A Short History of Nearly Everything
In 1781 Herschel became the first person in the modern era to discover a planet. He wanted to call it George [...] but was overruled. Instead it became Uranus.”
First, an apology. For years I have been wandering around with the mistaken notion that Bill Bryson was just the yuppie test tube child of Patrick F. McManus and Jeff Foxworthy. I was fairly certain – without, mind you, actually having read any of his books – that he was just some city slicker who went on long hikes and wrote silly books about it. I’m not sure why this theory took hold in my brain, but it has held fast for over a decade and has prevented me from reading Mr. Bryson’s really awesome books. My local bookseller (whose children’s education I have been generously supporting since 1988) suggested this book. I hemmed. I hawed. I bought it and only read it when I ran out of other books. And HOLY CRAP WAS I WRONG. Sorry, Bill. I’ll make up for it, I promise.
Science books that cover the scope of Short History are rarely readable. Four billion years of history – geological, cosmological, anthropological, paleontological – is a lot of history to pack into a 500 page package with any completeness or precision. But Bryson does just that. His History is shockingly thorough and erudite, yet still remains giggle-worthy. On occasion. When it’s not describing in detail the myriad ways in which the human species will soon and suddenly be wiped from the face of the planet (or possibly the planet wiped from the face of the universe). And somehow Bryson even manages to make that pretty funny, even to those of us who live within three hundred miles of Yellowstone National Park. Ha! Asteroids and super-volcanoes! Global devastation!
Also included is the most accessible description of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity that I’ve ever found. I totally get it now in an I’m-not-a-physicist-and-refuse-to-do-the-math sort of way. So for those of us who are not big science brains and still want to understand the popular theories behind just about everything: the beginning of the universe, the creation of Earth, the beginnings of life, the evolution of species, the shifting of continents, and much much more, read this book. Twice.
I’m sorry, Mr. Bryson. Again. You’re my new hero.