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152 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have ever read!!
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...
Published on 30 Nov 2004 by Gary Turner

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85 of 91 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your money on the illustrated edition.
I had bought and read the original book when it came out first, and thought it was brilliant. When I saw that there was an illustrated edition i put it on my wish list for Christmas. When I got it I was so disappointed. I was hoping that the illustration would enhance the book but photographs of the scientists he is talking about, covers of science fiction magazines and a...
Published on 26 Jan 2006 by Patrick Gill


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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
By 
Gary Turner (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
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 "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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. Bryson with gentle humour discusses the attitudes of scientists, as they shifted not quite as slowly as the continents, towards accepting this theory, making gentle jabs along the way (Einstein even wrote a foreword to a book that was rather scathing toward the idea of plate tectonics - brilliance is no guarantee against being absolutely wrong).
Bryson traces the development of the universe and the world from the earliest universe to the formation of the planet, to the growing diversity of life forms to development of human beings and human society. Inspired by Natural History (the short history refers more to natural history than anything else), this traces the path to us and possible futures. Bryson juxtaposes the creation of the Principia by Isaac Newton with the extinction of the dodo bird - stating that the word contained divinity and felony in the nature of humanity, the same species that can rise to the heights of understanding in the universe can also, for no apparent reason, cause the extinction of hapless and harmless fellow creatures on earth. Are humans, in Bryson's words, 'inherently bad news for other living things'? He recounts many of the truly staggering follies of species-hunting, particularly in the nineteenth century, calling upon people to take far more care of the planet with which we have been entrusted, either through design or fate.
Bryson's take on things is innovative and his narrative is interesting, but there is a point to it, just as there is with most of his writing. He writes not merely to entertain, or to inform, but to persuade. Bryson is intrigued by science, having a joy that comes across the page of someone who essentially did not know or understand a lot of the background of science and how it worked in the world until recently, and now wants to share that joy with everyone! He definitely has points to argue - for starters, the need for open-mindedness, even among (perhaps particularly among) those who are supposed to have the open and searching intellects, the scientists themselves. He also wishes others to know more about science, professionals and laypersons, and more about our own origins as a people, both in terms of where we've come from, and how we've come to know about it.
This is a new version of his already-published text, this time with graphics, paintings, pictures, maps and other things that make the history come alive in new and interesting ways. This is a good revision, adding quite a bit to Bryson's already interesting text. Unique among Bryson's writing in many ways, this is in some ways a travelogue through geology, paleontology, cosmology and evolution. A fun and fascinating read!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science for the verbally-minded, 16 Aug 2005
By 
Andrew Johnston "(www.andrewj.com/books)" (LEATHERHEAD United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This is a remarkable book in two ways. It's a very clear, comprehensive summary and explanation of our current understanding across a wide range of scientific subjects. It's also the only science book I've ever read with almost no illustrations or equations.
In his introduction Bryson complains that he could not get interested in science at school because all the text books were dull. Admittedly I'm a few years younger, which might make a difference, but I was exposed from an early age to a vast array of well-written and beautifully-illustrated books on a range of science subjects. The conclusion is simple: unlike most who get interested in science, Bill Bryson is one of those people whose thinking is almost entirely verbal in nature, and he's written a book for those of the same persuasion. And he's done a very good job of it.
If you have a passing familiarity with most of the topics the book's clear prose will refresh and add to your knowledge, but I do wonder whether those without much background will be able to successfully visualise the subjects. On the other hand his insistence on writing out large numbers in words or with all the zeros might soothe the fears of the mathematically inexperienced, but is plain annoying if you're happy with scientific notation.
Honouring its title, the book covers an impressive amount of ground. A very well structured journey takes us through cosmology, geology, palaeontology, chemistry, physics, meteorology, biology, evolution and extinction, genetics and the emergence of mankind. The topics are split so that the walk is roughly chronological, both in respect of the target time frame, and also in respect of the development of scientific understanding, a clever feat.
Throughout Bryson explains all the key ideas, focusing more on those which have stood the test of time. But his real interest is the scientists, especially the more interesting ones - the eccentric, sociopathic and dishonest. His thumbnail sketches of important scientists are very entertaining, and are one of the books' best features.
