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A Short History Of Nearly Everything Hardcover – 2 Jun 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 766 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 2 Jun 2003
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (2 Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385408188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385408189
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 4.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (766 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 455,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

'Bryson promises to make geology, chemistry and even particle physics fun and understandable. Move over Stephen Hawking.' -- Mail on Sunday

'Impressive in his terse concreteness ... Hugely readable and never obfuscating.' -- The Sunday Times - John Cornwell

'Lucid, thoughtful and, above all, entertaining.' -- Scotsman

'This most enjoyable of books ... A travelogue of science, with a witty, engaging, and well-informed guide.' -- The Times - Peter Atkins

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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By A Customer on 11 Jun. 2003
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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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