A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
A Short History100An ambitious title which reveals Bill Bryson’s understanding of the entwining interconnectedness of our existence. To fully describe anything, is to describe everything, so I admire Bryson taking on the challenge.

His chosen perspective from which to view his subject is science. He takes us on a journey which begins with the Big Bang and follows the processes of evolution and creation from that point to the present. It ranges from within the atom to the entire universe.

Bryson’s style is easy going and informal, which is a bonus as some of the topic areas could otherwise be unintelligible.

As a description of the journey through which you and I were created, the story is appropriately engaging.

Such a journey, you might expect, should be eye opening and insightful, and in this respect it does not disappoint both in terms of the development of science and the triumphs and frailties of scientists.

Great advances and the not so great are explored, such as the development of leaded petrol and CFC’s and challenges such as dating the age of the Earth.

All are described in understandable and entertaining style.

You’ll also find out about yourself, for example discovering the 100,000 or so bacteria that occupy every square centimetre of your skin. And before you attempt the impossible task of cleansing yourself, you would do well to note what bacteria do for us. As Bryson puts it,

”The bacteria will still be here when the sun explodes. This is their planet and we are only here because they allow us to be. Bacteria got along for billions of years without us, we couldn’t last a day without them.”

It’s a fascinating and wide ranging book.

As an answer to how we got here, it’s very good, but as a stimulus to questions and new ideas, it’s even better.

I made innumerable notes as my imagination raced. Here are some examples-

  • We levitate one Angstrom above our chairs.
  • Every atom of our body was created in a star.
  • Of the 23 main divisions of life on Earth only three are visible to the Human eye.
  • There is more genetic difference between Zebra and Horse, than between Chimp and Human.
  • In the Great Rift Valley near Nairobi is a tool factory that operated for a million years.
  • If creativity is seeing new things and in new ways, then this book entertainingly invites both.

Steve Unwin
February 2008