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A Short History Of Nearly Everything [Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (501 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jun 2004

Bill Bryson describes himself as a reluctant traveller: but even when he stays safely in his own study at home, he can't contain his curiosity about the world around him. A Short History of Nearly Everything is his 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.

Bill Bryson's challenge is to take subjects that normally bore the pants off most of us, like geology, chemistry and particle physics, 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, he encounters a splendid collection of astonishingly eccentric, competitive, obsessive and foolish scientists, like the painfully shy Henry Cavendish who worked out many conundrums like how much the Earth weighed, but never bothered to tell anybody about many of his findings. In the company of such extraordinary people, 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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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (1 Jun 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552997048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552997041
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (501 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 459 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 o! f 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

Review

"Mr Bryson has a natural gift for clear and vivid expression. I doubt that a better book for the layman about the findings of modern science has been written" (Sunday Telegraph)

"A fascinating idea, and I can't think of many writers, other than Bryson, who would do it this well. It's the sort of book I would have devoured as a teenager. It might well turn unsuspecting young readers into scientists. And the famous, slightly cynical humour is always there" (Evening Standard)

"A genuinely useful and readable book. There is a phenomenal amount of fascinating information packed between its covers ... 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" (Daily Express)

"Of course, there are people much better qualified than Bill Bryson to attempt a project of this magnitude. None of them, however, can write fluent Brysonese, which, as pretty much the entire Western reading public now knows, is an appealing mixture of self-deprecation, wryness and punnery" (Spectator)

"The very book I have been looking for most of my life... Bryson wears his knowledge with aplomb and a lot of very good jokes" (Daily Mail)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
152 of 153 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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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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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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
you cant beat a good laugh with Bill Bryson always looking to the next one
Published 3 days ago by Mrs Y L.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
thanks
Published 3 days ago by DR P D ROGERS
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative and written with style
Absolutely great book. Bill Bryson has an authorative but easy going style which made this a pleasure to read. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Uzi
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Does what it says on the cover. Very interesting and illuminating.
Published 9 days ago by Jim
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Well written. Bryson explains in clear English some of the most baffling ideas in the Cosmos.
Published 14 days ago by Edward Cookson
5.0 out of 5 stars helped me to understand the world better for A level
It is literally a history to everything, helped me to understand the world better for A level.
Published 14 days ago by Louis Potts
5.0 out of 5 stars the Kindle and audio versions of this amazing book. As a writer
This book should be standard reading in schools. i originally borrowed this book from a friend, after reading it the first time, I had to get myself a copy, 3 actually. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Got in hard back now I can take it with me and dip in
Published 20 days ago by tdog45
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I was very impressed with the service I receive from the seller.
Published 21 days ago by john sidney ainsbury
5.0 out of 5 stars good book bit long but if i liked reading i ...
good book

bit long but if i liked reading i would have finished it
Published 23 days ago by rob
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