and in a few minutes it was downloaded to my phone and I was listening.

A Short History of Nearly Everything was the first book I tried through the library and the first non-fiction that I listened to and I loved it! The reader was fantastic, his tone was the epitome of dry British humor, which lends itself perfectly  to the reading of science facts. The whirlwind tour through the history of science was hilarious and informative. Bryson truly touches on Nearly Everything in this book from the Big Bang and the birth of the universe to the smallest particle to modern day issues. He provides a quick overview of a person, discovery and history leading up to events, putting it into an easy to understand framework, and providing interesting facts and anecdotes about these famous scientists. I think that was my favorite part, the stories and personalities of the discoverers more than what their discoveries were. In our science and history books we learn who did what, but rarely anything personal about them. They are the paragons of the scientific world and I sort of imagine them all as marble statues, perfectly posed in a museum, looking off into the distance, noble expressions forever frozen on their faces with a brass placard enumerating their achievements. Bryson makes them human. They have quirks, they made mistakes, they were screw ups and crack pots and downright odd ducks and they were human. Just like the rest of us. Some of them were very nice people who never received credit for the advances they made. Some of them stole credit for things they didn't do. Some of them were just downright insane! But every one of them was a person with different traits who had ideas and were inquisitive and tried things.

This is a fantastic quick history of all of science, full of humor but with a serious message too. I think this man can write about any subject and make it fun and interesting.  For me the audio paired with Bryson's dry humor was perfect and this will go down as one of my best read/listens this year.  If you're like me and you have trouble with Non-Fiction even though you're interested in it, give Bill Bryson a try!


  1. I recently read Bryson's _In a Sunburned Country_ and loved it so this is next on my to read list! It's amazing how he can make info dumps funny and interesting by relating, say, the 500 ways Australia tries to kill you. Happy to hear this book is just as good!

  2. I agree with you Kazen, I think he could make the history of the phone book interesting and funny somehow! I also got my Dad his Shakespeare one, I'm eager to read that one as well!


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