July 18, 2012

Book: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:47 pm

You think that the title of this book is the height of hubris? The amazing thing is that he nearly delivers on his promise! It is a
science book the way science books should be written. I have heard quibbles that he does not use the scientific language and that takes away from the seriousness of the book but if you consider the audience for whom he writes, it is a fantastic job!

Bill Bryson’s easy narration and his unique sense of humour are, of course, very famous in his travel books, starting from his first ‘Notes from a Small Island’ which catapulted him to instant Fame. He uses his breezy storytelling style to devastating effect in this well researched book. The style he uses is to mix the specific idiosyncracies of the scientists involved, including some amazing eccentricities with the science they were involved in slips scientific concepts by you even if you did not notice. But you do notice. Why, because the subject matter is amazing and varied. The Electric Universe by David Bodanis uses a similar technique to also good effect
But the sheer breadth of canvas of this book as well as the unique Bill Style takes it one level above the other book.

The Introduction grabs you by the throat: he explains how improbable it is for you to simply exist! He starts with our galaxy, the known universe and puts into context what insignificant speck a single planet is in the grand scheme of things: all old stuff, but the details in the telling take your breath away. He then turns to the early scientists, and their investigation of our planet: the measurement of the size of the earth, then the age of the earth. He then moves through the intricate concepts of quantum theory and then moves on to evolution and man’s place in the world.

If all these sound like dry stuff to you, that is because of the narration. In Bill’s words, they read like the latest thriller from Dan Brown.

An amazing book filled with facts like : “Slime molds, make no mistake, are among the most interesting organisms in nature. When times are good, they exist as one cell individuals, much like amoebas. But when conditions grow tough, they crawl to a central gathering place and become, almost miraculously, a slug…” and so on. Amazing facts, well reasearched, filling a book that is a delight to read from the beginning to end.

A great read, I would recommend it to anyone interested in pop science or those who are interested in science but do not want to crawl through a lot of scientific vocabulary or a slew of equations.

Another book that deserves a 9/10
— Krishna


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