- THE THING: A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, © 2003
- THE HAIKU REVIEW:
To see a snapshot
of our world and our place here.
- THE FULL REVIEW:
Bill Bryson is a pretty groovy dude. Another of his books: A Walk in the Woods is a true American journal classic. It's almost Bloggy in its frank and friendly style.
A Short History of Nearly Everything is a bit different. Bryson has decided to take a sort of snapshot of what we know, scientifically, and dish it out in a simple organized fashion. He has become a sort of scientific translator, taking science-speak, and converting into something closer to a vernacular.
He did a decent job.
One of the nice things about it is that everybody will be familiar with something in this book. Some of the text will harken back to your school days, or perhaps discuss something you are interested in, or familiar with in some little way. He then fits it into the Grand Scheme of knowledge -- it's nice to see how your little nugget of info is part of the body of knowledge we have right now.
At least how it fits into what we think we know right now.
A few critical bits: I'm not very happy with the way it was organized. Sometimes it seemed to go chronologically according to discoveries, and sometimes it seemed to go chronologically according to what was discovered. Rarely do these things seem to jive... as our technology gets better, we tend to learn more about things further in the past. I had some problems stringing it all together. I honestly don't have a better suggestion for a layout, I was just a bit discombobulated at times.
Also, I wish (just a smidge) that he had eliminated a lot of the wrong and disproven theories. There are many points where Bryson describes how we got to a certain way of thinking by discussing the ideas and research that was wrong first. It makes sense to do that, really... part of the point of the book is learning from past mistakes, but with a book of this scope, it just flicked bits of stuff at me that distracted me from the rest.
It's easy to read, and I do highly recommend it. There are obviously a bunch more things in science that we know that are not included, but it is a good time capsule, of sorts, for much of current science. And it will certain give you some topics that would make good conversation starters. Necrotizing fasciitis, the reconstitutional ability of sponges, the likelihood that a civilization-ending meteor impact would give us less than a second warning, the fact that Yellowstone Park has been due to blow a choking layer of dust across most of the US for at least 30,000 years.... fun stuff like that!
Final Score on the Chris Worth Scale: $18.75. And for something that comprehensively describes most of what your college textbooks (total cost, probably around $2000, depending on your course of study -- and science books are usually the most!) attempted, that is a pretty good price!