Sunday, 20 March 2011

20. "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson

Publisher: Black Swan
Page count: 686 pages
Date begun: February 18th, 2011
Date finished: March 20th, 2011

I was never the most enthusiastic student of science, and gave it up as soon as it was no longer mandatory in school to study more languages and literature instead. I occasionally have to sub a science lesson, and looking at the textbooks the kids in my secondary school are studying, there's a huge amount of stuff I probably did learn in school at some point, but that I've happily forgotten. I figured it might be a good idea to try to re-learn some of it, and since I've enjoyed every Bill Bryson book I ever read (and this seems to be one of his most acclaimed books yet), I picked up A Short History of Nearly Everything a few years ago.

When I started reading it the first time, I think I got halfway through the introduction before something else distracted me and the book was left to languish on a shelf. It seemed a bit boring to me, and I just couldn't muster up the willpower to get through such a big book (which is ironic, as I will happily read an epic fantasy novel way bigger if the mood strikes me) at that point. Yet when I started it again this year, determined that my 52 books for CBRIII wasn't just going to be fantasy, romance and romantic fantasy (cause let's face it, that is the majority of what I read), I found that it was very enjoyable and not at all hard going. I'd read over 400 pages before I put it down for a little break (big mistake - there were so many other shiny books I needed to read that got in the way of me starting it up again) that turned into three weeks. I found myself not just re-learning many of the things I'd been taught at school, but learning new and fascinating and odd stuff about geology and evolution and DNA and biology and realized that the scientists of the 18-19th Century were often extremely colourful and peculiar individuals.

While Bryson covers a huge array of scientific subjects, he still writes in his usual witty and informative way, and the book explains fairly complicated things and ideas in ways that even I, a disinterested linguist and historian can understand. I strongly recommend the book to anyone fond of well-written non-fiction, especially if you want to brush up on your general science knowledge.

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