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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill…

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)

by Bill Bryson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (286)  Dutch (11)  Spanish (6)  German (4)  Italian (3)  Swedish (3)  Portuguese (1)  Catalan (1)  Hungarian (1)  Piratical (1)  French (1)  All languages (318)
Showing 1-5 of 286 (next | show all)
(36) Making my way thru some well-regarded modern non-fiction 'classics' if such a thing exists. I have never read Bryson before. This is his interpretation of the science of the known world put into narrative and layman's terms with fascinating tidbits about the lives of the scientists who discovered the major breakthroughs in the modern world. From astronomy, geology, chemistry, physics, oceanography, paleontology, cell biology, anthropology. It's all in here and while amazing and interesting, I think it was a bit too much.

It was a nice review of what I spent years of high school, college, and medical school studying. The periodic table, the laws of thermodynamics, Avogadro's number in particular struck familiar almost nostalgic chords in this former Chemistry major. It still strains credulity how we know as much as we do about the world. . . I found the parts about the origin of Homo sapiens and theories surrounding Australopithecus, Neanderthal, Cro-magnum, etc. to be the most engaging part of the book. It seemed new material to me. I t seems incredible that modern humans have been around > 100,000 years, but recorded civilization - what, less than 10,000?

Anyway, why not a higher rating, you ask? I'm sorry - I am a science person in many ways but I thought a lot of it was, well -- dull. A lot of names, names, names and jumping around in time and competing theories. Indeed, I know the truth is often stranger than fiction, but I found his narrative-style non-fiction to be very disjointed and at times disengaging. Especially at the beginning with the astrophysics - I had to push myself a bit. He surely did not oversimplify it for common folk, in my opinion.

So while I am quite glad I read it and the book makes me think about reading some more anthropology-like science for lay people - I think I was a wee bit disappointed given all the praise. I am not as much in a hurry to read his much lauded - 'Walk in the Woods.' ( )
  jhowell | Jul 19, 2018 |
A wonderful explanation of the biggest scientific discoveries in human history, all neatly packaged in simple and witty layman' terms.

Side note, I got legitimately sad at the final chapter. ( )
  MikeMerrill | Jan 28, 2018 |
It's definitely a enjoyable book to read - despite the rather sciency subject matter. So cudos to Bill Bryson for managing to keep it pretty readable (for the most part). Of course there were a whole bunch of sections I just glossed over, but that happens in most non-fiction books.

Did I learn something from reading this?
Well I'm not so sure. There are just too many "fun facts" and backstories for the different scientists. But I guess I definitely learnt that just because you discovered something, doesn't mean that you will get credit for it.
Also best guy in the whole books is probably Franz Zwicky who used to call people "spherical bastards, because they are bastards no matter which way you looked at them". Just lovely. Did I mention that he used to do one-armed push-ups?

I highlighted a bunch of sections I wanted to review/look up so here it goes:
* p 154 thermoluminescence form of luminescence for certain minerals; can be used to date pottery since the amount of luminescence is proportional to radioactivity -> older materials will have been exposed to more radioactivity through cosmic rays etc
* p 162 Higgs boson Actually pretty cool that they talked about the possibility of finding this particle in the book (2003). Well scientists were right and discovered it officially in ~2013
* p 163 Superconducting Supercollider Searched for a newer update, since they half-built this particle accelerator before the funding for it stopped.

"Nobody doubts that the 40 TeV Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas would have discovered the Higgs boson a decade before CERN." ..... ughm sure
"Magnablend, a chemical blending plant, bought the shell of the abandoned SSC last year (2013)"

* p 164 tachyons hypothetical particle that always moves faster than light
* p 169 parsec well .... wow ..... i thought Star Wars made that term up. In reality it's a term for a pretty wide distance (3.0857×10^16 m).
* p 179 seafloor spreading Explains why ocean floor is mostly very young; ocean floor only lasts as long as it takes for it to travel to shore:

* p 182 paper by Tony Dickson
* p 214 intraplate rupturings Odd, googling this leads back to a page about this book. I guess "intraplae quakes" is more accurate. I wondered if by now (since the book was written in 2003) we know more about these unpredictable earthquakes. Nope :(

