Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"A Short History of Nearly Everything"
by Bill Bryson

I can't even begin to say how much I enjoyed this book.

After a fair amount of disappointment in A Walk In the Woods a few years ago (he didn't finish the Appalachian Trail, a feat that disappointed me), I decided not to read any more Bryson for the time being, even though many people had recommended him.

And so a few weeks ago I checked this one out from the library, plodding it home like some sort of homework assignment, promising myself that I'd at least start it, but I didn't have to finish it. I'd give it a shot, but if he decided to take a rocket ship to the moon and ended up backing out, I would definitely be writing a letter. Without even starting, my hopes were not high.

It was a Big Bang (pun intended), filled with a whole bunch of knowledge, clever insights, and, well, history of the earth and universe. If I were a teacher in any sort of social sciences, this would definitely be required reading - it's far more interesting and effective than any textbook I've ever picked up (and readable). I couldn't put it down.

What Bryson does is take something we all have a passing interest in, science, and make it fun and understandable at the same time. He introduces all the eccentric characters, mentions long lost facts that most people overlook, and explains all the difficult concepts in a very easy-to-grasp sort of way. From the first page I was hooked, and my imagination was buzzing with ideas.

I'm sure you're interested now, so the obvious question is, What will you learn?

Well, tons of great stuff, to be sure. Like everything we know about how the universe started and some theories on it's expansion (some scientists think the universe expands and contracts infinitely, like breathing), the vastness of space, concepts of physics (including a brush-up on Newton and Einstein, both interesting fellows), the history of life on this planet (from bacteria to trilobites to dinosaurs to us...and what may be beyond). You'll learn everything you've ever wanted to know about nearly everything.

And then, if you're like me, you'll forget it all. But it will have inspired and excited you so much that you won't be able to sleep but for the buzzing of science fiction ideas in your head. The kind that kept you up at night when you were younger, when you would just wonder about, well, stuff, and when that stuff was still new and untouched by textbooks and school.

Read this book.

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