A Short History of Nearly Everything

By: Bill Bryson

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Eclectic author Bill Bryson journeyed around the world, viewing artifacts and interviewing experts in numerous scientific fields in a quest to learn the history of the universe and our planet Earth. From cosmology to the atom, astronomy, geology, biology and everything in between, Bill Bryson employs his sense of humor, and a knack for presenting complex concepts in layman's terms to present what truly is A Short History of Nearly Everything in a way that is both accessible and entertaining.


I read A Short History of Nearly Everything a little at a time over a very long period, so rather than giving a traditional review, I'm simply going to write about some of the many fascinating things I learned from the book along with some of the features I most enjoyed.

Features I Enjoyed:

  • I had several good laughs at the factoids about various scientists which seemed to bring a whole new meaning to the phrase, "mad scientist."
  • Reading about the personal backgrounds of some of the scientists really helped to bring their chosen fields of study to life for me.
  • The author has a great knack for finding all the silly little stories that really make history and science interesting and fun.
  • I liked how the author seamlessly wove together the personal stories and research findings of several different scientists within each chapter, giving a brief but complete picture of the chapter topic.

Fascinating Facts:

  • I loved learning about the first dinosaur discoveries and was thoroughly amused by how the early scientists in that field put the bones together the wrong way.
  • I found it rather sad that the lives of some of the most brilliant minds were sometimes cut short by their own experiments.
  • The rivalries between some of the scientists was rather amusing, but at the same time, I found it very regrettable that there were scientists who actually were the ones to discover something, yet for various reasons, weren't the ones to get credit for it.
  • The stories about women in science were very interesting, especially the one about how women at Harvard weren't allowed to look through the telescopes, only to make calculations.
  • It cracked me up (although I'm sure his wife may have felt differently at the time) that Neils Bohr postponed his honeymoon to write a paper when he had a sudden brainstorm. (What a geeky thing to do!;-))
  • There was an interesting tidbit about Tom Midgley, the inventor of leaded gasoline and CFCs, who was strangled to death by one of his own inventions.
  • Clair Patterson, the geologist who apparently was the first to accurately estimate the age of the earth, is virtually unrecognized, and his work in discovering the excessive amounts of atmospheric lead and trying to get it banned, sadly, took years to see fruition.
  • There was some fascinating information about the inaccuracies of carbon dating.
  • I found out how incredibly expensive particle colliders are.
  • Apparently, if an asteroid is ever on a collision course with Earth we're all doomed in spite of how far we've advanced technologically. It's unlikely to be detected before hitting the Earth, and even if it were, it couldn't be destroyed with a missile, because they can't fly into outer space, and an Armageddon-style rescue is naught but fiction.
  • I learned a great deal about earthquakes and volcanoes.
  • I had no idea that a huge undiscovered diamond deposit is believed to exist in Iowa, nor that Iowa is home to a massive asteroid crater.
  • I also learned that the entirely of Yellowstone National Park is sitting on a gigantic volcano which is what causes the numerous geysers and hot springs there.
  • Some of the stuff about viruses and bacteria is a little scary if you think about it too much. This book was written a few years back, and I found it rather interesting that Mr. Bryson discussed how the H1N1 virus would likely resurface again, and of course, since then, it has.
  • I was extremely amused by the story of an early 18th century Swedish scientist who came up with a superior way of classifying living creatures, but who seemed to be quite conceited and had such a preoccupation with sex that he described many species in indelicate sexual terms.
  • The sheer number of cells in the human body and the way they regulate everything that our bodies do is utterly amazing.
  • It's a curiosity to me that, historically speaking, humans seemed unconcerned with decimating certain animal populations, and that those who were most interested in the animal kingdom were often the worst offenders when it came to perpetrating their deaths or even extinctions.

These facts that stood out to me are just a smattering of the total information contained in this volume which truly is A Short History of Nearly Everything. I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Bryson's writing style. He has a way with taking subjects which, in someone else's hands, could be very dry, and making them interesting and easier to understand. Of course, there were some topics that I was able to appreciate more than others, but on the whole, Mr. Bryson has created a solid scientific history book that is very accessible to the average layman. I had a good time reading it, and I look forward to trying out some more of this eclectic author's works.


Bill Bryson @ Random House

Bill Bryson @ Wikipedia