Sean Endymion's Reviews > A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
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's review
May 24, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: science, history, gave-up-on, non-fiction, worst-shit-ever
Recommended for: No one.
Read from May 09 to 24, 2011

Oh my gods, what a waste of perfectly good paper! I am flabbergasted that this has such consistently high reviews...

Three problems with this tripe:
1. falsity of the science (most blatantly around cosmology, but not limited to any one field) and misunderstanding of scientific principles;
2. a focus more on "biography" rather than on real "history";
3. trivial worthlessness of the information.

Number 1 is briefly chronicled below. Within just the first 20 pages or so, there are ridiculous factual errors and misrepresentations of scientific knowledge. Even in 2003 when the book was published, these errors would have been unforgivable. Where the bloody hell were the editors?! Apparently the author came out later to mention his "lack of scientific chops," or the like. How can a book about the history of science fuck up the science?!

Number 2 is just downright sad. Apparently the author felt that if he could spend about a page per scientist, he would make the material more interesting. No, man, I want science and history, not abbreviated and hackneyed biography. He doesn't even move smoothly between people... it's just a meandering of random scientific endeavors, somewhat brought into chronology.

Number 3 is a difficult criticism, because with this kind of book, it is hard to get away from misc. trivia. And I'll even acknowledge that I learned a lot of trivia... and that the book does a great job of showing us just how much we don't know. But as I reached page 360 and realized (for the fifth or so time) that this was info that I could get in a quick google search, I just couldn't do it anymore.

What a gods awful waste. What's more disappointing than the book though, is the overwhelming praise the book has gotten. I don't even want to sell this book back, but throw it away (and I thought I would never say something like that)! I'd rather have someone go slightly ignorant than have them be fed this mess of misinformation and dredge.

Below were reactions I had when reading was "in progress."

Start (05/08/11):
Okay, so the "approachable textbook"... does it live up to the hype? Every review I have seen is about how great this book is. Let's see.

So far, this book shows its 2003 date by providing currently inaccurate data; I also did not realize the author would assume zero scientific knowledge on the part of the reader... this could be interesting.

Finally, the Introduction is full of annoying straw men and non-sequitors that really make me wonder if the author has learned much about scientific inquiry at all. He really doesn't understand probability. Eh, I'm only on page 16. Let's see if this improves.

Oh, bloody frak. "In the long term, *gravity* may turn out to be a little too strong, and one day it may halt the expansion of the universe and bring it collapsing in upon itself, till it crushes itself down into another singularity... On the other hand it may be too weak and the universe will keeping racing away..." (emphasis mine) NOTHING about those statements is correct. Gravity has nothing to do with the expansion of spacetime. Ugh, I thought this book had fantastic reviews! The term he is talking about here is "dark energy," NOT gravity.

"Astronomers these days can do the most amazing things. If someone struck a match on the Moon, they could spot the flare."
... You have got to be fucking kidding me. A redox oxidation in a vacuum. Dude...

Oh my frak. He just lost all respect from me. "...even with the most conservative inputs [in the Drake equation] the number of advanced civilzations... always works out to be somewhere in the millions." Fucking no. Dude, how the hell did this even get published?!
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Reading Progress

03/04/2016 marked as: gave-up-on

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Sarah Jane (new)

Sarah Jane Yikes. I wanted to read this...but I guess I won't now, lol

message 2: by Mitzi (new) - added it

Mitzi Moore It took me two years to read this book. I kept putting it down to read other things. I don't remember any of it. The best Bill Bryson book is, and always will be, Into The Woods.

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?

Seiyul I am like 1/5th of the way through this book, and it is possibly the most brutally boring thing I have ever been exposed to. Totally agree with you about not understanding the rave reviews, I had to scroll down a long way to find yours (was doing this just to find a beacon of non-pseudointellectuality). :)

Scott Bembenek Your review is spot on. There's so many mistakes in this book, clearly no fact checking was done or the author simply lacks the understanding himself since he's not a scientist. Don't waste your time.

message 6: by Max (new)

Max I'm so happy you noticed that "If someone struck a match on the Moon..." line!!! I just picked up the book and already in chapter 2 I'm so mad I might stop reading. Thanks for making me know I'm not alone in noticing this stupidity! He even says in the introduction all these professors and scientists revised his book for him. Show how much they cared or shows the intelligence of his sources.

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