Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, Broadway, 560 pages

Popular travel writer Bill Bryson got curious about the world one day and wondered – How do scientists measure the size of the earth or its distance from the sun ?. How do they how old this planet is ? Why does the salinity of the ocean stay the same ? Pondering over these questions, he figured that he did not know much about science. So he started a quest to understand these issues and wrote the book A Short History of Nearly Everything in the process.

So this book covers, as the title says the history of nearly
everything – physics, chemistry, biology, geology, paleontology,
quantum physics, astronomy, and natural history to name a few fields. We go from the first
moments of the big bang to the most recent fossil discoveries. We go from
the life of sub atomic particles to the life of dinosaurs. The
information presented in the book comes from Bryson’s vociferous reading of  material from
science journals to popular books and interviews with scientists working in the

Writing a book on science and making it interesting for 500 odd pages
is no easy task and I have to say, Bryson has done it well. Once I read an interview
with him where he said that when he was a travel writer he observed that
not even your spouse wants to read your writing. So his solution was to intersperse
the narrative with humor and if you have read his books, A Walk in the Woods or
In a Sunburned Country   you know what that
means. In this book he laces the scientific developments with the life of the
people who made the discoveries.

The result is that you end up knowing a lot more about
famous people and a lot of people whom the science books have left out. You get
to know about their passions, jealousies, quirks, influences and
motivations. But sometimes he gets too obsessed with trivia (French Chemist
Antoine Lavoisier had 13000 beakers in his lab, Max Plank’s son was caught in a
conspiracy for murdering Hitler, Darwin fathered ten children). But then a
justification for these hooks are the fact that only few people are interested
in all braches of science discussed, I for one like Physics and hate Biology.
These trivia and Bryson’s humor got me across the biology chapters without
getting bored.

If you are
interested in science and lot of trivia, this is the book for you.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

  1. Tangled Bank #22
    Welcome to Tangled Bank! If I haven’t included some good nominations here, it’s probably because I couldn’t come up with a clever introduction. Let’s get started.
    Silflay Hraka (chase down the etymology, I did) has an engaging post on bird watching – p

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