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A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson | Book Review

Every student feels that textbooks are the most efficient soporifics, especially science textbooks. Why most of us feel bored after reading a paragraph or two of an article on science (if it is not about something dazzling that would radically change your daily life)? Bill Bryson also felt the same and thought that there must be a better way of doing things. So, he has taken up the task of representing scientific facts in an easy and interesting book to read, called “A short history of nearly everything”. First published in 2003, the book has been a best-seller amongst the scientific books for general public.

The book touches on various aspects of scientific history in the areas of Astronomy, Paleantology, Geology, Atomic and Nuclear Physics, Biology, Anthroplogy, chemistry etc. in the main sections as listed below:
Part I : Lost in the Cosmos
Part II: The Size of the Earth
Part III: A New Age Dawns
Part IV: Dangerous Planet
Part V: Life Itself
Part VI: The Road to Us

As can be seen, the book is not divided in scientific sections like majority of science books. Bryson weaves events and discoveries pertaining to various discipline in a smooth and continuous story-like narrative. What makes this work an interesting account of science is that scientists here are living people, full of eccentricities, as perfect and as imperfect, as normal humans are. They are not some forgetful, out-of-the-world geniuses, churning scientific discoveries from their laboratories and aloof from the rest of the world. The field of scientific research is as competitive and as full of jealousy, ill-will, maltreatment and secrecy as any other. And though we are talking about science and scientists, ironically luck does play a crucial part in most of the scientists’ life. Many a geniuses remain unknown because they either lived in a wrong time or were not keen to publish their discoveries or had just plain, sheer bad luck to not get their dues.

In Bryson’s narrative, all these beautifully comes to life as he takes us on this journey of history of essentially human minds’ efforts over time to unravel the mysteries surrounding us. For centuries, we have struggled to understand this universe, our place in it, our earth and its peculiarities, evolution of life on our planet, the occasional and/or disastrous extinction of various species, nature of the matter surrounding us and within us and much more. The book explains the scientific facts and also various methods adopted by scientists for research and deriving conclusions.

While reading the book, you will also realise that science, and human knowledge for that matter, is like a big jigsaw puzzle. With every discovery and invention, we get one more piece that fits with others to create a more informative picture. But the whole picture is nowhere near completion. Every day brings something new to light that simplifies some things by rearrangement of pieces but may also result in futility of some others, thus bringing clarity and confusion to the field at the same time. What was believed to be solid truth yesterday, loses its validity today. At the end of eighteenth century, prominent scientists were of opinion that everything that was worth discovering was already in place and science had reached its pinnacle. But, nineteenth century proved to be one of the most fruitful century in terms of advancement in science. Some of the never before thought fields like nuclear physics, electronics, space and digital revolution radically changed the human lives. Thats the most beautiful thing about science: it changes every day. And having an open and unpresemtuous mind is the key to the world of scientific discoveries. Here, anything is possible. If it seems impossible, we just don’t have enough knowledge to explain the seeming impossible facts.

An easy and entertaining “science digest” for everyone…A must read, if you would like to indulge your intelligence with dazzlingly beautiful scientific facts that are so integral to our lives, that we hardly notice it……

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