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A Short History Of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson

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Just wondered if anyone else heard BookClub on Radio 4 this afternoon?


If you don't know the format of the show, the whole half hour program was given over to interviewing Bill Bryson about "A Short History.....", with questions from book club members who had read it, as well as James Naughtie.


It was interesting stuff - you can read more about it and listen to the whole program too, Just Here

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  • 3 weeks later...

I have been AWOL for a little bit internet-wise, and I have only just started reading this month's book! Apologies for not being a more diligent bookclub member.


What I have read so far has been interesting and a good read. I like the accessible style of Bill Bryson's writing. It is especially good for people like me who have some general knowledge about all these things but are a little hazy on the detail. I particularly like how in the parts on the universe he compares planets to pin-heads and other small objects to explain the scale of things. For someone as spatially challenged (is that the right way to put it?) as me this helped a lot.


I will check in again when I have got a little further.

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I'm ready and waiting to discuss this book, but take it all in your own time. In the discussions of the other two books, we're starting new threads to discuss particular aspects of the books. That way you can see at a glance what is being discussed. I invite you to do the same when you get a bit further.


Looking forward to reading your views!

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  • 4 years later...

Yeah I liked this book. I found it helpful the way he starts off at the beginning, with the start of the universe and travels through time from one event to the next and explains them. I suppose that was the most logical way to do it :P


I found one of the facts interesting. He says that the white noise and fuzz on the radio and tv when they are not on any channel is the noise and interference of the big bang reaching us? Is this true. I've heard people say similar things but i'm not entirely sure.

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  • 1 month later...

Strongly recommended for those who feel outsiders in the field of science. I failed General Science centuries ago, but no science book before this had really grabbed me - and I've tried a few. Bryson is easy-going in difficult country. An excellent primer for the ignorant who want to be au fait with what these geneticists and astronomers are up to. Full of fascinating human stories, too, where we learn about the unheralded geniuses behind the big names. Nothing wrong with being a popular author when you're this good.

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  • 3 months later...

I am currently listening to this on Audio and I think it's brilliant. I like the way he has made all the scientist feel very 'celebratised' by giving them secret extra lives where you hear about their back-stabbing behaviour of stealing other peoples discoveries, or losing all their money, children and wife.


So far he has covered space, the beginning, the planets and all that that encompasses. We've done Physics, chemistry, geology, and now botany. I have learnt about things I never knew and things I'd forgotten. I know that the moon probably came from a meteroite, and that we are lucky to be around at all (could be deadly turtles ruling earth instead!)


But my most favoured part was the description of the most deadly substance on earth (I won't spoil it - but wow was it well worded!).


It might be long but it is brilliant.

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  • 3 years later...

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything


This ebullient book about the history of science is at once informative and entertaining.  For the layman keen to know a little more about those who have contributed to modern science it is a revelation.  Here the adjective ‘superficial’ is a compliment.


Those who know Bryson will be familiar with his friendly, jokey approach to serious matters.  It begins with the title, where 600+ pages are deemed ‘short,’ and the author admits to only covering ‘nearly everything.’ In his exordium he welcomes the reader, a unique presence composed of ‘trillions of drifting atoms,’ that have somehow managed to assemble themselves in such ‘an intricate and curiously obliging manner.’

In a few brisk and breezy paragraphs Bryson deals with life on Earth.  Once again the reader is addressed as if he is a bright child learning the ABC of science. Facts and figures are buried in a narrative that tells of miracle upon miracle, how matter becomes man over eons: ‘Life on Earth, you see, is surprisingly tenuous….  The average species on Earth lasts for only about four million years.’ 


Moving swiftly into the reader finds that ‘at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred Evolution oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and a million things more.’  The matey exuberance becomes infectious - or slightly annoying.

But this is perhaps the best way to engage the common reader, who, like Bryson, is a sucker for a good story. For, after all, at base our author is a novelist.  What I especially relished about the book were the potted biographies not only of the famous but also the many forgotten contributors in the march of science.

Einstein, we learn, was ‘a bright but not outstanding student,’ at Zurich Polytechnic.  He fell in love with a fellow student, who bore him a child outside marriage, a child whom he never saw. Within five years of graduation he had done most of the work for his Theory of Relativity.  James Hutton, a neglected 18th century mineralogist whose A Theory of The Earth was you might say ‘ground-breaking,’ was it seems no stylist, for ‘nearly every line he wrote was an invitation to slumber.’ This is certainly not the case with BB.


It must be admitted Bryson’s own style can aggravate, slipping into easy cliché as when we are told that ‘carbon dioxide is no slouch as a greenhouse gas,’ and absurd litotes when we learn that meteoritic samples of lead are not easy to obtain being 4,550 years old.  (At least this time he didn’t say ‘only.’)  But that’s the man, the entertainer who opens up huge vistas of time and space, who impels us to wonder at the miracle of existence and whose research lies lightly under a veneer of chat and spicy gossip.


The best book about the history of science you are ever likely to read:

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