Bill Bryson Explains It All
October 22, 2010
Suppose you wanted to know the broad outline of all current scientific knowledge. Who would you turn to? Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Bill Nye or...Bill Bryson?
Most readers are familiar with Bill Bryson as the writer of such humorous travel books as A Walk in the Woods, Notes from a Small Island, In a Sunburned Country, The Lost Continent, and I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Bryson is a native Iowan (he hilariously portrays his mid-century, middle-class, middle-American childhood in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid) who moved to Britain, back to America, and then back to Britain again. His status as an American in Britain and an expatriate in America has given him the ability to see the glories and foibles of both countries.
In addition to his travel writing, he has also written several books on the English language and William Shakespeare. In the process, he has created one of the best-loved bodies of non-fiction writing of our times.
When he realized that he knew basically nothing about science and that most textbooks transform science from a wondrous enterprise to a compendium of boring facts, he set out to enlighten himself. The result is A Short History of Nearly Everything.
The great virtue of this book is that it is written by a non-scientist with a flair for telling the story of what we know and how we came to know it. Mixing the facts of science with the stories of the often eccentric individuals engaged in science, Bryson covers it all. In the process, Bryson turns up such little-known and amusing chapters of the history of science as the Great American Incognitum and the fitness obsessions Caltech astronomer Fritz Zwicky.
Even if you're more of a Penny than a Sheldon, you'll probably enjoy this book, and as a bonus you'll actually understand more of the jokes on the Big Bang Theory.
P.S. Having covered the cosmic scale of the universe and its laws, Bryson's latest book brings us back down to the human scale with At Home: A Short History of Private Life. I've already placed a hold on it, and I can't wait to get my hands on it.