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A Short History Of Nearly Everything [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Bill Bryson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (515 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Oct 2003

A Short History of Nearly Everything is Bill Bryson's quest to find out everything that has happened from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization - how we got from there, being nothing at all, to here, being us.

His challenge is to take subjects that normally bore the pants off most of us, and see if there isn't some way to render them comprehensible to people who have never thought they could be interested in science. It's not so much about what we know, as about how we know what we know. How do we know what is in the centre of the Earth, or what a black hole is, or where the continents were 600 million years ago? How did anyone ever figure these things out?

On his travels through time and space, Bill Bryson takes us with him on the ultimate eye-opening journey, and reveals the world in a way most of us have never seen it before.


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A Short History Of Nearly Everything + At Home: A Short History of Private Life + Notes from a Small Island (Audiobook)
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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Corgi Audio (28 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780552150729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552150729
  • ASIN: 055215072X
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 14.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (515 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 24,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. Settled in England for many years, he moved to America with his wife and four children for a few years ,but has since returned to live in the UK. His bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of the decade in the UK.


Photography © Julian J

Product Description

Amazon Review

What on earth is Bill Bryson doing writing a book of popular science--A Short History of Almost Everything? Largely, it appears, because this inquisitive, much-travelled writer realised, while flying over the Pacific, that he was entirely ignorant of the processes that created, populated and continue to maintain the vast body of water beneath him.

In fact, it dawned on him that "I didn't know the first thing about the only planet I was ever going to live on". The questions multiplied: What is a quark? How can anybody know how much the Earth weighs? How can astrophysicists (or whoever) claim to describe what happened in the first gazillionth of a nanosecond after the Big Bang? Why can't earthquakes be predicted? What makes evolution more plausible than any other theory? In the end, all these boiled down to a single question--how do scientists do science? To this subject Bryson devoted three years of his life, reading books and journals and pestering the people who know (or at least argue about it); and we non-scientists should be pretty grateful to him for passing his findings on to us.

Broadly, his investigations deal with seven topics, all of enormous interest and significance: the origins of the universe; the gradual historical discovery of the size and age of the earth (and the beginnings of the awesome notion of deep time); relativity and quantum theory; the present and future threats to life and the planet; the origins and history of life (dinosaurs, mass extinctions and all); and the evolution of man. Within each of these, he looks at the history of the subject, its development into a modern discipline and the frameworks of theory that now support it. This is a pretty broad brief (life, the universe and everything, in fact), and it's a mark of Bryson's skill that he is able to carve a clear path through the thickets of theory and controversy that infest all these disciplines, all the while maintaining a cracking pace and a fairly judicious tone without obvious longueurs or signs of haste. Even readers fairly familiar with some or all of these areas of discourse are likely to learn from A Short History. If not, they will at least be amused--the tone throughout is agreeable, mingling genuine awe with a mild facetiousness that often rises to wit.

One compelling theme that appears again and again is the utter unpredictability of the universe, despite all that we think we know about it. Nervous page-turners may care to omit the sensational chapters on the possible ways in which it all might end in disaster--Bryson enumerates with cheerful relish the kind of event that makes you want to climb under the bedclothes: undetectable asteroid colliding with the earth; superheated magma chamber erupting in your back garden; ebola carrier getting off a plane in London or New York; the HIV virus mutating to prevent its destruction in the mosquito's digestive system. Indeed, the chief theme of this sprightly book is the miraculous unlikeliness, in a universe ruled by randomness, of stability and equilibrium--of which one result is ourselves and the complex, fragile planet we inhabit. --Robin Davidson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"'A travelogue of science, with a witty, engaging, and well-informed guide who loves his patch and is desperate to share its delights with us'" (Peter Atkins The Times)

"'A thoroughly enjoyable, as well as educational, experience. Nobody who reads it will ever look at the world around them in the same way again'" (William Hartston Daily Express)

"'Brims with strange and amazing facts...destined to become a modern classic of science writing'" (Ed Regis New York Times Book Review)

"'It deserves to sell as many copies as there are protons in the full stop that ends this review (at least 500,000,000,000).'" (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

