A Short History of Nearly Everything

( 389 )


One of the world’s most beloved writers and bestselling author of One Summer takes his ultimate journey—into the most intriguing and intractable questions that science seeks to answer.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trailwell, most of it. In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understandand, ...

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One of the world’s most beloved writers and bestselling author of One Summer takes his ultimate journey—into the most intriguing and intractable questions that science seeks to answer.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trailwell, most of it. In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understandand, if possible, answerthe oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This inviting young readers' edition compresses the 550-plus pages of Bill Bryson's 2004 A Short History of Nearly Everything into 176 pages of entertaining, digestible fact tidbits for brain-hungry kids. The topics span the universe, from the tiniest molecules to the primordial Big Bang to cavorting dinosaurs to the mysterious saltiness of the ocean. Stimulating stuff for kids who like to think.
From the Publisher
“Stylish [and] stunningly accurate prose. We learn what the material world is like from the smallest quark to the largest galaxy and at all the levels in between . . . brims with strange and amazing facts . . . destined to become a modern classic of science writing.”
The New York Times

“Bryson has made a career writing hilarious travelogues, and in many ways his latest is more of the same, except that this time Bryson hikes through the world of science.”

“Bryson is surprisingly precise, brilliantly eccentric and nicely eloquent . . . a gifted storyteller has dared to retell the world’s biggest story.”
Seattle Times

“Hefty, highly researched and eminently readable.”
—Simon Winchester, The Globe and Mail

“All non-scientists (and probably many specialized scientists, too) can learn a great deal from his lucid and amiable explanations.”
National Post

"Bryson is a terrific stylist. You can’ t help but enjoy his writing, for its cheer and buoyancy, and for the frequent demonstration of his peculiar, engaging turn of mind.”
Ottawa Citizen

“Wonderfully readable. It is, in the best sense, learned.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Science with a smile.
The New York Times
… the more I read of A Short History of Nearly Everything, the more I was convinced that Bryson had achieved exactly what he'd set out to do, and, moreover, that he'd done it in stylish, efficient, colloquial and stunningly accurate prose. We learn what the material world is like from the smallest quark to the largest galaxy and at all the levels in between. The basic facts of physics, chemistry, biology, botany, climatology, geology -- all these and many more are presented with exceptional clarity and skill. — Ed Regis
Publishers Weekly
As the title suggests, bestselling author Bryson (In a Sunburned Country) sets out to put his irrepressible stamp on all things under the sun. As he states at the outset, this is a book about life, the universe and everything, from the Big Bang to the ascendancy of Homo sapiens. "This is a book about how it happened," the author writes. "In particular how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since." What follows is a brick of a volume summarizing moments both great and curious in the history of science, covering already well-trod territory in the fields of cosmology, astronomy, paleontology, geology, chemistry, physics and so on. Bryson relies on some of the best material in the history of science to have come out in recent years. This is great for Bryson fans, who can encounter this material in its barest essence with the bonus of having it served up in Bryson's distinctive voice. But readers in the field will already have studied this information more in-depth in the originals and may find themselves questioning the point of a breakneck tour of the sciences that contributes nothing novel. Nevertheless, to read Bryson is to travel with a memoirist gifted with wry observation and keen insight that shed new light on things we mistake for commonplace. To accompany the author as he travels with the likes of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton is a trip worth taking for most readers. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While this book doesn't cover "nearly everything," it does a fantastic job of tackling certain topics: biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Writing with wit and charm, Bryson, who has hiked the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods) and traveled around Australia (In a Sunburned Country), now takes us on a scientific odyssey from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. Reflecting his gift for making science comprehensible yet fun, he tells the story of the discoveries and the people that have shaped our understanding of the universe. Along the way, we meet some fascinating and eccentric scientists. Although Bryson clearly intends this book for general readers, subject specialists will also enjoy his wry takes. The 30 chapters are divided among seven scientific topics, and this reviewer found himself reading chapters out of order, selecting topics of particular interest. There are useful footnotes, as well as chapter notes and a bibliography. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. (Index not seen.) [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib, Chicago Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—An illustrated adaptation/abridgment of Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, (Broadway, 2003), this treatment addresses the same set of sprawling questions as the original. Among them: How and when was the universe born and how vast might it now be? How old is the Earth and how much does it weigh? Why did the dawn of life happen to emerge here, of all places, and how could lowly microbes possibly be the primitive precursors of a species as complex as Homo sapiens? These are weighty questions for readers of any age to grapple with, but Bryson lightens the load by skillfully scaffolding the concepts he presents. Each topic is concisely addressed in the author's breezy Brit voice, explaining exactly what we know and how we came to know it. Photographs, cartoon sidebars, humorous anecdotes, and frequent recaps entertain and reinforce understanding along the journey. Ultimately, all of the ideas come together to give readers a wide-angle perspective on what a wildly improbable privilege it is to be a member of a species that the author says is "perhaps, the universe's supreme achievement." Bryson wraps up by suggesting that since we seem to be both "the best there is" and the only species capable of deciding our planet's future, we humans should redouble our efforts at being good stewards of the Earth. A highly recommended piece of popular science that succeeds largely because—as he nears age 60—there's clearly still a curious kid living in Bryson's head.—Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
Kirkus Reviews
In this abridged and illustrated version of his Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), Bryson invites a younger crowd of seekers on a tour of time, space and science-from the Big Bang and the birth of the solar system to the growth and study of life on Earth. The single-topic spreads are adorned with cartoon portraits of scientists, explorers and (frequently) the author himself, which go with small nature photos and the occasional chart or cutaway view. Though occasionally subject to sweeping and dubious statements-"There's no chance we could ever make a journey through the solar system"-Bryson makes a genial guide ("for you to be here now, trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to come together in a complicated and obliging manner to create you"), and readers with even a flicker of curiosity in their souls about Big Ideas will come away sharing his wonder at living in such a "fickle and eventful universe." (index) (Nonfiction. 11-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767908184
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/14/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 18,731
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson

