While almost on vacation, I’ve been reading "A Short History of Nearly Everything"
by Bill Bryson. Here’s the summary:
From primordial nothingness to this very moment, A Short History of Nearly Everything
reports what happened and how humans figured it out. To accomplish this
daunting literary task, Bill Bryson uses hundreds of sources, from
popular science books to interviews with luminaries in various fields.
His aim is to help people like him, who rejected stale school textbooks
and dry explanations, to appreciate how we have used science to
understand the smallest particles and the unimaginably vast expanses of
I’m not usually a fan of books that claim to be summaries-of-science-for-the-layman, but so far this one is great. Bryson is a fantastic writer and he spent 3+ years consulting a huge group of worthies to put the book together.
Early on, there’s a great quote from Carl Sagan that I’d somehow never seen before (or I’d forgotten that I’d seen it):
The total amount of energy from outside the solar system ever received by all the radio telescopes on the planet Earth is less than the energy of a singly snowflake striking the ground.
And did you know that the same guy (Thomas Midgley) that came up with the oh-so-brilliant idea of adding lead to gasoline was the guy that invented chlorofluorocarbons? Quite the legacy… And the book is chock full of great side-notes like that.
I first found Bryson through one of his earliest books, "Notes from a Small Island". He’s an American who lived in the UK for a number of years, and "Notes" captures much of the essence of being English and living in England (both in a good and bad way). I found it laugh out loud funny, but that may have a lot to do with my experiences living and growing up over here.
If you’re looking for an interesting slightly nerd-oriented read, I highly recommend reading "A Short History". And if you’re a determined Anglophile, you’ll like the other one too…