Book Review- A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly EverythingThis book is over 10yrs old now but I finally got around to reading, although when I picked it out I didn’t actually realise that it was all sciencey.

Starting with creation of the universe the scope is expansive but it’s really the history of science and scientific discoveries. I liked the stuff about figuring out the age of the Earth, and the stuff  at the end about evolution and extinction.

It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.

There are amusing tidbits like the genius Issac Newton (who figured out gravity and whatnot) sticking a needle into his eye to see what would happen.  When his peer Halley pushed him to published his work (on gravity not eye needles) Halley was forced to pay himself. The Royal Society couldn’t afford to as they had suffered a financial flop when trying to publish The History of Fishes. The Royal Society also could no longer afford to pay Halley as their clerk, so paid him in copies of The History of Fishes.

Actually much of the book is about how little scientist know or how their personal politics meant that they screwed each other rather than progressed scientific discovery.

three stages in scientific discovery: first, people deny that it is true; then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.

Overall, I found the book did not work for me.  The structure and order of the books didn’t make sense to my brain, and the individual chapters were waffly (needed an editor). His writing style didn’t seem amusing or interesting but rather a stream of references to scientists, some of which bobbed back in in later chapters. I couldn’t really keep track of them, it felt a lot like a soap that I had missed some episodes of.

And there were the other, more complicated bits, which he tried to explain with copious amounts of analogies which just served to confuse me more.  For example, turning amino acids into proteins is like a Vegas slot machine, a whirlwind spinning through a junkyard, making a self-reproducing cake, a slot machine again, and then something about putting some sugar in water and it becoming a cube again.