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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill…
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A Short History of Nearly Everything (original 2003; edition 2004)

by Bill Bryson

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16,292299108 (4.16)401
Member:Othemts
Title:A Short History of Nearly Everything
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Broadway (2004), Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned (inactive)
Rating:***
Tags:READ2004

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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)

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Showing 1-5 of 269 (next | show all)
Despite his reputation for humor, Bryson has written a serious and well-researched account of almost everything we know about our world, from the smallest known particles to the vastness of the known universe. It is heavy reading for non-scientists, but should be read by anyone with the slightest interest in keeping updated on what we know of our world. ( )
  mldavis2 | Jul 12, 2016 |
I think I found the personalities of the scientists one of the most interesting aspects of this book, some of whom have to go down as most unfortunate people in history. Guillaume Le Gentil who set off a year in advance to observe the transit of Venus and was still at sea when one transit took place. A cloud covered the Sun for the entire transit of the next one, then he wound up with dysentery, nearly was shipwrecked and by the time he made it home his relatives had declared him dead and plundered his estate. Karl Scheele who discovered 8 elements but others got credit for them, Caspar Wistar who nearly became he discoverer of the dinosaurs but didn’t recognize the bones significance when it was sent to him. Wisteria was named after him.
Isaac Newton who had calculated the planets’ orbits and lost his calculations.
I had a hard time with some portions of this book such as the Opik-Oort Cloud whose existence is entirely hypothetical and is hypothetically 10,000 years away. The chapter “Muster Mark’s Quarks” was also not a favorite of mine and on page 172, Bryson sums the chapter up as “we live in a universe whose age we can’t quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distance we don’t altogether know, filled with matter we can’t identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.
There was also research theft going on by scientists who wanted to be the name in any given field or a shot at the Nobel Prize. The British Museum at one time could be entered only by those whose application had been vetted and approved as fit to be admitted, then they had to come back to get their ticket, and finally a third time for admission. Bryson has inserted his sense of humor throughout the book and tried to make this a book that the layman can understand. I won’t be going out and re-labeling the garden plants in Latin though. ( )
  lisa.schureman | Jun 19, 2016 |
I was not overly impressed. Almost everything was either something I knew, or something I don't care about (personal problems of long-dead geologists), or was out-of-date (status of Pluto). If he'd kept better to the promise of the prologue, to explore exactly 'how' scientists know all that stuff, it'd have been better. But at least he did explain some things that some people might be learning for the first time, such as Carbon-14 dating. I suppose the book is a good introduction to lots of science for novice autodidacts.

Ok, one thing I did gladly learn that it's lichens, not moss, that grow on the north side of trees. Only trouble is, lichen takes a long time to grow, so no guarantee I'll find some next time I'm lost in a forest... ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
A Short History of Nearly Everything is an incredible literary and popular achievement introducing ordinary readers to all the major wonders of science. Such topics are usually rather daunting and difficult to understand, but author Bill Bryson explains them all with an easy eloquence, a warmth of humour and a keen eye for the right anecdote or analogy. Bryson also has an inexhaustible supply of infectious enthusiasm. This is not a cringeworthy hey kids, let's make learning fun!" sort of book, but rather just one man sharing his astonishment at the variety, scale and wonder of our universe.

And without meaning to diminish the kudos that are due to Bryson's writing, it should come as no surprise that these topics capture the reader's imagination. They are simply incredible. Covering everything from the origins of the universe and the formation of planets right down to biological life at the cellular level on this little blue planet of ours, many – no, scratch that, all – of the topics and facts that Bryson shares are just mind-boggling. The scale and complexity of our existence is staggering in itself, but Bryson's genius is in presenting such often-difficult concepts in an accessible and universally agreeable way. Early on, the writer tells us that his remit is "to see if it isn't possible to understand and appreciate – marvel at, enjoy even – the wonder and accomplishments of science at a level that isn't too technical or demanding, but isn't entirely superficial either." (pg. 24). I would wager that you won't find a single reviewer that would dispute that Bryson has achieved his goal. You certainly won't find such dissent in this review.

It is one of those few books for which the cliché is genuinely and indisputably warranted: this is a book that everyone should read. It reminds us that our own place in the universe is ridiculously insignificant, yet at the same time it is incredibly life-affirming by reminding us just how miraculous our own existence actually is. When you consider that the odds are massively stacked against anything happening, the fact that we have a species have not only come into existence but have also reached a stage where we can begin to understand things on a far more grand and impossible stage than ourselves should fill one with a real sense of pride, even those of us who haven't personally contributed to this advancement.

Another key achievement of Bryson's book is that he doesn't just tell us the facts, or even just tell us them in an approachable way. He also tells us how scientists came to work this sort of thing out, something which he admits early on that he had always been curious about (pg. 23). Some of these methods are ingenious (one relatively minor incident which nevertheless stood out for me was how scientists confirmed that the Earth's magnetic poles have switched ends throughout the ages. They did so by measuring the iron content in rocks of different ages: the iron in the loose sediment would have shifted to one end or the other before solidifying).

