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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill…

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

by Bill Bryson

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18,842328134 (4.17)460
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)
Recently added byLynCollett, madhu.vn, WatsonHolmes, private library
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» See also 460 mentions

English (293)  Dutch (11)  Spanish (6)  German (5)  Italian (3)  Swedish (3)  Catalan (2)  Portuguese (1)  Hungarian (1)  Piratical (1)  French (1)  All languages (327)
Showing 1-5 of 293 (next | show all)
When I first started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything I wanted to document every "history" Bryson exposed and explained. I thought it would be fun except for the fact I quickly lost track. Short History starts out simple enough: the history of the atom and an explanation of the inflation theory. In other words, the history of you and the universe respectively. Then there's a deeper dive into the question of space, the galaxy and our place in the solar system. Somehow we moved onto inverse square law and the weight (literally) of the world. We explore volcanoes and earthquakes and the (un)predictability of natural disasters. Then there are the disasters that are not so quite natural which man insists on taking part like free diving. Then there are the bugs and so on and so forth.
Probably one of the best sections was about the struggle to make Pluto a planet. We determined we had four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer planets...and one teeny, tiny lone ball of ice.
The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.
what I have learned from reading Short History is not the what Bryson explains but how it's explained. The telling is everything. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 2, 2020 |
This thick book tells the history of the development of science leading up to the unique impact of homo sapiens on the planet. There are many amazing facts often involving huge numbers that have to be taken at face value believed or not - unless they can be verified. May need another read but is very readable. Interesting that many advances have only been possible because certain individuals were wealthy enough to be able to spare the time. ( )
  NeilT | Dec 8, 2019 |
“Sometimes the world just isn't ready for a good idea.” — Bill Bryson, “A Short History of Nearly Everything”

Reading Bill Bryson's “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” his 2003 history of science for readers who don't know beans about science, one gets the idea that the world isn't ready for a good idea not sometimes but rather most of the time. The science establishment was reluctant to accept the big bang theory, continental drift, evolution, the theory of relativity and just about every other major discovery in science you might think of. Scientists, like just about everyone else in the world, are slow to welcome change.

Those who propose new scientific theories often don't live long enough to see their theories accepted, and even then somebody else often gets the credit for them. Bryson does much to right some of these wrongs.

Much of his book is dated now. More than 15 years after its first publication, scientists have explored much deeper into the oceans and much farther into space than they had in 2003, to cite just two examples. But history books should be read more for what they say about the past than what they say about the present, and here the author excels even now.

The book covers just about every field of science you might think of, from astronomy to zoology, and does so with easy transitions from one to another. A background in any of these fields proves unnecessary to grasp what Bryson writes or to enjoy his narrative. As readers of his other books know well, he has gift for explaining things in a way that makes reading seem more like entertainment than work.

Again and again Bryson returns to what has been called the Goldilocks effect. That is, everything has been just right for life on Earth and for human existence. Not too close to the sun nor too far away. The right kind of orbit, the right kind of atmosphere, the right circumstances at just the right time. We are overdue for another ice age, he writes, and overdue for another catastrophic explosion of the Yellowstone volcano. You name it, we have been very fortunate, even blessed. Yet even in 2003 Bryson warned of negative human influences on the planet's climate and the survival of species. Such warnings have not been dated by the passage of time.

Reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” proved to be a very good idea, even if it did take me a decade and a half to get around to it. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Nov 25, 2019 |
An excellent book for the non-scientist who loves science. Bryson starts at the beginning of everything, the creation of the universe and does just like the title implies, gives a short history of everything that comes after.

The book is very "readable" and thoroughly researched. It has comprehensive footnotes, bibliography and index. Bryson gives you all the information needed if you would like to read further about any of the subjects that he discusses in the book.

A must have book for any science lover. ( )
  DougWhitworth | Oct 15, 2019 |
A brief, layman's history of science, by the often humorous travel writer and favorite of the NPR set. Bryson can write very well, and he makes a good job of this particular story. I'd have to say I prefer this to most of his travel books, which is odd; the latter are supposed to be his bread and butter, after all.

It is thorough, in the sense that it tries to cover everything, and it is in consequence also (unavoidably) somewhat shallow. This isn't really a defect - the book is self-avowedly a layman's introduction, after all, so depth and technical detail were simply never on. So I would say it succeeds well on its own terms. He's taken what is a good story on its own, and told it really pretty well.

On my first reading I would have been tempted to give it a five, as I enjoyed it tremendously. The reread took some of the shine off, though. For one thing, there's more NPR ideology-lite than I initially realized. Nothing too egregious, just the sort of snide/smug assumption of a certain set of positions on issues that are clearly only vaguely understood, coupled with the kind of "tolerance" that views Trobriand Islanders with equanimity, but cannot abide the NASCAR-watching Southern Baptist that lives only a few miles away. And be warned that if you loot his bibliography, you will find yourself reading a great many of the same anecdotes over again. ( )
  dmmjlllt | Jul 25, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 293 (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 (11 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.
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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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