Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Book review: A Short History Of Nearly Everything

I really wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up Bill Bryson's book on science, I'd heard good things about it but wasn't sure really what I would get out of it. It was something I wanted to read before getting into other books that detail the specifics, that way I wouldn't be reading over the same kinds of information. What I discovered, however, was that what I did know enhanced the learning experience.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything achieved what it set out to do, explain the basics of science in a manner that is understandable for the layman. As a rough guide to science, it's hard to think of any resource better. It's the kind of book I wish I had in high school, maybe it would have kept me in the science lab instead of the computer lab.

The manner in which the science is laid out is well presented, it ties together the many different facets of knowledge well. It not only tells the stories of the information we know now, but also goes to great lengths to tell the story of the history of knowledge and the progression of ideas. That understanding of the context is vital to understanding the information.

The book was not only about the science, but the scientists behind it. Scientists are fascinating people, and at each step of the way the scientist behind the discovery had an interesting tale to tell. From egotistical narcissists to paranoid eccentrics and all the lucky or unlucky moments that befell them, each discovery was accompanied with a mini biography of the discoverer. Most of the time this was entertaining, but occasionally dragged on for too long and left me thinking "Isn't this supposed to be a science book?"

Overall it was a thoroughly entertaining read. Bryson did a superb job of pacing this book out, he made otherwise dull areas of science seem exciting, and was able to make every chapter both entertaining and informative. What most impressed me was the humility in it all, he went to great lengths to stress the unknown and where conflict exists in the scientific community on certain issues. It was very refreshing to see a pop-science book that was so willing to talk about what is still yet to be discovered, it's a softer stance that when talking to the general public is needed. Read this book!

Next book: Stephen Hawking - A Brief History of Time

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