Friday, January 27, 2006

Book Review - A Short History of Nearly Everything

I've been doing a lot of reading over the past couple of weeks. A LOT of reading.

You might not think there is time to read with a 2-year-old and a newborn in the house, but the nursing sessions are the perfect opportunity to catch up with a book.

My husband was kind enough to give me his old Tungsten Palm, loaded up with e-books. So far I've read 7 books in 3 weeks, and am working on the 8th.

A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson

My husband was convinced I would not like this book. At first I assumed it was because he thought I would not be interested in the content. This book is all about sciences - paleontology, astrophysics, quantam physics, geology, etc. (all of which I am actually very interested in).

Or, I thought, maybe he thought I wouldn't like it because it was a little heavier than what I was looking for (I'd mentioned to him not long before that I just couldn't manage comprehension of Ayn Rand at the moment, which he had also loaded onto the Palm).

Turns out he himself didn't like it because it gets off to an excruciatingly slow start. He couldn't get past the first 200 Palm pages (roughly 40 book pages) before stopping.

I can see why. Roughly the first 300 Palm pages of the book can be summed up as follows:

"Dude! The universe, man! It's f***in' huge, man!",

and it's very tiresome. Yes, you learn some fascinating bits of trivia here and there, but being told 150 times (with helpful examples!) that the universe is much bigger than you could ever comprehend...well, it really does get a little old (although I was very interested to learn that the solar system is never drawn to scale - that it would in fact be impossible to do so. Did you know that? I didn't until I read it in this book).

But once you are past the beginning, and the history really starts to move, this book is riveting.

You learn what we've learned about the earth, the solar system, and the rest of our universe, and how we learned it. And yet he manages to make this a very easy read - easier even than some light novels I've read. He has me so inspired with all of this information, I find myseslf wanting to become an astrophysicist, or a geologist (if it weren't for all the math, which I hopelessly suck at).

In addition, you learn a little about each scientist who has come up with a major idea in the past 300-400 years or so, along with even more of the fascinating trivia. For instance, did you know that after Hubble died of a heart attack in 1953, his widow was given his body, refused a funeral, and that to this day no one knows what she did with his remains? Or that Midgely, the inventor of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons - supposedly murder on the ozone layer), had polio, and that the cause of his death was one of his own inventions? He invented a series of pulleys to raise him up and turn him over in his bed, but he got tangled up in the cords and it strangled him. Did you know that after Einstein published his theory of relativity, he tried to get a job as a lecturer at a university but was rejected, and then tried to get a job as a high school teacher and was rejected again? So that one of the greatest thinkers of our time ended up back at his desk at the Swiss Patent Office.

This book is one that I'd love to get a hard copy of and keep it on hand for when Ethan starts to read and to learn about science, scientists, and the history of both. In my opinion, this would make an excellent companion volume to a textbook.

I've enjoyed this book so much that, despite exhaustion, I find myself reading "just one more page" after "one more page" long after I've gotten Aidan back to sleep after a middle-of-the-night nursing.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.

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