"'The very book I have been looking for most of my life...Trunkloads of information, amazing stories and extraordinary personalities'" (Christopher Matthew Daily Mail)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
155 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have ever read!! 30 Nov 2004
Format:Paperback
I have never felt so compelled to write a review before; this book is a true masterpiece. Bill brings science to the masses in an entertaining and easy to understand manner. If you've ever wondered for example, what the theory of relativity actually means, get this book. I read it in a week, now I am going to read it again, and probably again after that! The size of the volume belies the breadth of topics covered.
Alongside the huge amount of science contained in this book, we also look back at the constant bickering, back-stabbing and fallings-out of history's great scientists and revolutionaries and wonder how scientific knowledge managed to advance in light of this.
This is truly a magnificent achievement given the author is not a scientist, but then if it were written by a scientist, would I have understood a word of it, and would I have enjoyed it so much?
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215 of 223 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Illusion of Permanence 11 Jun 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
My family bought me this book for my birthday at least partly to see whether reading it might make tea come out of my nose as had gratifyingly (for them) happened with an earlier Bill Bryson book that I had anti-socially taken to the table because I couldn't stop reading it.
It didn't, but it did cause me to go AWOL from my domestic responsibilities for quite some time, and sometimes to stagger round clutching my head as my brain refused to assimilate any more. I enjoyed it enormously. It's Bill Bryson's enviable gift to be able to write so clearly and elegantly, conveying his enthusiasm without drawing attention to his erudition. The fact that you find yourself becoming passionately interested in glaciers after a lifetime of not giving them a second thought says it all. Reading this book is a moving, frightening, awe inspiring and yet curiously optimistic experience, and everyone should do it.
My only complaint is that Doubleday have chosen not to bind this book properly. Gluing books together, especially hardback books, ought to be some sort of crime.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite everything, but enough... 22 Nov 2005
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover
I was first acquainted with Bill Bryson through his works on the English language and various travelogue types of books. In these books he proved to be an entertaining writer, witty and interesting, with just the right amount of I'm-not-taking-myself-too-seriously attitude to make for genuinely pleasurable reading. Other books of his, 'Notes from a Small Island' and 'The Mother Tongue', are ones I return to again and again. His latest book, one of the longer ones (I was surprised, as most Bryson books rarely exceed 300 pages, and this one weighs in well past 500), is one likely to join those ranks.
Of course, a history of everything, even a SHORT history of NEARLY everything, has got to be fairly long. Bryson begins, logically enough, at the beginning, or at least the beginning as best science can determine. Bryson weaves the story of science together with a gentle description of the science involved - he looks not only at the earliest constructs of the universe (such as the background radiation) but also at those who discover the constructs (such as Penzias and Wilson).
A great example of the way Bryson weaves the history of science into the description of science, in a sense showing the way the world changes as our perceptions of how it exists change, is his description of the formulation, rejection, and final acceptance of the Pangaea theory. He looks at figures such as Wegener (the German meteorologist - 'weatherman', as Bryson describes him) who pushed forward the theory in the face of daunting scientific rejection that the continents did indeed move, and that similarities in flora and fauna, as well as rock formations and other geological and geographical aspects, can be traced back to a unified continent.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A short review about (almost) everything! 19 Feb 2004
Format:Paperback
Excellent! Just great... This book filled in all the gaps my school years left out. Whilst I may never remember all the information in the book, I can certainly say that my understanding of why we are who we are is greatly improved. I would suggest you buy the paperback version as the hardback is a little bit of a tomb due to the wealth of text contained within. Bryson is not at his literary best is this offering, however his insight and historical accuracy leave no stone unturned. I am a bigger fan of Bryson by the day and have 5 of his titles under my [reading] belt now... this title does a great service to his continued range of subjects and I can't wait to see what Bryson puts under the microscope next!
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135 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson turns his big brain to the big subjects 9 Jun 2003
By Ashles
Format:Hardcover
I've always enjoyed Bill Bryson's books. He could write about the dullest, most depressing seaside resort I've ever visited and make me want to go back just to revisit it through his eyes. His skill is his desire to research an area so thoroughly that you see it in another light entirely.
He has brought this skill to bear in amazing ways - making the history of the English language (Mother Tongue) or English versus American culture (Made in America) absorbing and hilarious reads, even making a dictionary of tricky and often misused words a great book to sit down and read page by page (Troublesome Words).
A Short History of Nearly Everything is far and away his most ambitious book. I personally love books like this, and if I had a wish list of authors I would like to sit down for 3 years to try and make sense of the heaviest scientific questions I could think of, and try and make the answers enlightening and amusing, I would pick Bill. This man could research the inside of a ping-pong ball and come up with fifty amusing factual stories about it. When he's dealing with the history of the universe... I just wish the book were longer. Or part of a series.
I don't wish to sound selfish, but every moment Bill Bryson spends not writing books like this is just an annoyance to me.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fabulous book n instant delivery impressive!
Published 1 day ago by Mrs. M. D. Durrant
5.0 out of 5 stars a super dooper read
long and detailed. but always keeps it fun. brillaint book for anyone with an interest in all areas of science but arent that clued up on it.
really really a great book.
Published 7 days ago by James Francis O'Hanlon
5.0 out of 5 stars Still my favourite
Reading this and Dawkins' Selfish Gene when I was younger is what made me switch from the humanities to the sciences :) I left my English degree and did Biology instead. Read more
Published 8 days ago by great_nessula
1.0 out of 5 stars be aware, too heavy for me
Sorry, I hate to buy a book and not finish it, but unfortunately I found this heavy going as far too technical. I passed my copy on to a work colleague and he found the same. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Gerald L
5.0 out of 5 stars you refused to accept my honest appraisal of The Anatomy ...
you refused to accept my honest appraisal of The Anatomy of the Ship Endeavour,so please do not ask me to do any more reviews.
Published 8 days ago by colemaniac
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
not his best
Published 9 days ago by Vulcanalia
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A BIT HEAVY IN PLACES BUT STILL GOOD
Published 9 days ago by stuart jenkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A book everyone should read and then re-read. fabulous
Published 11 days ago by RH
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite book. Ever.
Bill Bryson reels you in, fascinates you and tells a short history of nearly everything

I particularly loved the lesser known stories of the scientists behind some of... Read more
Published 12 days ago by sarah
1.0 out of 5 stars It's a disaster.
I love many of his other books, but this one is so trite and superficial it makes me cringe.

And science isn't about personalities, as the author seems to think.
Published 14 days ago by Phoenix
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