In high school, my Biology teacher, Ms. Boykin at Chattahoochee High School, failed at teaching the subject properly. At the end of every quiz, she’d go over the questions the students got wrong and say, oh – you probably meant to put this correct answer, so I’m going to change it. Everyone got A grades in her class because she would change the wrong answers to the correct ones. You can imagine that quickly squelched any desire to learn when A grades were guaranteed. The following year, I took Chemistry and was completely lost.
Science has never been my strong suit and I attribute a lot of that to that horrible teacher.
But it’s my problem now. I can’t keep blaming a bad teacher from my past. There are tools available where I can read, watch videos, and teach myself the science I missed in high school and college.
With that quest in mind, I don’t think there are many other books out there that rival the choice of A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. This book was suggested to me by a long-time friend and colleague, Roxanne Russell.
It sounds like Bill Bryson was a little like me. On the back cover of the book, he writes:
“…I didn’t know what a proton was, or a protein, didn’t know a quark from a quasar, didn’t know how an atom was put together and couldn’t imagine by what means anyone deduced such a thing. Suddenly, I had a powerful, uncharacteristic urge to know something about these matters and to understand how people figured them out.”
So, that’s what he did, and the result was this book. Conincidentally, that’s where I am! I don’t know the basics of science or science history. I only know who discovered what at a very basic level.
A Short History of Nearly Everything combines science ideas with history and with the people who discovered them (oftentimes, not the scientists we think discovered them). As the title suggests, it provides a cursory view of the earth and its inhabitants. This is an introduction to science and the universe and it’s accessible and entertaining. Bill Bryson is a funny and educational writer.
One thing I found hilarious was the amount of infighting amongst scientists. It seems like every major breakthrough was combined with the most childlike behavior from the men and women making these discoveries.
My one regret is not having read this book. I listened to the audio version, which in itself was quite entertaining as I was learning about the stars while running before sunlight looking at the stars. However, as my wife can attest, I recall information better by reading than by listening. So, I wish I had read this one and underlined throughout the book instead of listening to it. I actually plan to “re-read” this book in the next few years. It was really good.
If science was your strong suit in school and you know the earth’s history, this book will be very elemental for you. But, if you’re like me, or even if you need a refresher, this is a great book that ties some many ideas and scientists together into a cohesive whole.
This is book 40 of 52 of Erik’s 2018 Books of Titans reading list.