I didn't spot any significant errors, and where informed opinion differs the author explains this openly, and usually in a very amusing way. He draws a clear contrast between the overweening "we know almost everything" of the late Victorians, to the acknowledged gaps in our knowledge a century later. As a result you get a very clear, balanced view of where we are now.
If you're looking for step-by-step prose and big, clear pictures, look elsewhere. But if you want a walk through science with one of the masters of clear, concise and amusing verbal explanation, I can thoroughly recommend this book.
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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
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
By 
R. Blair - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect bedside reading, 6 Oct 2003
By 
Bobby Elliott (Erskine, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
I don't often give a book five stars but this one is exceptional. As a Science graduate (a long time ago) I had a poor knowledge of a lot of physical phenomena - and this book plugged most of the gaps. Not that it requires any scientific knowledge on your part. It's very well written and explains things in an interesting and clear manner. The insights into the people behind many of the break-throughs were particularly interesting.
So if you want to know the age of the earth (and how we know this), how mountains form, how we worked out the size of the earth, how life began, how an atom bomb works, and where we're heading in the future then this book is for you. It should be mandatory reading for every grown-up. Absolutely perfect bedside reading.
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85 of 91 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your money on the illustrated edition., 26 Jan 2006
By 
Patrick Gill (Dublin 18, Co Dublin Ireland) - See all my reviews
I had bought and read the original book when it came out first, and thought it was brilliant. When I saw that there was an illustrated edition i put it on my wish list for Christmas. When I got it I was so disappointed. I was hoping that the illustration would enhance the book but photographs of the scientists he is talking about, covers of science fiction magazines and a few loosely connected illustrations don't add to the written word.
Save your money and buy the non illustrated version. This edition is a shameless ploy to extract a few more pounds/euros/dollars from people who are already fans of the book.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first book I've finished in 8 years, 10 Jan 2006
Not being one of huge ability to read, I have strayed away from books for years, but with a newely found interest in the world around us, and history of the planet I decided to give this book a bash as it was recommended highly.
And what a delight. It challeneged me, entertained me, and educated me from start to finish. The way that Bill Bryson has writen this book, keeps you amazed, as he converts the astronomical numbers of life into things that can be conveyed into modern comprehension.
I changed my method of transport to work so I would have time to keep reading this, as time is limited at home, and I'm so glad I've finished it, as it has increased my knowledge of the world massively. A must for anyone with an inquisitive mind.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best non-fiction book I've ever read, 16 July 2003
I bought 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' because I read an interview with Bill Bryson where he describes it as a book for anyone who is interested in science and how things work but never enjoyed it as an academic subject. As this descibes me too a T I purchased a copy hoping that it would provide me with an idiot's guide to the world.
The book does way more than that. In five hundered pages roughly evenly divided between what can be grouped as physics, chemistry, biology and geo/eco sciences he exaplins the bare bones of what you need to know to understand human life and the galaxy we live in. And boy does he describe it well. By providing us with amusing pen portraits of the key figures (and there are some very odd fish indeed) and taking the protracted route to his point in order to fit in a few good anacdotes he accompanies the science with fascinating and funny information.
As for the science itself, it's blissfully acessible. In fact, at times I found myself wishing he'd go into slightly more depth because I recognised that he'd left out things I'd covered in science GCSEs. On other occasions however, especially in the realm of quantum physics and subatomic physics (what else?), I did have to concentrate very hard to get it. Accounting for individual differences I'd say that most people could understand the science without too many problems.
His gift with language is wonderfully apparent throughout the book. Not only is it well structured, craftily so in fact, but the prose is snappy, the pace comfortable and his paragraphing perfect. Bryson seems to have borne in mind as he wrote that his target audience won't have had much patience for science books in the past and thus it doesn't read like a text book at all but as an amusing and well written meander theough the personalities and discoveries of the scientific past. He even manages to make some of the really big (or really small) numbers comprehensible!
I recommend 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' very highly, even though it isn't a history of nearly everything. This is a good thing as it means that there's lots more for him to write similar books about. Roll on the sequel!
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