The author of the New York bestseller – A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson is not a scientist. He’s just a master storyteller sharing his experiences of chatting and apprenticing with some of the best minds in the world. With this book, Bryson has taken up the challenge to discover, unravel and make every reader understand the workings of this planet. The book is supremely simple, astounding, revealing and most invigorating read science genre has seen in a long time.
For long we have seen there have been less and less takers of science as a hobby. People read classics and fiction, even non-fiction but readers taking up science for leisure reading is not a common sight anymore. Bryson feels this is because even the masters at science tend to hide information in incomprehensible jargon, as a result our innate curiosity to understand what we see on a regular basis is lost.
Typically a travel writer, Bryson got into this after peering out of his plane window and it struck him, “with a certain uncomfortable forcefulness” he says ”that I didn’t know the first thing about the only planet I was ever going to live on.” As he read, asked questions about these topics, it led him to more and more questions, which needed to be answered. Therefore, through “A Brief History Of Everything” we discover everything with the author from a tiny particle of matter, to what we are as a civilisation today.
Every fact pertaining to physics, geology, chemistry, biology has been presented with utmost precision and clarity. The book is replete with amazing facts and revelations all over. It turns out to be a good load for the reader, as a result it is mostly advised to read the book between breaks, and to process the information slowly. The readers admit to feeling enlightened throughout its reading and slowly slipping back into oblivion until they pick it up again.
A Short History of Nearly Everything has an astounding range of topics discussed in the text extending approximately 600 pages. I still remember the “most active volcano in the world” is the Yellowstone National Park. Chapter 16 discusses health benefits of certain metals. It mentions that sodium is essential for nerves and zinc-being the blessed metal it is-helps in digestion of alcohol. Bryson also divulges some detail on mad scientists of yore: Isaac Newton had once stuck a needle in his eyes “to see what happens”(nothing really did).The man who coined the tem “supernova”, Fritz Zwicky was so notoriously aggressive, that he would break into one-armed push-ups at any instant. His own lab partner had refused to work with him in one room. The book is in its essence, a rough manual on science, which is to be learnt rather than just read.
The best part about this book is how successful it is in making science easy and accessible to anyone. Afterall, how many non-fiction science books make it to the top of new York bestsellers? Also playing a major part, are the easy to understand explanations that barely use any scientific jargon. This is a brief account of his description of a cell – ”If you could visit a cell, you wouldn’t like it,” he says. ”Blown up to a scale at which atoms were about the size of peas, a cell itself would be a sphere roughly half a mile across, and supported by a complex framework of girders called the cytoskeleton. Within it, millions upon millions of objects — some the size of basketballs, others the size of cars — would whiz about like bullets. There wouldn’t be a place you could stand without being pummeled and ripped thousands of times every second from every direction. Even for its full-time occupants the inside of a cell is a hazardous place. Each strand of DNA is on average attacked or damaged once every 8.4 seconds — 10,000 times in a day — by chemicals and other agents that whack into or carelessly slice through it, and each of these wounds must be swiftly stitched up if the cell is not to perish.”
Even though A Short History of Nearly Everything presents a very vividly painted picture of everything discussed in the book, nothing is incomprehensible or technical. Bryson knows what it is like to read boring science textbooks, and he has tried his best to not make this book one of them. His witty ways of writing are a treat all along, it was like reading a science textbook and laughing all through it (a rare phenomenon).