The book also impresses on the reader that however much we know, there is still so, so much that we don't (yet?) know. Every discovery brings new questions or, as Bryson phrases it, "every time we manage to unlock a box, we find that there is another locked box inside" (pg. 210). I was surprised how (relatively) recent many of our fundamental scientific discoveries actually are. For example, the confirmation that dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite belongs to the twentieth-century. The 20th century also gave us the 'Modern Synthesis', the theory that unified the celebrated work of Charles Darwin and the less-celebrated but no less important work on genetics by Gregor Mendel into the theory of evolution that we know and love (well, some of us) today. This is in itself a thought-provoking notion throwing into relief the pace of our species' achievements. As Bryson says: "It is fairly remarkable to think that Ford has been building cars and Nobel committees awarding prizes for longer than we have known that the Earth has a core." (pg. 261).

Perhaps some of the questions raised by science can never be answered; it certainly does seem like there are some insurmountable hurdles ahead. Even a genius like Einstein failed to make real headway on fitting his celebrated relativity theory into a grander unified theory, the so-called 'theory of everything' that would knit everything together. Even so, the fact that Bryson's book – written over a decade ago – writes non-committedly on such things as the Higgs boson, which has since been confirmed by the much-publicised work done by the Large Hadron Collider, shows us that science is still advancing full speed ahead into the questions of the future. And some of the puzzles which science has already solved would, no doubt, have seemed impossible to previous generations. Who knows what achievements the future may bring? Speaking as a relatively young man, it is entirely possible that, given the pace of scientific discovery, there will be at least one more high-profile discovery in my lifetime that will have important implications for our understanding of the universe and leave me shaking my head in wonder. (In fact, on the very day I wrote this review NASA announced they had discovered water on Mars, which may support alien life. This came less than twelve hours after I watched a once-in-a-generation supermoon lunar eclipse, or 'blood-moon', from my front garden. The universe is amazing.) We are living in an unprecedentedly exciting age, scientifically-speaking, and Bryson has invoked the wonder of this in an unprecedentedly accessible and engrossing science book." ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
Good writing. Great stories behind important discoveries tracing our scientific understanding of earth and humanity. ( )
  collinsdanielp | Apr 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 269 (next | show all)
The more I read of ''A Short History of Nearly Everything,'' the more I was convinced that Bryson had achieved exactly what he'd set out to do, and, moreover, that he'd done it in stylish, efficient, colloquial and stunningly accurate prose.
 
"Una breve historia de casi todo" explica como ha evolucionado el mundo para acabar siendo lo que es hoy. Explica cualquier aspecto de nuestro universo, desde el más recóndito al más conocido.
added by Jaism94 | editBill Bryson
 
The book's underlying strength lies in the fact that Bryson knows what it's like to find science dull or inscrutable. Unlike scientists who turn their hand to popular writing, he can claim to have spent the vast majority of his life to date knowing very little about how the universe works.
 

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goddijn, ServaasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthews, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Päkkilä, MarkkuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: 'I don't intend to publish. I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.' ''Don't you think God knows the facts?" Bethe asked. 'Yes,' said Szilard. 'He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts.'
— Hans Christian von Baeyer, Taming the Atom
Dedication
To Meghan and Chris. Welcome.
First words
No matter how hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton.
Quotations
They're all in the same plane. They're all going around in the same direction. . . .It's perfect, you know. It's gorgeous. It's almost uncanny. - Astronomer Geoffrey Marcy describing the solar system
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night; / God said, Let Newton be! and all was light. - Alexander Pope
A physicist is the atoms' way of thinking about atoms. - Anonymous
The history of any one part of the Earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror. - British geologist Derek V. Ager
The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming. - Freeman Dyson
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 076790818X, Paperback)

From primordial nothingness to this very moment, A Short History of Nearly Everything reports what happened and how humans figured it out. To accomplish this daunting literary task, Bill Bryson uses hundreds of sources, from popular science books to interviews with luminaries in various fields. His aim is to help people like him, who rejected stale school textbooks and dry explanations, to appreciate how we have used science to understand the smallest particles and the unimaginably vast expanses of space. With his distinctive prose style and wit, Bryson succeeds admirably. Though A Short History clocks in at a daunting 500-plus pages and covers the same material as every science book before it, it reads something like a particularly detailed novel (albeit without a plot). Each longish chapter is devoted to a topic like the age of our planet or how cells work, and these chapters are grouped into larger sections such as "The Size of the Earth" and "Life Itself." Bryson chats with experts like Richard Fortey (author of Life and Trilobite) and these interviews are charming. But it's when Bryson dives into some of science's best and most embarrassing fights--Cope vs. Marsh, Conway Morris vs. Gould--that he finds literary gold. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:29 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

In this book Bill Bryson explores the most intriguing and consequential questions that science seeks to answer and attempts to understand everything that has transpired from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. To that end, Bill Bryson apprenticed himself to a host of the world's most profound scientific minds, living and dead. His challenge is to take subjects like geology, chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics and see if there isn't some way to render them comprehensible to people, like himself, made bored (or scared) stiff of science by school. His interest is not simply to discover what we know but to find out how we know it. How do we know what is in the center of the earth, thousands of miles beneath the surface? How can we know the extent and the composition of the universe, or what a black hole is? How can we know where the continents were 600 million years ago? How did anyone ever figure these things out? On his travels through space and time, Bill Bryson encounters a splendid gallery of the most fascinating, eccentric, competitive, and foolish personalities ever to ask a hard question. In their company, he undertakes a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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