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Cover image for A short history of nearly everything
A short history of nearly everything

Special illustrated ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Broadway Books, ©2005.
Physical Description:
624 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm
Lost in the Cosmos -- How to Build a Universe -- Welcome to the Solar System -- The Reverend Evans's Universe -- The Size of the Earth -- The Measure of Things -- The Stone-Breakers -- Science Red in Tooth and Claw -- Elemental Matters -- A New Age Dawns -- Einstein's Universe -- The Mighty Atom -- Getting the Lead Out -- Muster Mark's Quarks -- The Earth Moves -- Dangerous Planet -- Bang! -- The Fire Below -- Dangerous Beauty -- Life Itself -- Lonely Planet -- Into the Troposphere -- The Bounding Main -- The Rise of Life -- Small World -- Life Goes On -- Goodbye to All That -- The Richness of Being -- Cells -- Darwin's Singular Notion -- The Stuff of Life -- The Road to US -- Ice Time -- The Mysterious Biped -- The Restless Ape -- Goodbye.
In this book Bill Bryson explores the most intriguing and consequential questions that science seeks to answer and attempts to understand everything that has transpired from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. To that end, Bill Bryson apprenticed himself to a host of the world's most profound scientific minds, living and dead. His challenge is to take subjects like geology, chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics and see if there isn't some way to render them comprehensible to people, like himself, made bored (or scared) stiff of science by school. His interest is not simply to discover what we know but to find out how we know it. How do we know what is in the center of the earth, thousands of miles beneath the surface? How can we know the extent and the composition of the universe, or what a black hole is? How can we know where the continents were 600 million years ago? How did anyone ever figure these things out? On his travels through space and time, Bill Bryson encounters a splendid gallery of the most fascinating, eccentric, competitive, and foolish personalities ever to ask a hard question. In their company, he undertakes a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge.


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This new edition of the acclaimed bestseller is lavishly illustrated to convey, in pictures as in words, Bill Bryson's exciting, informative journey into the world of science. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, beloved author Bill Bryson confronts his greatest challenge yet: to understand--and, if possible, answer--the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as his territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. The result is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Now, in this handsome new edition, Bill Bryson's words are supplemented by full-color artwork that explains in visual terms the concepts and wonder of science, at the same time giving face to the major players in the world of scientific study. Eloquently and entertainingly described, as well as richly illustrated, science has never been more involving or entertaining.

Author Notes

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa on December 8, 1951. In 1973, he went backpacking in England, where he eventually decided to settle. He wrote for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent, as well as supplementing his income by writing travel articles.

He moved back to the United States in 1995. His first travel book, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, was published in 1989. His other books include I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson's African Diary, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Walk About, and Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, the Genius of the Royal Society. A Walk in the Woods was adapted into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

Bryson's titles, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, Notes from a Small Island and Neither Here Nor There made the New York Times bestseller list in 2016.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

As the title suggests, bestselling author Bryson (In a Sunburned Country) sets out to put his irrepressible stamp on all things under the sun. As he states at the outset, this is a book about life, the universe and everything, from the Big Bang to the ascendancy of Homo sapiens. "This is a book about how it happened," the author writes. "In particular how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since." What follows is a brick of a volume summarizing moments both great and curious in the history of science, covering already well-trod territory in the fields of cosmology, astronomy, paleontology, geology, chemistry, physics and so on. Bryson relies on some of the best material in the history of science to have come out in recent years. This is great for Bryson fans, who can encounter this material in its barest essence with the bonus of having it served up in Bryson's distinctive voice. But readers in the field will already have studied this information more in-depth in the originals and may find themselves questioning the point of a breakneck tour of the sciences that contributes nothing novel. Nevertheless, to read Bryson is to travel with a memoirist gifted with wry observation and keen insight that shed new light on things we mistake for commonplace. To accompany the author as he travels with the likes of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton is a trip worth taking for most readers. First printing 110,000; 11-city author tour. (On sale May 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science--e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?--and, when possible, provides answers. As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he's egged on even more so by the people who've figured out--or think they've figured out--such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material--time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction--and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, "The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose." Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy "to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point." Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Confessing to an aversion to science dating to his 1950s school days, Bryson here writes for those of like mind, perhaps out of guilt about his lack of literacy on the subject. Bryson reports he has been doing penance by reading popular-science literature published in the past decade or two, and buttonholing a few science authors, such as Richard Fortey (Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution, 2000). The authors Bryson talks to are invariably enthusiasts who, despite their eminence, never look on his questions as silly but, rather, view them as welcome indicators of interest and curiosity. Making science less intimidating is Bryson's essential selling point as he explores an atom; a cell; light; the age and fate of the earth; the origin of human beings. Bryson's organization is historical and his prose heavy on humanizing anecdotes about the pioneers of physics, chemistry, geology, biology, evolution and paleontology, or cosmology. To those acquainted with the popular-science writing Bryson has digested, his repackaging is a trip down memory lane, but to his fellow science-phobes, Bryson' s tour has the same eye-opening quality to wonder and amazement as his wildly popular travelogues. --Gilbert Taylor

