June 30, 2008

Life, the universe and everything

I recently read A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I am a fan of Bill Bryson's books (Walk in the Woods, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, etc), but this book was a little different. As the title suggests, it is a book that covers a large array of subjects. While it doesn't cover "nearly everything", it does cover a huge amount of time, from the Big Bang on.

Subjects include astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, anthropology, and evolution among other things. Although Bryson is no scientist, and there are no new discoveries here, it is an interesting read. Bryson is a great storyteller, and does a decent job of explaining complicated things.

The real strength of the book is the stories about the people behind the discoveries. Breakthroughs often come after years of struggle, sometimes as a byproduct of a different study, still other times in a flash of insight by someone barely associated with the field. The book does a good job of describing the personalities, and the conflicts between them.

There is an interesting quote in the book credited to Alexander von Humboldt: "there are three stages in scientific discovery: first, people deny that it is true; then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person".

Worth a read.

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