Bill Bryson's challenge is to take subjects that normally bore the pants off most of us, like geology, chemistry and particle physics, and see if there isn't some way to render them comprehensible to people who have never thought they could be interested in science. It's not so much about what we know, as about how we know what we know. How do we know what is in the centre of the Earth, or what a black hole is, or where the continents were 600 million years ago? How did anyone ever figure these things out?
On his travels through time and space, he encounters a splendid collection of astonishingly eccentric, competitive, obsessive and foolish scientists, like the painfully shy Henry Cavendish who worked out many conundrums like how much the Earth weighed, but never bothered to tell anybody about many of his findings. In the company of such extraordinary people, Bill Bryson takes us with him on the ultimate eye-opening journey, and reveals the world in a way most of us have never seen it before.
Winner of Descartes Prize for Science Communication 2005.
'This most enjoyable of books … A travelogue of science, with a witty, engaging, and well-informed guide.' The Times - Peter Atkins
Stylish [and] stunningly accurate prose. We learn what the material world is like from the smallest quark to the largest galaxy and at all the levels in between . . . brims with strange and amazing facts . . . destined to become a modern classic of science writing. -- The New York Times
Bryson has made a career writing hilarious travelogues, and in many ways his latest is more of the same, except that this time Bryson hikes through the world of science. -- People
Bryson is surprisingly precise, brilliantly eccentric and nicely eloquent . . . a gifted storyteller has dared to retell the world's biggest story. -- Seattle Times
Hefty, highly researched and eminently readable. -- Simon Winchester, The Globe and Mail
All non-scientists (and probably many specialized scientists, too) can learn a great deal from his lucid and amiable explanations. -- National Post
If you only know Bill Bryson as the author of amusing but essentially lightweight travelogues, prepare to be amazed. A Short History of Nearly Everything is his Sisyphean quest to understand everything that has ever happened, from the Big Bang via creation and evolution to the rise of human civilization. Bryson takes the kind of mind-boggling subjects that bore the pants off the average reader - geology, chemistry, particle physics, DNA - and miraculously renders them not only comprehensible but engaging, even (God forbid) fun. That he does so without ever seeming trite or simplistic says a great deal for Bryson's skill as a writer, and reveals hitherto unimagined depths of seriousness (remember, this is the man who single-handedly invented literary travel-lite). Of course, A Short History is still a travel book, of sorts. It merely replaces the coastal paths of Britain, the Appalachian Trial and the Australian Outback with the vast, awe-inspiring landscapes of time and space. It's not surprising, then, that Bryson took three years 'finding saintly, patient experts prepared to answer a lot of outstandingly dumb questions'. As with his other books, Bryson presents a splendid parade of characters, dead and alive, by turns obsessive, competitive, foolish and plain eccentric (like the painfully shy Henry Cavendish, who worked out how much the earth weighed but didn't bother to tell anyone). No doubt some spoilsports and naysayers will query whether there is really anything new in here - to which Bryson has the perfect answer. As the physicist Leo Szilard remarked, apropos his unpublished diary, 'I am going to record the facts for the information of God…. He knows the facts, but He doesn't know this version of the facts.' You would be well advised to familiarise yourself with Bryson's version of events. (Kirkus UK)
Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to America for a few years but have now returned to the UK. He is the bestselling author of The Lost Continent, Mother Tongue, Neither Here Nor There, Made in America, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods, Notes From a Big Country, Down Under and, most recently, A Short History of Nearly Everything. He is also the author of the bestselling African Diary (a charity book for CARE International).
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