A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything is the first book by Bill Bryson I’ve ever read, and I’m enjoying it. Clear explanations (imagine the research!), great style, … but is it a history book? I have two answers.

The first is that flat out, yes, it’s a history book, a history of science.

The second answer is that it depends how you define history. Is it the story of beginnings (which is what I thought the title implied)? No. It’s the story of how humanity (and by humanity, read scientists, varily defined) reached its understanding of the world, and what that understanding is. The actual history of the world is something very different (scientists may argue with me on this point).

For someone like me, unscientific, the book is a nice window on an unfamiliar world. And Bill Bryson has collected some mind-blowing stories, scattered them with effective personality sketches (remember the scientists) and written with style. He has a strong voice.

I’ve been reading the short history over the weekend and it’s full of oh-my-goodness-not-really? moments. Taken out of context they probably don’t have the same sort of impact as written into Bryson’s narrative. He really is an effective writer. Take this fragment:

“fog is no more than a cloud that lacks the will to fly.”

If you’re looking for an enjoyable science book for non-scientists. This fits the bill (ha ha, made a pun! dearie me, really need my coffee this morning)

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