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27 February 2016

A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson
Publication Date
September 2004
science, non-fiction

Bool Description (from Amazon)

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.

My thoughts

It took me a while to get into this book, maybe because I haven't read non-fiction, more academic style books for a while. But once I was in, I was hooked. 

And don't be put off by the 'more academic style' - Bryson writes very accessible. Yes, some things probably did went over my head, but I just continued reading and was soon fascinated. A few things which particularly stick in my memory are how 'nutty' scientists are actually are (and how conniving ! ) but also how much effort was involved in early experience / measurements etc. How much trial and error. And how much there is still unknown at this stage. What a wonder life is, and what a wonder it is that we are here at all. 

I have promised myself to read some more scientific-based books.