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Bill Bryson quotes (showing 1-30 of 442)

“Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe
“As my father always used to tell me, 'You see, son, there's always someone in the world worse off than you.' And I always used to think, 'So?”
Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
“Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored.”
Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent
“Of all the things I am not very good at, living in the real world is perhaps the most outstanding.”
Bill Bryson, I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away
“It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“If you imagine the 4,500-bilion-odd years of Earth's history compressed into a normal earthly day, then life begins very early, about 4 A.M., with the rise of the first simple, single-celled organisms, but then advances no further for the next sixteen hours. Not until almost 8:30 in the evening, with the day five-sixths over, has Earth anything to show the universe but a restless skin of microbes. Then, finally, the first sea plants appear, followed twenty minutes later by the first jellyfish and the enigmatic Ediacaran fauna first seen by Reginald Sprigg in Australia. At 9:04 P.M. trilobites swim onto the scene, followed more or less immediately by the shapely creatures of the Burgess Shale. Just before 10 P.M. plants begin to pop up on the land. Soon after, with less than two hours left in the day, the first land creatures follow.

Thanks to ten minutes or so of balmy weather, by 10:24 the Earth is covered in the great carboniferous forests whose residues give us all our coal, and the first winged insects are evident. Dinosaurs plod onto the scene just before 11 P.M. and hold sway for about three-quarters of an hour. At twenty-one minutes to midnight they vanish and the age of mammals begins. Humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight. The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime barely an instant. Throughout this greatly speeded-up day continents slide about and bang together at a clip that seems positively reckless. Mountains rise and melt away, ocean basins come and go, ice sheets advance and withdraw. And throughout the whole, about three times every minute, somewhere on the planet there is a flash-bulb pop of light marking the impact of a Manson-sized meteor or one even larger. It's a wonder that anything at all can survive in such a pummeled and unsettled environment. In fact, not many things do for long.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.”
Bill Bryson
“There are three stages in scientific discovery. First, people deny that it is true, then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we've been endowed with. But what's life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be , is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don't. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment's additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“In France, a chemist named Pilatre de Rozier tested the flammability of hydrogen by gulping a mouthful and blowing across an open flame, proving at a stroke that hydrogen is indeed explosively combustible and that eyebrows are not necessarily a permanent feature of one's face.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“Black bears rarely attack. But here's the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn't happen often, but - and here is the absolutely salient point - once would be enough.”
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
“I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”
Bill Bryson
“When the poet Paul Valery once asked Albert Einstein if he kept a notebook to record his ideas, Einstein looked at him with mild but genuine surprise. "Oh, that's not necessary," he replied . "It's so seldom I have one.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“I know this goes without saying, but Stonehenge really was the most incredible accomplishment. It took five hundred men just to pull each sarsen, plus a hundred more to dash around positioning the rollers. Just think about it for a minute. Can you imagine trying to talk six hundred people into helping you drag a fifty-ton stone eighteen miles across the countryside and muscle it into an upright position, and then saying, 'Right, lads! Another twenty like that, plus some lintels and maybe a couple of dozen nice bluestones from Wales, and we can party!' Whoever was the person behind Stonehenge was one dickens of a motivator, I'll tell you that.”
Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
“Is there anything, apart from a really good chocolate cream pie and receiving a large unexpected cheque in the post, to beat finding yourself at large in a foreign city on a fair spring evening, loafing along unfamiliar streets in the long shadows of a lazy sunset, pausing to gaze in shop windows or at some church or lovely square or tranquil stretch of quayside, hesitating at street corners to decide whether that cheerful and homy restaurant you will remember fondly for years is likely to lie down this street or that one? I just love it. I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city.”
Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe
“Protons give an atom its identity, electrons its personality.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here-and by 'we' I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“Physics is really nothing more than a search for ultimate simplicity, but so far all we have is a kind of elegant messiness.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“To my mind, the only possible pet is a cow. Cows love you. They will listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends forever. And when you get tired of them, you can kill and eat them. Perfect.”
Bill Bryson
“The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“We may be only one of millions of advanced civilizations. Unfortunately, space being spacious, the average distance between any two of these civilizations is reckoned to be at least two hundred light-years, which is a great deal more than merely saying it makes it sound. It means for a start that even if these beings know we are here and are somehow able to see us in their telescopes, they're watching light that left Earth two hundred years ago. So, they're not seeing you and me. They're watching the French Revolution and Thomas Jefferson and people in silk stockings and powdered wigs--people who don't know what an atom is, or a gene, and who make their electricity by rubbing a rod of amber with a piece of fur and think that's quite a trick. Any message we receive from them is likely to begin "Dear Sire," and congratulate us on the handsomness of our horses and our mastery of whale oil. Two hundred light-years is a distance so far beyond us as to be, well, just beyond us.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
“I was heading to Nebraska. Now there's a sentence you don't want to say too often if you can possibly help it.”
Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
“There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
tags: humor
“It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. ...It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as the players-more if they are moderately restless.”
Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country
“My particular dread--the vivid possibility that left me staring at tree shadows on the bedroom ceiling night after night--was having to lie in a small tent, alone in an inky wilderness, listening to a foraging bear outside and wondering what its intentions were. I was especially riveted by an amateur photograph in Herrero's book, taken late at night by a camper with a flash at a campground out West. The photograph caught four black bears as they puzzled over a suspended food bag. The bears were clearly startled but not remotely alarmed by the flash. It was not the size or demeanor of the bears that troubled me--they looked almost comically nonaggressive, like four guys who had gotten a Frisbee caught up a tree--but their numbers. Up to that moment it had not occurred to me that bears might prowl in parties. What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children's parties--I daresay it would even give a merry toot--and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.”
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
“That's the trouble with losing your mind; by the time it's gone, it's too late to get it back.”
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
“You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 X 10^18 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

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A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail A Walk in the Woods
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