Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Title: A Short History of Nearly Everything
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2003

Recommendation: Read it! It's easy to read and really fascinating.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: A history of many major sciences with the focus on the discovery of the human history. Covers many major topics starting from the big bang to astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, genetics, and anthropology.

Reactions: I received this book as a gift a few years back, but intimidated by its size, I ended up putting it up on the shelf for a long while until I recently saw a very positive review of it and decided to give it a try.

The book turned out to be more interesting and easier to read than I originally expected. Bryson does a great job explaining highly technical concepts in layman's terms. There are also many anecdotes about famous scientists that I found highly amusing. There are lots of major names that anyone would recognize -- Newton,  Mendeleev, Watson & Crick; but also abound the stories about the men behind the scene who didn't get their credibility when they first published the findings. Along with it are scandals of the time such as the feud between two dinosaur scientists Marsh and Cope.

The paragraph above may make it sound like a gossip rag of a book, but along with the entertaining stories Bryson presents and explains many major scientific concepts, theories, and ideas. Some of them are slightly outdated (e.g. Pluto is no longer a planet), but the discoveries go as early as papers published in 2001 on some of the topics. I was more familiar with some parts of the sciences than others. The physics and chemistry chapters were more familiar to me than the biology, astronomy, and genetics and there was a ton of fascinating information on those subjects that make me want to pick up a more specialized book on some of the topics.

The book is also written in a very tongue-in-cheek style that made me laugh out loud while reading it and then re-read certain passages aloud. The book is somewhat oddly structured with each chapter transitioning to a new subject matter, but the topics are often tied together eventually, which is helpful. I have learned a number of odd facts such as that the Yellowstone's super-volcano is due to erupt and that men's beards grow faster if they think about sex. Perhaps those are not the most applicable facts to daily life, but many of them are fascinating.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with a curiosity about the world around us or any sort of interest in science. It's easy to read and understand and it's a good overview of many topics. Definitely one of the best non-fiction books I've read to date. 

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