Grace Tjan's Reviews > A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
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Jan 05, 13

bookshelves: 2009, general-non-fiction
Read in December, 2009

What I learned from this book (in no particular order)

1. Phosphor was accidentally discovered when a scientist tried to turn human urine into gold. The similarity in color seemed to have been a factor in his conviction that this was possible. Like, duh. I’m no scientist, but shouldn’t it be obvious enough?

2. “In the early 1800s there arose in England a fashion for inhaling nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, after it was discovered that its use ‘ was attended by a highly pleasurable thrilling’. For the next half- century it would be the drug of choice for young people.” How groovy is that?

3. If you are an average-sized adult, you contain within you enough potential energy to explode with the force of THIRTY very large hydrogen bombs. Assuming, that is, that you KNOW how to actually do this and REALLY want to make a point. Talk about a monstrous temper tantrum.

4. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that some of our atoms probably belonged to Shakespeare, Genghis Khan or any other historical figure. But no, you are NOT Elvis or Marilyn Monroe; it takes quite a while for their atoms to get recycled.

5. When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at the height of a hundredth millions of a centimeter. Throw away those yoga mats, your ARE already levitating without knowing it.

6. The atomic particles that we now know as Quarks were almost named Partons, after you know who. The image of Ms. Parton with her, uh, cosmic mammaries bouncing around the atomic nuclei is VERY unsettling.Thankfully, that scientist guy changed his mind.

7. The indigestible parts of a giant squid, in particular their beaks, accumulate in sperm whales’ stomachs into ambergris, which is used as a fixative in perfumes. The next time you spray on Chanel No. 5, you’re dowsing yourself in the distillate of unseen sea monsters. * Note to self: must throw away sea monster perfume collection*

8. The ‘maidenhair’ in maidenhair moss does NOT refer to the hair on the maiden’s head.

BUT SERIOUSLY,

this is a fascinating, accessible book on the history of the natural sciences, covering topics as diverse as cosmology, quantum physics, paleontology, chemistry and other subjects that have bedeviled a science dolt like me through high school and beyond. Yes, it’s true, I failed BOTH chemistry and physics in high school. I can't judge how accurate Mr. Bryson represents the sciences in this book, but it surely beats being bogged down in A Brief History of Time and their ilk.



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Reading Progress

12/05/2009 page 175
26.24% "I like the idea that the atoms that make up our bodies came from somewhere else; stardust, plants, animals, people."
12/07/2009 page 285
42.73% "Bizarre trivia : Phosphor was accidentally discovered when a scientist tried to turn human urine into gold." 6 comments
12/08/2009 page 400
59.97% "The name Quark is taken from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake."

Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by Rauf (new)

Rauf so that's where ambergris comes from! I thought they was part of a whale's glands or something
:D


message 2: by Grace (last edited Dec 10, 2009 01:07AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Grace Tjan @amang : ajaib nggak tuh? hehehe.

@Rauf : I thought so too, but no. They come from half-digested giant squid beaks.
What do you think of no. 3? Everyone is a potential Galactus.

Makasih udah divote ya. : )



message 3: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Anytime :D

no. 3:
That's what's commonly known as spontaneous human combustion right?


message 4: by Grace (last edited Dec 10, 2009 01:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Grace Tjan Rauf wrote: "Anytime :D

no. 3:
That's what's commonly known as spontaneous human combustion right?"


No. It's something different. If you spontaneously combust, the energy that you release is only enough to destroy yourself. But in this kind of explosion, the energy released is equal to 30 hydrogen bombs. Turns out that those comic book stories have some basis in scientific theory.


message 5: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Whoa.
Was such an explosion ever occured and did Bryson write about that in this book? Or is it more speculative?


Grace Tjan From what I understand from the book, theoretically it's possible. Obviously if someone had ever exploded in that particular way, you'd have heard about him/her from about every history book there is. :D


message 7: by Rauf (new)

Rauf :D
Maybe it happened in 1902, somewhere in a lonely desert, and all the people who saw it happened already bit the dust come World War I...

It could happen.



Grace Tjan Hmmm. But how come the eyewitnesses didn't speak or write about it before they kicked the bucket? Maybe it's a super secret government experiment....


message 9: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Only a few of them survived.

Most who witnessed the exploding man were standing within the blast radius and got obliterated....

Ah well. In every mushroom cloud there's a silver lining; at least that's what Owl City said.
:)


Grace Tjan Ookay. But why didn't the survivors blab about it?

Sounds like a pretty good plot for a comic book/sci-fi novel...


message 11: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Like I said, they all got killed in WWI :D
Or others think people who talk about it are crazy.
Oh there's a story in here somewhere...


message 12: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda Sounds


message 13: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda ...meant to say it sounds like this idea has already been used in Heroes, the TV series. A character, Peter Petrelli, does indeed blow up New York City using the energy contained in his body that he does not know how to control.


message 14: by Rauf (new)

Rauf No, actually in the end Nathan flew off and took Peter with him and he exploded whilst airborne so Pete didn't really destroy NYC.


