Books

Book Review – A Short History of Nearly Everything: Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's first attempt at a science book. A Short History of Nearly Everything was anything but short.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A Short History of Nearly Everything just wasn’t short enough. In fact it was 500 pages of long and dry text. I am so disappointed with this book, specially after reading Bryson’s latest work, The Body – A Guide For Occupants, which I loved. Both the books – A Short History and The Body – follow a similar format, the former is about the human body and the latter is the mysteries of space and time and our beloved Earth. A Short History was originally published in 2003 and I’d like to think that back then Bryson was experimenting with this style of writing; fresh off the success of his travel memoirs, this was a new concept, even for him.

A Short History of Everything is divided into six sections. The chapters are easy to get through in one sitting, averaging about 20 pages per chapter. However, even this is not helpful when the text is so dry and boring – wait, I’ve mentioned this already. Each section covers a different theme beginning from the Cosmos and the misnamed “The Big Bang”. The second section takes the reader through 60 pages on the size of the Earth and how it took many many many years for a bunch of scientists to agree and reach a consensus. The third section provides extensive information on the atom, the building block of life and for some strange reason a complete chapter on lead (yes the same one that’s in a pencil) Then we have an entire section on the Earth’s core and the fifth and possibly the most interesting section is on life and living cells.  

I hated physics and chemistry in school, and this book just amplified my fears. On one hand The Body was written for the non science-y reader, and on the other A Short History is full of references to formulae and terms that left me zapped and lost. It would serve well and perhaps be even interesting to a student of these sciences. However, I should mention that I enjoyed (and understood) The Body without any background in biology. The only justification to this is that over the years Bryson has improved his story telling style. Another observation I have after reading both the science books by Bryson is that in The Body his humour flows effortlessly. Whereas, he struggles and strains to make the reading sound interesting and fun in A Short History.

In my earlier review, I had mentioned that Bryson’s distinct writing reminds me of David Attenborough. It was so deeply embedded in my brain that when I started reading a A Short History, I was reading it in Attenborough’s voice. But I knew I’m going to crash into a reading slump when about 100 pages in that mellifluous voice turned into a robotic drag. Full disclosure – I ended up skipping pages, then chapters and to be completely honest, I skipped the entire section four and continued reading on. Nothing happened. The monologue continued, but it finally gave me the courage to DNF this book half-way through section five. In all fairness, it was the most interesting bit of the book, but by then I just couldn’t give a damn. 

A Short History of Nearly Everything is highly praised and is supposed to be Bryson’s best work. I don’t agree. I’ve read ‘Down Under’, ‘Road To Little Dribbling’ and ‘The Body’ and these three alone are far superior than his attempt at decoding the mysteries of the universe. I had decided to read more of Bryson and I will continue doing that, after all he is a master of books on travel. As for this attempt, I will write it off as a bad memory and will not be recommending this book to anyone. 


1 comment on “Book Review – A Short History of Nearly Everything: Bill Bryson

  1. Pingback: Book Review – Kane and Abel: Jeffrey Archer – Five Magpies

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