BILL BRYSON'S Bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, In A Sunburned Country, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Bill Bryson's African Diary, and A Short History of Nearly Everything. He lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and children.


A backpacking expedition in 1973 brought Des Moines native Bill Bryson to England, where he met his wife and decided to settle. He wrote travel articles for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years before stumbling into bestsellerdom with 1989's The Lost Continent, a sidesplitting account of his rollicking road trip across small-town America. In 1995, he moved his family back to the States so his children could experience "being American." However, his deep-rooted Anglophilia won out and, in 2003, the Brysons returned to England.

One of those people who finds nearly everything interesting, Bryson has managed to turn his twin loves -- travel and language -- into a successful literary career. In a string of hilarious bestsellers, he has chronicled his misadventures across England, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., delighting readers with his wry observations and descriptions. Similarly, his books on the history of the English language, infused with the perfect combination of wit and erudition, have sold well. He has received several accolades and honors, including the coveted Aventis Prize for best general science book awarded for his blockbuster A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Beloved on both sides of the pond, Bryson makes few claims to write great literature. But he is a writer it is nearly impossible to dislike. We defy anyone to not smile at pithy, epigrammatic opening lines like these: "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Read an Excerpt


NO MATTER HOW hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton. It is just way too small.

A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course an insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this i can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. So protons are exceedingly microscopic, to say the very least.

Now imagine if you can (and of course you can't) shrinking one of those protons down to a billionth of its normal size into a space so small that it would make a proton look enormous. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter. Excellent. You are ready to start a universe.

I'm assuming of course that you wish to build an inflationary universe. If you'd prefer instead to build a more old-fashioned, standard Big Bang universe, you'll need additional materials. In fact, you will need to gather up everything there is—every last mote and particle of matter between here and the edge of creation—and squeeze it into a spot so infinitesimally compact that it has no dimensions at all. It is known as a singularity.

In either case, get ready for a really big bang. Naturally, you will wish to retire to a safe place to observe the spectacle. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to retire to because outside the singularity there is no where. When the universe begins to expand, it won't be spreading out to fill a larger emptiness. The only space that exists is the space it creates as it goes.

It is natural but wrong to visualize the singularity as a kind of pregnant dot hanging in a dark, boundless void. But there is no space, no darkness. The singularity has no "around" around it. There is no space for it to occupy, no place for it to be. We can't even ask how long it has been there—whether it has just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it has been there forever, quietly awaiting the right moment. Time doesn't exist. There is no past for it to emerge from.

And so, from nothing, our universe begins.

In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception. In the first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) is produced gravity and the other forces that govern physics. In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast. There is a lot of heat now, ten billion degrees of it, enough to begin the nuclear reactions that create the lighter elements—principally hydrogen and helium, with a dash (about one atom in a hundred million) of lithium. In three minutes, 98 percent of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.