Choice Review

Bryson, a noted science writer, has prepared a history book for every reader. He weaves scientific discoveries and events into a story with this plot: how the world came to be. Names of comets, constants, laws, and theories become real human beings complete with quirky personalities. This is not a dry history of science but a tale of our universe, discovered through the eyes and experiments of those men and women who dared to search for answers. Although the intended audience might be anyone who avoided taking more science classes than necessary in high school, that does not mean that scientists in all areas will not delight in reading how interrelated the fields actually are. The book is arranged in parts, with chapters following a rough time line of discoveries in various fields. Each chapter includes a notes section, and the book includes an impressive bibliography along with a decent index. It is not a reference book, and to use it as such would be a crime. This wonderful book is highly recommended as an inspiration to budding scientists and those who spend moments wondering about the world around them. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All levels. L. A. Hall California State University--Sacramento

Library Journal Review

Bryson is one of the wittiest, most talented writers we have today. His travel books on England, the United States, and Australia are classics and will keep readers in stitches with his special talent-his gift!-for storytelling. But now he offers us this glimpse into scientific areas he admits he didn't understand as a student and tries to make palatable for his loyal listeners. Geology, astronomy, quantum mechanics, vulcanology, plate tectonics-if it weren't for Bryson's outstanding skills as a satirist and as a wry commentator on today's society, most listeners would have gone screaming into the night believing they were trapped in some hellish replay of college courses they flunked the first time around. Even though it's a pleasure to hear the author's comments on the petty rivalries of scientists and how many things were discovered almost by accident (this CD version is energized by an outstanding narration by Richard Matthews, who reads Bryson's words with wry British humor), we are still talking about subjects few people understand. Bryson's obvious success at self-education in the various scientific areas he discusses is to be applauded, but quantum mechanics is still quantum mechanics, no matter how many zingers he throws at squabbling scientists and long-held ridiculous theories. Recommended with the caveat that much of this book is a stretch to get through and only Bryson's wit takes us to the end, panting and gasping all the way.-Joseph L. Carlson, Allan Hancock Coll., Lompoc, CA(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. 6
Introductionp. 7
1 Lost in the Cosmos
1 How to Build a Universep. 15
2 Welcome to the Solar Systemp. 27
3 The Reverend Evans's Universep. 41
2 The Size of the Earth
4 The Measure of Thingsp. 61
5 The Stone-Breakersp. 85
6 Science Red in Tooth and Clawp. 103
7 Elemental Mattersp. 123
3 A New Age Dawns
8 Einstein's Universep. 145
9 The Mighty Atomp. 167
10 Getting the Lead Outp. 185
11 Muster Mark's Quarksp. 199
12 The Earth Movesp. 217
4 Dangerous Planet
13 Bang!p. 237
14 The Fire Belowp. 261
15 Dangerous Beautyp. 281
5 Life Itself
16 Lonely Planetp. 301
17 Into the Tropospherep. 319
18 The Bounding Mainp. 335
19 The Rise of Lifep. 361
20 Small Worldp. 379
21 Life Goes Onp. 403
22 Goodbye to All Thatp. 419
23 The Richness of Beingp. 441
24 Cellsp. 467
25 Darwin's Singular Notionp. 479
26 The Stuff of Lifep. 497
6 The Road to US
27 Ice Timep. 521
28 The Mysterious Bipedp. 541
29 The Restless Apep. 565
30 Goodbyep. 585
Notesp. 596
Bibliographyp. 609
Illustrationsp. 612
Indexp. 617