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A Short History of Nearly Everything

February 22, 2014

A Short History of Nearly EverythingBill Bryson

The claim made by the title caught my attention, and then finding out the author was a travel writer and not some accomplished scientist really shocked me. When I started reading the Introduction chapter, I appreciated the author’s desire to learn and answer questions that school textbooks didn’t try to explain. Bill Bryson committed 3 years of his life reading science journals, books and interviewing experts to collect and digest all this information and the result was a 30 chapter book that is fairly easy to read (non-technical) and understand.

Aside from all the great summaries and explanations of scientific theories and discoveries from the unimaginably large cosmos to the unperceived quantum, geology and the biology of life, the author deftly reminds the reader of the smallness of mankind’s understanding and perception of these complex systems. Each subject provides examples of how mankind’s evolution influenced our perceptions and assumptions in scientific pursuits and illustrates how those have changed over time. One interesting contradiction (of many) to popular knowledge was that space is the great unknown, when actually we know more about the cosmos than we do about the internals, history, and operation of our own planet. We can all peer into space and the speed of light gives us ancient views of galaxies, but we currently do not have anything nearly as reliable for probing our own planet’s internals and history.

I really enjoy books like these because they momentarily extract me from my daily tasks and goals and give me a vast perspective on what must have occurred to allow this beautiful existence. So much of what we take for granted has immense complexity and age.

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