About Books #37: A Short History of Nearly Everything

So I know I talk largely about my love for books, and languages, and all other things “soft subjects” here. But here’s a fun fact for you: I absolutely love sciences. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve really delved into that side of my love for knowledge, but last December, I decided to get back on it. And Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything helped me do that!

Now, when I say I love sciences, that’s not an exaggeration. From primary school, I was always the “mathematical kid” in our household. In high school, I chose to have 7 hours of maths a week – it should’ve been 8, but they didn’t have enough hours. So… My school crammed 8 hours of things to learn into 7 hours and called it a day. I had another minimum of 6 hours of “actual” sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, geography) a week as well. All of that voluntary – am I making myself hugely unrelatable yet?

Anyways, all of that to say: I knew something before starting this book. But I didn’t know how little I knew until I really got into A Short History of Nearly Everything!

The book

This is the kind of book that can speak to quite a wide audience. I mean, I was reading it over Christmas, and my uncle (who’s twice my age) went home wanting to read it as well. One of my sisters – who probably could not care less about sciences – even thought it sounded interesting!

What makes people have that reaction, I think, is the fact that this is a book written by someone just trying to understand everything as you are reading along yourself. According to Goodreads, the book is basically the record of a quest (am I the only one immediately thinking King Arthur when I hear that word?):

“In Bryson’s biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as 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. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds.”

The opinion

As I stated above – I definitely already knew some science before starting this book. For me, that was a good thing. However, that’s not because you need to have a previous knowledge of what Bryson’s talking about. It is because this is the kind of book people would usually advise you to read when you’re at ease, with a nice cuppa and no noise to distract you.

Me, on the other hand? I read it on the train, in Starbucks, during breaks when I was teaching, and of course: over Christmas, when our house was filled to the brim with people. Kind of already knowing what this entire thing was about? Definitely made it easier to actually be able to keep reading!

Another thing that made reading easier? This is not one of those serious books. And by that, I don’t mean that it doesn’t seriously get down to business or that it’s author hasn’t seriously done his research. With all that research, though, Bryson doesn’t take himself or his book too seriously. There’s a certain levity to this entire book that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a book detailling the history of science and as such, the history of the world. That levity was most welcome though, and never took away from the actual subject matter.

The rating: 5/5

One of the best ways for me to know if a non-fiction is worth its time, is what it does to me. If I’m reading it and that’s it? Not a good sign. If it has me looking up extra information on the things it mentions because I just need to know more? A good sign. If I’m reading it and constantly interrupting people to tell them some fact or anecdote from the book? That’s a really good sign.

A Short History of Nearly Everything had me both looking facts up and interrupting other people, it had me shocked, at times (the whole volcano-thing? Just wow) and laughing out loud at others (yes, really, go ask the bf, he was looking at me really weirdly!)

In short: if you like sciences, or you never have but would like to get into them a bit more, I would definitely recommend this book. It will not give you all the information on everything – even its title doesn’t pretend as such. It will, however, give you a solid introduction into a lot of subjects. And as such, allow you to know whether -and if yes: what- you want to know more about science!

-Saar