Title: A Brief History of Nearly Everything

Author: Bill Bryson

Type: Non-Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 688

Rating: 4/5

Bryson wasn’t messing around when he came up for the title with this book, because it really does cover nearly everything, at least when it comes to science. We start with the big bang and the creation of the universe and then we move on from there, covering everything from the creation of the Periodic Table to 21st century developments in genetics.

And so as you can see, he tackles some pretty intense subject matters here, and it’s a testament to Bryson’s writing that he’s able to make them so accessible. He mentioned that he spent three years researching the book, but I think that the fact that he’s not a scientist himself is what makes it so readable. He takes super complex concepts and then breaks it down into something that’s easy for laypeople to read.

The downside is that even though this was published in 2003, it still feels pretty dated in a few different places. For example, he talks about how the Large Hadron Collider is due to start running in 2005 and that the Higgs Boson is as yet unproven. He also talked about Pluto being a planet, which it no longer is.

But then there are other concepts that are pretty timeless, and a bunch of topics that are still hotly debated and still being researched. He mentioned that it was once thought that there would be no more major breakthroughs in physics in the 20th century, which has obviously since been proved to be false.

There are so many different topics inside this bad boy that I couldn’t cover all of them in a review, but I will say that the space stuff stuck with me the most. I find space simultaneously fascinating and terrifying, and Bryson exacerbated that. He also talked about some of the crazy numbers that are involved. I mean, the universe is almost unimaginably large.

He also covered meteorites and what would happen if the planet got hit by one. He basically concluded that we have no real way of seeing them coming and that even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to stop them anyway. And once they did hit, we’d all be screwed. He suggested that when it’s happened in the past, barely a couple of thousand human beings survived.

What else is there? Well, there’s some pretty fascinating stuff on the atmosphere and rain and how they all work together, as well as some neat geological stuff that makes rocks seem super interesting. He also shows that there’s a surprising lack of consensus amongst a lot of the major sciences, which we should probably be worried about. But actually, that’s probably be a good thing because it’s a reminder that we’re still figuring out what’s what. A little healthy debate is good, at least in the sciences.

If nothing else, reading this book reminds you that we human beings are just an eye blink in terms of the overall history of the universe, and the size of our entire planet is just a speck of dust compared to what’s out there. You can either find that super depressing, or you can find it freeing. I think that it helps to put a lot of our day-to-day stress into proportion. It’s just a shame that not everyone thinks like that.

But even with all of this said, I don’t know if I’d recommend it to everyone. You need to have at least a passing interest in the sciences as well as the kind of burning curiosity that forces you to research things to figure out what the score is. If you’re the kind of person who keeps falling into Wikipedia holes and reading article after article, it might be for you.

Overall though, I thought it was a cracking book which had a hell of a lot to offer. And even though it was pretty dense and covered a lot of ground, I still whizzed through it.

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