A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

This is probably a weird book to be my first introduction to Bill Bryson, seeing as how I understand him to be more of a travel writer than a science writer. But I can’t say no to a book about science, can I? No, no I can’t.

Bryson covers all sorts of scientific knowledge and endeavors, from astronomy to physics to biology to geology to those crazy guys way back when who studied all of these things at once! And he does it very accessibly; he explains things in simple language and breaks down numbers like 1025 to 10 trillion trillion, which I thought made a lot of sense. Of course, after you see enough of these numbers, and enough of Bryson’s segues to the simple language, you can get a bit tired. But focus on the fact that you’re getting the DL on how crazy those scientists are, and you’ll be much happier.

One thing that really bothered me was Bryson’s lack of footnotes… I mean, he had some descriptive ones, telling you more about a particular person or concept, but he didn’t have any that related directly to his facts. When I got to the end of the book, I realized that he has endnotes, sort of, that provide the sources for at least some of his more interesting facts, but by the time I got there I couldn’t remember what pages and sentences I had questions about! Highly disappointing.

And, for a book that’s meant to help answer questions of why scientists believe things, there are a lot of facts that are just presented as truth without any real reason why, especially in the archaeology and paleontology sections. Bryson does often mention that these facts are estimates and guesses, but I was left with a sense that everything was made up for funsies and I’m not sure that’s what I was supposed to think.

However, for all the problems I had with the presentation, I did learn a lot of new things I didn’t know before and I certainly have a stronger interest in learning more about these various sciences than I did before, so Bryson did a good job, there! I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has even a passing interest in science (but probably not to anyone who really hates it).

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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3 thoughts on “A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

  1. Amy says:

    Re: the footnotes – Is he British? I've noticed the British tend to do that with their citations. They have the best discursive footnotes ever, but if you actually feel like following their trail, you're kind of out of luck. However, I only usually read snarky discursive footnotes.

  2. Alison says:

    He is totally British, at least by residency if not birth. Darn Brits! I was amused by many of the footnotes, but quite often I found myself going, “Now how does he know that?” If only I had known about this silly convention…

  3. Kerri says:

    His Autobiography – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is very funny and if you like Travel Books – In a Sunburned Country is equally as funny. I have not read this one to compare.

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