* p 249 the moon's influence keeps the Earth spinning at the right speed and angle
"The Moon has been a stabilizing factor for the axis of rotation of the Earth. If you look at Mars, for instance, that planet has wobbled quite dramatically on its axis over time due to the gravitational influence of all the other planets in the solar system. Because of this obliquity change, the ice that is now at the poles on Mars would sometimes drift to the equator. But the Earth’s moon has helped stabilize our planet so that its axis of rotation stays in the same direction. For this reason, we had much less climatic change than if the Earth had been alone. - See more at: http://www.astrobio.net/topic/exploration/moon-to-mars/if-we-had-no-moon/#sthash..."

Thanks Mr. Moon :)

* p 250 oxygen is our most abundant element Hydrogen is more abundant in the universe, but Oxygen is the most common in our Earth's crust.
* p 262 Coriolis effect Seems complicated at first, but it's rather logical. Has something to do with the earth being a sphere, and therefore you spin faster at the middle, than at the poles. This leads to a curvature when imaginary throwing (or shooting at) something. And also storms to spin.
* p 266 thermohaline circulation This is a good reason why "Short History" should have pictures as well.

* p 285 Crab eater seal Just wanted to look up what it looks like. Has very cute teeth, I must say :)
* p 302 Bacteria synthesize vitamins in our gut
* p 313 English sweating sickness Interesting. It really seemed to turn up - wipe out a bunch of people - and then disappeared.

* p 319 lab technician came down with Lassa fever - unexplained Ok, reasearching this it seems a lot less mysterious. Researching the history of Lassa fever I found this: "much of the initial investigation into the virus was done at Yale Arbovirus Research Unit which was not a high security facility by today’s standards"
"Biosafety procedures for dealing with the new virus were minimal. "

* p 325 Burgess Shale

* p 329 Chamia masoni huh seems like the right name should be "Charnia masoni" according to some internet sites.
* p 330 triploblastic they are called ektoderm, mesoderm and entoderm.
* p 376 gravity doesn't meaningful apply at the cellular scale Well, I guess everyone knows that gravity is highly dependent on mass (F=m*g) so this seems logical. BUT I actually read an article saying gravity might just be not as negible in cells "When the team treated the eggs with drugs that disrupt actin, the organ- elles in the nucleus not only diffused freely but settled to the bottom of the nucleus within a few minutes—clear evidence of the effect of gravity."

* p 410 reverse trancriptase has no known beneficial function in human beings Well it is encoded in retrotransposons, which use it to copy themselves back into the genome (DNA-> RNA-> DNA). And the telomerase has reverse trancriptase activity.

* p 448 brain can't be fueled by fat Ah yes true in a way, but we can convert fat into sugars that the brain can use. Or they get turned into ketones, which is used for the Keto diet (high fat).
* p 462 mitDNA mutates 20x faster than normal nuclear DNA "This error rate in the non-coding portion of mitochondrial DNA has long been thought to occur once every 300 to 600 generations, or every 6,000 to 12,000 years for human."
"The higher mutation rate is due to lack of repair mechanisms and proofreading capabilities which makes it susceptible to base substitutions"
( )
  newcastlee | Dec 30, 2017 |
There's no reason this book should be as enjoyable as it is. It's a slightly hodge-podgey account of various discoveries of (mostly) Western science; looking at the list of chapters, you'll probably think there's nothing new you could read on any of these topics. But you'll be wrong. Bryson manages to find interesting details and insights on nearly every subject, and he writes with a dry, likable wit that should draw you in from the first page. ( )
  mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
I tried to read this once before and didn't have the patience. I have it checked out on audio now, so I think it will be easier to get through.
Update: there's no way I would have gotten through this except on audio. A very ambitious book. I thought it would have more anthropology/sociology. It was mostly focused on the history of scientific advancements, including the politic-ing and personalities of the people involved. ( )
  Janellreads | Oct 18, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 286 (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 (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goddijn, ServaasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gower, NeilIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matthews, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Päkkilä, MarkkuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
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.
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)

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