A Short History of Nearly Everything


A Short History of Nearly Everything is a popular science book by American author Bill Bryson that explains some areas of science, using a style of language which aims to be more accessible to the general public than many other books dedicated to the subject.

‘A Short History’ deviates from Bryson’s popular travel book genre, instead describing general sciences such as chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics.

In it, he explores time from the Big Bang to the discovery of quantum mechanics, via evolution and geology. Bryson tells the story of science through the stories of the people who made the discoveries, such as Edwin Hubble, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. He wrote this book because he was dissatisfied with his scientific knowledge — that was, not much at all. He writes that science was a distant, unexplained subject at school. Textbooks and teachers alike did not ignite the passion for knowledge in him, mainly because they never delved in the whys, hows, and whens. ‘It was as if [the textbook writer] wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making all of it soberly unfathomable.’

Bryson describes graphically and in layperson’s terms the size of the universe, and that of atoms and subatomic particles. He then explores the history of geology and biology, and traces life from its first appearance to today’s modern humans, placing emphasis on the development of the modern Homo sapiens. Furthermore, he discusses the possibility of the Earth’s being struck by a meteor, and reflects on human capabilities of spotting a meteor before it impacts the Earth, and the extensive damage that such an event would cause. He also focuses on some of the most recent destructive disasters of volcanic origin in the history of our planet, including Krakatoa and Yellowstone National Park.

A large part of the book is devoted to relating humorous stories about the scientists behind the research and discoveries and their sometimes eccentric behaviors. Bryson also speaks about modern scientific views on human effects on the Earth’s climate and livelihood of other species, and the magnitude of natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and the mass extinctions caused by some of these events. The book does; however, contain some inaccuracies and errors.


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