The latest book to fall to my charge towards thirty books read this year was “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. One of the more ambitious science books I’ve ever read, Bryson tries to condense… well, nearly everything into a book totalling around 400 pages, once you cut off the notes and annotations.
More than anything, I was impressed with the way that he made it seem like there almost a singular thread weaving together everything from the formation to the universe to molecular biology to the evolution of man… which impressively wasn’t the universe’s inexorable drive to create man, but more its endless capacity for denying human knowledge and inspiring wonder.
Stronger even then that thread was the hubris of the scientists that studied the universe. The driest parts of the book by far are the long passages dedicated to scientists sparring over their obscure corners of the scientific record, though Bryson does an admirable job of reaching beyond those who simply got credit to acknowledge the men and women who often thanklessly did the real work.
What kept me reading were things like the breathless descriptions of the size of the atom, reverent discussions about the ubiquity of bacteria, ruminations on supervolcanoes, and sober looks at the relative hopelessness of paleontology. There are more things in heaven and earth, reader, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. And they just all happen to be covered in this book.
Ideas I Will Steal for My Hypothetical Future Book: A character named after Thomas Midgley, the inventor of ethyl, who openly lied to journalists about its safety, just months after being nearly killed by exposure to it. The quintessential corporate liar!