A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson

14 06 2019

I remember wanting to read this book about 15 years ago, and have had this copy on my shelves for many years. Unfortunately, I’m a much slower reader when it comes to non-fiction, and the two months this took me to read has easily knocked my Goodreads target for the year out of the window, but I’m glad I finally read it!

The book takes you through a scientific history and breakdown of the world (no kings and queens in here), from the depths of space, down to what makes up an atom, from cloud formations to tectonic plates to neandertal man. But it’s all done in a chatty way that’s easy to follow 98% of the time – occasionally he lists a few too many long science-y words and I found myself drifting off, but you could generally skim through to the next paragraph in those situations.

A lot of it is told from the perspective of when each thing was discovered and it was fun to learn about the chemist who insisted on tasting every element he worked with (and so ended up dying pretty young), and the one who thought you could get gold from urine, just because of the colour! He also discusses how Pluto isn’t really like the rest of the planets, because of course, this was written while it still was a planet!

One thing that in a way I found kind of reassuring was the uncertainty of nearly everything in this book. Nearly every chapter or section finished with a statement about just how little we know about the area that had just been discussed – the best one was early on: “The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can’t quite computer, surrounded by stars whose distances from us and each other we don’t altogether know, filled with matter we can’t identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.”

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lines from the book:

“At an elemental level gravity is extraordinarily un-robust. Each time you pick up a book from a table or a coin from the floor you effortlessly overcome the gravitational exertion of an entire planet.”



One response

17 06 2019

“we live in a universe whose age we can’t quite computer,”

I am reminded of an album by Joe Walsh: The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get.

Bet you don’t read or reply to this comment, but never mind.

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