A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (Google eBook)
Bill Bryson is one of the world’s most beloved and bestselling writers. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, he takes his ultimate journey–into the most intriguing and consequential questions that science seeks to answer. It’s a dazzling quest, the intellectual odyssey of a lifetime, as this insatiably curious writer attempts to understand everything that has transpired from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. Or, as the author puts it, “…how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since.” This is, in short, a tall order.
To that end, Bill Bryson apprenticed himself to a host of the world’s most profound scientific minds, living and dead. His challenge is to take subjects like geology, chemisty, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics and see if there isn’t some way to render them comprehensible to people, like himself, made bored (or scared) stiff of science by school. His interest is not simply to discover what we know but to find out how we know it. How do we know what is in the center of the earth, thousands of miles beneath the surface? How can we know the extent and the composition of the universe, or what a black hole is? How can we know where the continents were 600 million years ago? How did anyone ever figure these things out?
On his travels through space and time, Bill Bryson encounters a splendid gallery of the most fascinating, eccentric, competitive, and foolish personalities ever to ask a hard question. In their company, he undertakes a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only this superb writer can render it. Science has never been more involving, and the world we inhabit has never been fuller of wonder and delight.
From the Hardcover edition.
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I am not a big reader but this is one of my favorite books.
I absolutely loved this book because it consolidated a lot of information that I had already known but updated it and in some odd cases was dated. The article published just recently "Non-Africans Are Part Neanderthal, Genetic Research" published July 18, 2011 which can be read at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110718085329.htm demonstrates how quickly the scientific community is moving these day.
Dr. Labuda and his team almost a decade ago had identified a piece of DNA (called a haplotype) in the human X chromosome that seemed different and whose origins they questioned. When the Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010, they quickly compared 6000 chromosomes from all parts of the world to the Neanderthal haplotype. The Neanderthal sequence was present in peoples across all continents, except for sub-Saharan Africa, and including Australia.
"There is little doubt that this haplotype is present because of mating with our ancestors and Neanderthals. This is a very nice result, and further analysis may help determine more details," says Dr. Nick Patterson, of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, a major researcher in human ancestry who was not involved in this study.
The only angst I experienced reading this book came in the last two pages where Bill Bryson was willing to cede to humanity the job of stewarding the earth. The rest of the book happily presented the earth and it's inhabitants as a cosmic role of the dice where time and probabilities with a lot of luck created everything. I the very end of the book he wanted to hang onto what we have believing that we, humans, are an exogenous species effecting the world around us in a completely unique way.
I for one believe that we are a part of the environment and that what will come through our ability to steward or inability to steward is part of the natural selection process.