Karri Shea's Reviews > A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
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Apr 11, 11

Read in March, 2011

I have a confession to make: I am not a non-fiction girl. My eyes glaze over every time my boyfriend tries to engage me in a conversation about his latest reading topic: religion, or lack thereof, media, gender issues, vegetarianism, etc. Don’t get me wrong, these things are interesting, but when I get a moment or two to spare for a book, I want a tale of high adventure or a wondrous fantasy world to get lost in. Which is why I was so surprised when I inadvertently picked up Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything – and liked it.

According to the poorly-typed, bought-in-China version I have in my hands, Peter Atkins of the Times credits this book as a “travelogue of science,” which is the most apt description I can think of. It reads like a story – which is probably why I’m still reading it – and an engaging one at that. It’s a history of science, what we know about the world around us and how we figured it out. Bryson creates characters out of historical and scientific figures both familiar and unknown, and forges connections between fields that I never knew existed. All the while, I am learning more about science than any teacher ever taught me, thanks to Bryson’s talent for irony and creating a vivid metaphor. So far, we’ve covered the Big Bang, plate tectonics, cell structure, evolution, dinosaurs, space, and nearly every scientific theory I know of – and I’m only two-thirds of the way through!

I would recommend this book to any reluctant non-fiction readers and any human being who’s even a little bit curious about the world we live in.

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Kenny Bell Another question though, how do they know that their method of dating a substance is reliable and not just some random numbers that pop up. Here's an excerpt from the book about how we got radioactive dating used to date the earth:

"He noticed that in any sample of radio active material, it always took the same amount of time for half the sample to decay- the celebrated half-life-and that this steady, reliable rate decat could be used as a clock.By calculating backwards from how much radiation a material had now and how swiftly it was decaying, you could work out its age. He tested a piece of pitchblende, the principal ore of uranium, and found it to be 700million years old."

How do they know this is accurate?


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