Reviewed by Kristin
Bill Bryson is quite an amusing author. Ever since I read A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail back in 1998, I’ve been hooked. However, since I started the audiobook version of A Short History of Nearly Everything (the original, adult version) I have been learning and laughing my way through my short daily commute to work. In fact, my fifteen-year-old has even been laughing when she listens along with me, as Bryson spouts out ridiculous bits of biographical material about the scientists who have made significant discoveries about how the world works.
For the first time, I actually understand scientific things that were previously beyond my grasp. Bryson makes Einstein’s theory of relativity pretty easy to comprehend and explains scientific notation in a way that makes me see just how large (or small) things are, when they have to be measured as 10 to the 26th power. Bryson describes the immenseness of space and the proportions of what takes up space in your average atom. He explains the composition of our earth, our atmosphere, and our universe, so far as we can deduce from the scientific evidence gathered over the recent centuries.
Of course many more things are included, as this IS a short history of nearly everything.
With the grown-up version being a hefty 544 pages, (almost 18 hours as an audiobook) the kids’ version is called A Really Short History of Nearly Everything. With bountiful illustrations and blocks of large print text, interesting facts are packed into the 169 pages in a kid friendly way.
Bryson states that his fascination with science began with a 1950’s era science textbook with a cutaway diagram showing a cross section of the earth. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t nearly as interesting as the diagram led him to believe, and Bryson lost his scientific curiosity for a time. Fortunately for us, he found it again and was willing to expound upon his knowledge in an attempt to explain the history of nearly everything.
Obviously, no one can write a single volume or even a set of volumes that explains everything in this great world around us. (That’s why we have internet-empowered librarians and information specialists, right? We definitely do not know everything, but we have a good idea of where to look to find the answers.) But Bryson certainly does try, and makes much of it extremely accessible to the average reader.