A Short History of Nearly Everything

“It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.” 
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

 Progress

Every year, I include a book that will challenge my left brain functions.  This year it was Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”  I have never read any of Bill Bryson’s books before even though he is considered one of North America’s most popular writers of non-fiction.  His publishers relish the fact that his name sells books, possibly the greatest competitive advantage in the book making business.

“A Short History of Nearly Everything” attempts to tell the story of our universe from the very beginning.  Bill Bryson covers a great deal of ground, using a master storytelling style that keeps the reader interested from page one, or track one, if you are listening to the audio book as I did.  Listening to his softly modulated, welcoming voice added to the appeal.  It reminded me of sitting around a campfire listening to the legends of old.

Bill Bryson has a knack of targeting his audience, arguably one of the reasons he is so successful.  The story of the universe is not an easy subject, nor is the science behind it.  In fact, it can be rather intimidating.  Never fear, the complexities have been removed so that the narrative unfolds gently, without complicated equations or complex jargon.  Instead, Bill Bryson gives us historical anecdotes about the people who contributed to the collective learning.

My overall impression was that Bill Bryson was the intermediary, even a translator, between the scientific community and the rest of us who want to expand our knowledge at a leisurely pace.   I was amused, however, by his subtle way of letting the reader know that he was an invited guest to the elite scientific community.  But then, who can blame him for being excited about conversing with the biggest names in science.

Bill Bryson sparked my interest in looking back in to narratives of science and philosophy in more detail.  He reminds us that we do indeed “stand on the shoulders of giants.

“When the poet Paul Valery once asked Albert Einstein if he kept a notebook to record his ideas, Einstein looked at him with mild but genuine surprise.”Oh, that’s not necessary,” he replied. “It’s so seldom I have one.” 
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

18 Comments

    1. Clanmother

      Hi Kat! I think that you will like this one! I was always confused in Science Class – Bill Bryson has a unique way of simplifying complex ideas. And he uses humour to keep the reader turning to the next page!!! Thanks for stopping by….

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  1. kbvollmarblog

    Dear Rebecca,
    yes, Bill Bryson just lives at the other side of Norwich as I do – the village is called Wymondham (but funnily pronounced as Wyndom). He lived for quite a while in England, went back to the US but, of course, couldn`t stand it there anymore and came back to England settling down not far from where I am living.
    I read all his books and liked them all. I started with “A Short History …” (a present from Dina :-)) and was very much impressed how well he was able to present science. Although he covers modern physics f.e. it`s an easy, well, a very easy read.
    All the best to you.
    Big HUGS and LOVE
    Klausbernd and his Bookfayries Siri and Selma

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    1. Clanmother

      You must live in a beautiful countryside! I remember reading that J.R.R. Tolkien was very concerned about industrialization having a negative affect on rural communities. I think we all want more “green” in our lives. A gentler existence. About a year ago, I left my career to seek a different pathway and it has made a significant change in my thinking. What was once so important, is no longer. Now, I am finding a clarity, a recognition that meaning is found in the connections that we forged with others. I do enjoy our conversations! Big hugs to you, Klausbernd and to your remarkable Bookfayries Siri and Selma. We are celebration Victoria Day this weekend!

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  2. leapingtracks

    I very rarely re-read books, but your posts and review of this one has reminded me just how much I enjoyed this one and I might have to go back to it. I like the idea of the audio version this time round.

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    1. Clanmother

      Bill Byson’s voice has the perfect pitch for audio. Having read a few audio books over the past 4 years, I find that the voice of the narrative determines if I will enjoy the book. For example, I just picked up a book about Aristotle and found the reader to be rather arrogant (although I am certain this was not his intention). I merely went on to the next audio-book.

      Before you reread “A Short History” may I suggest that you look at Leonard Mlodinow’s “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives.” And get it in audio-book form, which is probably at your local library, which is where I happened to stumble across it. It is one of my absolute favourite books.

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  3. LaVagabonde

    I’ve read one book by him, a travel book about Europe. He really rubbed me the wrong way. However, if his style appeals to the masses and can therefore entice them to turn off the TV and read about such things as the universe then that’s great.

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    1. Clanmother

      I had to look up the book you were talking about! And I think I found it – “Neither Here no There: Travels in Europe.” He starts his journey in Hammerfest, Norway, in the middle of winter and ends in Istanbul. When I look at the reviews, they are extremes of one star and five stars. This is what Wikipedia had to say about this book: “Unlike Bryson’s later books, Neither Here Nor There is marked by his solo observations; he does not seem to engage locals in conversation in his travels, nor is there as much detailed research about the history, flora and fauna of the places visited.”

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. Books are the soul of humanity…

      “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
      ― Ray Bradbury

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  4. Letizia

    It’s funny that you listened to this on audiobook as I was first introduced to Bryson through his audiobook ‘A Walk in the Woods’. I think his voice- his actual voice but also his narrative voice- lends itself well to audiobooks as even when I read his books now, I still hear his actual voice in my head!

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    1. Clanmother

      I agree wholeheartedly – there is a restful quality about him. By the way, I have “A Walk in the Woods” on audio-book although I haven’t read it as yet. I think that I might add that to my 2014 books to read list. Thank you for the recommendation. Your presence and comments are very much appreciated!

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  5. Dina

    I just love the work of Bill Bryson, thank you for presenting his wonderful, most famous book! My favourite is “Notes from a small island” – the best exercise for your laughing muscles. Bryson lives in Norfolk just as Klausbernd and the bookfayries and everybody are so proud because he has picked their county to settle down for good. I’d feel very good having you as a neighbor, Rebecca. 🙂 Keep up the good work. Have a lovely weekend.
    A big hug from Norway!
    Dina

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    1. Clanmother

      Thank you so much for stopping by all the way from Norway! I didn’t know that Bill Bryson lived in Norfolk! I always thought he was American so I looked him up on wikipedia to get a little of his background. He was born in Des Moines, Iowa, a long way from England. And now he is neighbors of Klausbernd!

      Life changes when you decide to travel – you never know what will happen when you step out the front door!

      I would love to be your neighbour! What adventures we would have….

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