Jafar's Reviews > A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
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's review
Nov 13, 2009

really liked it

My first reaction to this book was jealousy towards its author. It just occurred to Bryson that he didn’t know much about our planet, so he decided to do some research and write a book about it. He spent the next few years reading scientific books and journals, talking to different scientists, and visiting different places. Not to downplay the hard work that he put into this book, but he must have had an immense amount of fun doing it. It must be nice to be able to do that.

This book a great read on both science and its history. It’s not a summary of the entire human knowledge, as some have suggested, but a very interesting collection nonetheless. The good thing about Bryson is that he’s a great writer, but he’s not a scientist. He doesn’t have any theories of his own to promote, or any favorites when there are competing theories. Therefore, he doesn’t mind telling us how scant the evidence for a particular theory is, even if it happens to be the prevailing theory. A good example is the lack of fossil records of our ancestors. Other books written by scientists give you the impression that we have truckloads of fossil records outlining our evolutionary path in detail, whereas in fact we only have a few bones here and there. Bryson doesn’t also mind telling us how little we know about some issues. A good example is the changes in our plant’s climate. It’s an extremely complicated system, and we basically have no clue about it, but the issue has become hugely political and fashionable, and people talk about it with the certainty of 2x2=4.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Robert (new)

Robert "We have no clue" about changes in Earth's climate? That is factually incorrect. Please ignore everything you have "learned" in this book as it is evident from your review that Bryson is the one with "no clue."

I caught Bryson perpetrating a number of factual errors in Mother Tongue - after reading this review I no longer trust him at all about any question of fact.

Jafar Well, a book of this size and on such a wide range of topics is bound to have some factual errors, but don't let my review sway your opinion of the book before reading it. It’s a very educational and fun book to read. If you feel strongly about climate change, I assure you that this book won’t irritate you. If I gave the impression that Bryson discusses this issue in length and takes a stance on it, I was wrong. He mentions it briefly, emphasizing how complicated the system is and how difficult it is to make any predictions.

What I really meant by “no clue” is little clue, and I said that based on a lot more than what I saw in this book. The best that can be said about issues like climate change and genetically modified foods is: we don’t understand the system, so let’s not mess with it. As I said, once an issue becomes political, don’t underestimate the tendency of people, including working scientists, for bias, selective reading of the data, and directing the predictions towards the preferred conclusion.

message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert I draw a subtle but important distinction between "we don't understand the system" and "we don't fully understand the system". The latter is the case with regard to climate change.

Kenny Bell PLEASE READ* Do you remember when he talked about stromatolites-the ancient rock structure dated from 3.5 billion years ago, made from cynobacteria-blue/green algae. He says the scientist agree that these were the first origins of life. My question is how do scientist know that the rock is the object that is 3.5 billion yrs old and not the organisms? Because the organisms could just have appeared when man first appeared.(Adam and Eve)

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