Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Watson was a misogynist and racist. Halley was the one who actually haggled Newton into publishing Principia Mathematica. Robert Hooke was a shameless plagiarist. Wolfgang Pauli's wife ran of with a chemist. Avogadro, of the Avogadro no. fame, was brought to a school by his mother who hitchhiked 4000 miles, to make sure he got an education and died shortly after they got to the school. Henry Cavendish was quite possibly the worst introvert in history. Almost half of Science's discoveries are misattributed, either because the discoverer's were very secretive, or because the ones who got the attribution were more influential in there fields. And the barrage of facts goes on and on like this.


A Short History of Nearly Everything (henceforth known as ASHONE) is one of those books you have to careful to keep at an arm's length, or you'll have to go through an existential crisis, every few chapters. Bill Bryson loves to make statements like this, often without any warning.

“99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived are no longer with us.” And this,

“Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.”

These seem innocuous enough, at the face of it. But by photon, stop putting so much pressure on me. I don't need to be aware of the fact that something that has been successful for 3.8 bn years can and very possibly might end with me. Okay? No. NO.

Everything I have read in this book, every page, taught me something new. I am not sure I will retain a percentage of that in the long run. But oddly enough, while most books ultimately leave you feeling that you know very little, this book massages your ego a bit and makes you feel like you got something out of a book and can, at least for a while, rest on the fact that so much knowledge was shoe horned into you.

“The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.”

This is one of those books that will make you rethink many things in your life. Needless to say, if you are open enough to it. ASHONE has it all. Witty writing, Science and well, some Geology. Or does that come under science too?

There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.”

This should be made a compulsory reading in all high schools, as soon as students are capable of handling the language used.

I had in mind a long review, but for some reason, my brain refuses to play along. Perhaps a few days later.

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