Sunday, January 09, 2011

Book 3: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I have felt like I should read Bill Bryson for a while now considering how often I seem to run across his name, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover a copy of this book in a holiday package from a friend of mine.

I don't know how this compares to Bryson's other topics, but I quite enjoyed this book. In some ways, it was a nice review of forgotten knowledge from elementary and middle school, and in other ways it added more details to some of this. In some ways, it is a history of the universe, and in other ways, it is a history of the scientific progress that has allowed us to understand what little we do of the universe. The first section as a result deals with the creation of the galaxy and the universe, and then narrows in on Earth, and what made it suitable for life as we know it. This leads to discussions of physics, the atom, nuclear energy, as well as topics that are easier to grasp such as earthquakes and plate tectonics. There are sections devoted to the oceans, and the creation of life, DNA, fossil records and evolution. Peppered throughout are the names and stories of the men and women that made these discoveries, and how they were received. Some of the stories contain sad rivalries, while other brilliant scientist were ignored and many of their discoveries credited to others (who did in fact make the discoveries but at a much later time).

Through it all, Bryson shows a respect for the wonder that caused the planet to come about while also putting it into perspective - we can't truly know how unique this is given the size of the universe, but it still involved an incredible amount of factors to come together to create the world as we know it. In some ways, it is easy to think that humanity may be the worst thing that has come about on this world, interrupting the cycle of life and death. Countless species have gone extinct over the years, but humans certainly seem to be speeding things up. We may be the only species that is as aware of the wonder that surrounds us while simultaneously taking it for granted and being completely destructive of our surroundings.

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