Review of 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

a_short_history_of_nearly_everything.jpg An interesting turn for Bryson for those fans of his “travel” writing as here he turns his hands to popular science. The chapters each talk about a particular aspect of our physical reality then spends an equal, if not greater, amount of time talking about how this was discovered focusing particularly on the personality of those involved or on the quirky nature of how it happened. This approach leads to a rather disjointed and often confusing narrative that seems to have no particular conclusion in mind and, indeed, ends on a somewhat minor note as the focus turns to humanity itself.

The book is divided into six sections: “Lost in the Cosmos”, “The Size of the Earth”, “A New Age Dawns”, “Dangerous Planet”, “Life Itself” and “The Road to Us”. In each section chapters pick up on themes related to each of these such as “Einstein's Universe” and “The Mighty Atom” in “A New Age Dawns”. Bryson gives a good general description of the science involved but also of the political and cultural context of the time though there is little attempt to fix this in the broader whole. In this way reading this book a bit at a time is probably best which is probably for the best due to the hefty 574 pages plus another 80 pages of “notes” that are basically specific source references that are not referenced directly in the text (followed by an index).

I found A Short History confusing and a real struggle to get through. The small stories of various historical characters were interesting but there was just so much of it I could take losing the names soon after they were thrown at me. Yeah, easy to read, but too much detail to really follow in any meaningful way with no clear overarching theme (or themes) to hold the whole thing together or hold the reader's attention. Disappointing.

Rating: “A bit better than average”

Review Date: 2018-12-28

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Black Swan

Publication Date: 2003

ISBN: 0552997048

Other reviewed books by Bill Bryson: