I picked up Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything on a whim. I hadn’t read many science books, nor even non-fiction, for fun, in years. But I was addicted to The Universe on the History Channel and needed something to fulfill my yen for popular science reading.
A Short History doesn’t disappoint. Bryson covers everything from the birth of the universe to the current destruction of the planet, all to illustrate how we came to be here. And the journey wasn’t easy, either. Bryson cuts through scientific theory with sparkling wit to show the audience how big a crap shoot being here actually is. First, you’ve got to build a universe (again, totally dependent on specific conditions and ingredients), then you’ve got to build a solar system (you can’t have life without the power of the sun), then you need a planet in just the right spot (we never would have evolved on Mercury or Venus, at least not to be exactly as we are now), and finally you have to evolve (environmental hazards notwithstanding). With all of those conditions working against us (predators trying to eat us, bad weather, existential angst), it’s a wonder we’re here at all.
What I loved about this book is that Bryson distills scientific fact for the lay reader’s understanding. With such a broad scope of subject matter (including difficult theories like Einstein’s General and Special theories of relativity), Bryson skillfully makes sciences accessible. Beyond that, he makes it entertaining, sprinkling his book with little-known anecdotes, putting a human spin on scientific fact.
If you ever wondered how we came to be and where we may be going, you must read this book.