I bought A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson about 4 or 5 years ago. It has spent a long time sitting on my bookshelf unread because to tell you the truth I was a bit scared of it. I expected it to be full of confusing dates, names & numbers like a dry and boring history book.
Having read a couple of chapters I can let you know it does include a lot of dates, names & numbers. However it is also utterly compelling, interesting and most importantly readable.
The reason I picked it up now of all times, is because Andrew and I were reading some Wikipedia articles about how old the earth is and about when dinosaurs walked the earth (these are the things you do as a married couple, you see). It is so easy to get caught up in your own life and small circle of experiences that it hit me with the force of a meteor (har har): this is the same earth that dinosaurs walked on.
Now you might think “DUHHH”, but I find it seriously mind boggling to wrap my head around the fact that this ball of earth has seen creatures as fantastical as that, all in the same place where we now build our houses and schools and Burger Kings. Moreover, that creatures like that came into existence and evolved in the first place, that then they got wiped out and that then mammals evolved and we became us.. us who compared to the age of the universe have only been alive for a fraction of time.
It made me realise how temporary we are/could be. Not in terms of our individual lives (you are born and hope you live around 80 years and then you die), but the longevity of humans (or mammals and the rest of the animal kingdom in general). Looking at the history of the earth and seeing that all life was annihilated almost in its entirety several times and then started up again in a completely different configuration… It isn’t hard to assume that this will happen again (although on average it only seems to happen every several hundred million years or so.. so for now we’re safe to continue browsing the internet, going to the cinema and eating Ben & Jerry’s).
All of those thoughts came from reading a couple of Wikipedia articles and it made me want to know more, and the why and how of things. Hence I finally picked up the book and started reading. My only criticism so far is that it glances over how people found out about certain things. It will tell you so and so had a theory and it was proven blablabla, but to me, a layperson and certainly not a scientist, it doesn’t really explain those parts enough. What was it that really proved something in such a way that it was adopted as the mainstream scientific explanation of something? I am quite ready to believe scientific explanations ‘because scientist x’s research said so and y number of scientists agreed with the theory’ but I’d like to know how they came to that conclusion without having to learn the discipline.
I am crap at updating so it is safe to assume I will not share any further thoughts on this book or this subject in the future (although I will think about it lots and write numerous draft in my head with a much better style of prose than you’ll ever read from me). See you in 2011.
Ah yes, and in case you are not interested in reading my random philosophical musings, here, have some videos of my cat:
(If you are reading this post through RSS you will probably have to go to my actual site to see these)