“Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize. To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you… ” (A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson)
All in all, I think that this was a perfect book to begin my non-fiction summer largely because it is an epic multi-disciplinary survey, but also because it affirmed my suspicion that informational texts are indeed enjoyable to read. The ‘special illustrated edition’ is particularly recommendation-worthy as it has the look of a rather extensive and well-bound magazine instead of your normal text-heavy book. It is full to the brim with gorgeous, mountain photographs and equally with somewhat distressing close-ups of green eye-lash mites.
Although I did learn a fist-full of interesting facts, and fill hundreds of little gaps in my knowledge of the sciences from public education, what this book did best was to show that science has not yet discovered everything. I had always had a sneaking, and perhaps not fully conscious, suspicion that someone, somewhere, knew the answer to any question I could have – but this is definitively not the case. Bill Bryson lists without fail at least one enormous problem that each discipline has yet to understand. Whether it is what exactly the mantle consists of, or how the oceans effect meteorology, the reader gets the distinct sense that there is still much work to be done. He renews a sense of curiosity and the excitement of discovery to subjects that many might have considered dry, and this general atmosphere is, I think, more important than any single piece of information you might learn here.
On the other hand, this book is not for the light of heart. While Bill Bryson commendably locates unsolved problems in each discipline, he also does not neglect to mention at least one life-threatening condition every chapter. Whether he does this to increase the suspense of his informational text or to inform people is a current subject of debate in my head. Thus, I am left with a sense of wonder at life, but also with the impression that I will most likely be dead before the end of the summer. Whether it will be the yellowstone volcano, a meteor, or bacteria that will prevent me from reaching my late-twenties, I don’t know, but I feel that the chances are infinitely higher than they were last week – before I started reading the book.
Beverage: A simple glass of water will do nicely here. Bill Bryson contends that life, and fresh water, is so unlikely and wonderful that your awareness of it will be infinitely heightened.
Reminds me of… BBC’s Planet Earth. Reach and watch the two together and your mind will be completely immersed in a leisurely study of nearly everything.