Grace Tjan "...meant to say it sounds like this idea has already been used in Heroes."

Interesting. I don't watch Heroes, though.


message 16: by Kenny (new) - rated it 1 star

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)


Manny I had to check out the partons in more detail. It seems likely that Bryson invented the idea that they refer to Dolly, given that she was 17 at the time.


Grace Tjan Manny wrote: "I had to check out the partons in more detail. It seems likely that Bryson invented the idea that they refer to Dolly, given that she was 17 at the time."

Hmm, now I wonder if Bryson had a Dolly fixation. Do share your findings on the Dolly question, Manny.


message 19: by Manny (last edited Jan 05, 2013 05:32AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Well, it's absolutely true that Feynman wanted to call quarks "partons". I saw a reference to that just a couple of months ago in Susskind's The Cosmic Landscape (he says he offended Murray Gell-Mann by using his rival's term). But even though I can well imagine Feynman doing it as an act of homage to Dolly, the chronology just doesn't work. Bryson made this up.


Grace Tjan Manny wrote: "Well, it's absolutely true that Feynman wanted to call quarks "partons". I saw a reference to that just a couple of months ago in Susskind's The Cosmic Landscape (he says he offended Murray Gell-Ma..."

Interesting. Thanks for sharing your findings, Manny. I guess Bryson just had to use that anecdote's comic potential, even if he had to fudge the chronology a bit. Ever since reading this book, everytime I hear quarks being mentioned, I always have this mental image of Ms. Parton with her, uh, cosmic mammaries, bouncing around the atomic nuclei. :D


Manny That is scientifically inaccurate. Quarks normally come in threes, so you would need the chick from Total Recall. Though for the pedants in the audience, I suppose Ms Parton could still be a pion...


Grace Tjan Ah, of course. But 'that chick from Total Recall' just doesn't have the same effect. Nobody even remembers her name. Dolly's better, even if we have to fudge a bit on the technical/anatomical details.


message 23: by Hayes (last edited Jan 06, 2013 12:13AM) (new)

Hayes Well seeing how big they are, it's kind of like a "Buy two get one free" special offer... so I think it's still valid.

Morning Sandy! Happy New Year :-)
ETA: You too Manny, sorry I forgot to wish you a Happy New Year!


Manny Happy New Year to both of you!

I just think this is one of those sad cases where the joke absolutely ought to work, but fate has unkindly decreed that it won't. In an ideal universe, quarks would have been discovered ten years later and you'd need two of them to make a hadron. That would have been truly perfect.


message 25: by Wanda (last edited Jan 06, 2013 12:39AM) (new)

Wanda Manny wrote: "That is scientifically inaccurate. Quarks normally come in threes, so you would need the chick from Total Recall. Though for the pedants in the audience, I suppose Ms Parton could still be a pion..."

Our generation Total Recall chicks would be Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin. Those two I remembered right away. Newer 2012 Total Recall chicks would be Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel. I had to look the newer movie version up.


Manny The new version has very little in common with the old one, except that it also has a woman who possesses 50% more assets than one would normally expect.


message 27: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff I came to this thread thinking that Manny's post was referring to a divorced woman having control of only 50% of the matrimonial property, while a married woman has control of 100%.


message 28: by Ian (new)

Ian Klappenskoff Fun review, Sandy.


message 29: by Grace (last edited Jan 06, 2013 07:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Grace Tjan Ian wrote: "Fun review, Sandy."

Glad you enjoyed it, Ian. The extra asset that Manny was talking about is not welcomed by most women, I think. Who needs an extra one, unless, I dunno, you're having triplets?


Grace Tjan Hayes wrote: "Well seeing how big they are, it's kind of like a "Buy two get one free" special offer... so I think it's still valid.

Morning Sandy! Happy New Year :-)
ETA: You too Manny, sorry I forgot to wish ..."


Hahaha. I heard that she got them reduced a few years ago because of back aches or some other postural problem.

Happy (belated) new year to you all! In this part of the world, we'll soon have another new year in February (the Chinese one). And later in the year, the Hindu and the Muslim ones. That's four new year holidays in a year.


message 31: by Silvana (new)

Silvana ar, darn it. i really have to read this book :(

(too lazy to pay)


message 32: by Gill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gill > When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at the height of a hundredth millions of a centimeter.
My SO says when he sits in a chair he merely does so to stop it flying off into space. ;-)


Plague You are the one from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, your review is similar. I notice we have a similar taste in books and also similar thoughts about stuff.


message 34: by Hyper (new)

Hyper Bryson is nothing short of transparent describing his inclination, motivation and even alludes to limitations in his compiling of this research with it's exquisitely picked cast of emeriti/professor types obviously veritable nexus in their fields representing a priceless & outstanding focus alone, readers are encouraged to research further and could hardly accuse any contributor to the book to digest the research and esteemed opinions as the last word in these topics.


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