When this moment happened is a matter of some debate. Cosmologists have long argued over whether the moment of creation was 10 billion years ago or twice that or something in between. The consensus seems to be heading for a figure of about 13.7 billion years, but these things are notoriously difficult to measure, as we shall see further on. All that can really be said is that at some indeterminate point in the very distant past, for reasons unknown, there came the moment known to science as t = 0. We were on our way.

There is of course a great deal we don't know, and much of what we think we know we haven't known, or thought we've known, for long. Even the notion of the Big Bang is quite a recent one. The idea had been kicking around since the 1920s, when Georges Lem tre, a Belgian priest-scholar, first tentatively proposed it, but it didn't really become an active notion in cosmology until the mid-1960s when two young radio astronomers made an extraordinary and inadvertent discovery.

Their names were Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. In 1965, they were trying to make use of a large communications antenna owned by Bell Laboratories at Holmdel, New Jersey, but they were troubled by a persistent background noise—a steady, steamy hiss that made any experimental work impossible. The noise was unrelenting and unfocused. It came from every point in the sky, day and night, through every season. For a year the young astronomers did everything they could think of to track down and eliminate the noise. They tested every electrical system. They rebuilt instruments, checked circuits, wiggled wires, dusted plugs. They climbed into the dish and placed duct tape over every seam and rivet. They climbed back into the dish with brooms and scrubbing brushes and carefully swept it clean of what they referred to in a later paper as "white dielectric material," or what is known more commonly as bird shit. Nothing they tried worked.

Unknown to them, just thirty miles away at Princeton University, a team of scientists led by Robert Dicke was working on how to find the very thing they were trying so diligently to get rid of. The Princeton researchers were pursuing an idea that had been suggested in the 1940s by the Russian-born astrophysicist George Gamow that if you looked deep enough into space you should find some cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang. Gamow calculated that by the time it crossed the vastness of the cosmos, the radiation would reach Earth in the form of microwaves. In a more recent paper he had even suggested an instrument that might do the job: the Bell antenna at Holmdel. Unfortunately, neither Penzias and Wilson, nor any of the Princeton team, had read Gamow's paper.

The noise that Penzias and Wilson were hearing was, of course, the noise that Gamow had postulated. They had found the edge of the universe, or at least the visible part of it, 90 billion trillion miles away. They were "seeing" the first photons—the most ancient light in the universe—though time and distance had converted them to microwaves, just as Gamow had predicted. In his book The Inflationary Universe, Alan Guth provides an analogy that helps to put this finding in perspective. If you think of peering into the depths of the universe as like looking down from the hundredth floor of the Empire State Building (with the hundredth floor representing now and street level representing the moment of the Big Bang), at the time of Wilson and Penzias's discovery the most distant galaxies anyone had ever detected were on about the sixtieth floor, and the most distant things—quasars—were on about the twentieth. Penzias and Wilson's finding pushed our acquaintance with the visible universe to within half an inch of the sidewalk.

Still unaware of what caused the noise, Wilson and Penzias phoned Dicke at Princeton and described their problem to him in the hope that he might suggest a solution. Dicke realized at once what the two young men had found. "Well, boys, we've just been scooped," he told his colleagues as he hung up the phone.

Soon afterward the Astrophysical Journal published two articles: one by Penzias and Wilson describing their experience with the hiss, the other by Dicke's team explaining its nature. Although Penzias and Wilson had not been looking for cosmic background radiation, didn't know what it was when they had found it, and hadn't described or interpreted its character in any paper, they received the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics. The Princeton researchers got only sympathy. According to Dennis Overbye in Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, neither Penzias nor Wilson altogether understood the significance of what they had found until they read about it in the New York Times.

Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.

Although everyone calls it the Big Bang, many books caution us not to think of it as an explosion in the conventional sense. It was, rather, a vast, sudden expansion on a whopping scale. So what caused it?

One notion is that perhaps the singularity was the relic of an earlier, collapsed universe—that we're just one of an eternal cycle of expanding and collapsing universes, like the bladder on an oxygen machine. Others attribute the Big Bang to what they call "a false vacuum" or "a scalar field" or "vacuum energy"—some quality or thing, at any rate, that introduced a measure of instability into the nothingness that was. It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can. It may be that our universe is merely part of many larger universes, some in different dimensions, and that Big Bangs are going on all the time all over the place. Or it may be that space and time had some other forms altogether before the Big Bang—forms too alien for us to imagine—and that the Big Bang represents some sort of transition phase, where the universe went from a form we can't understand to one we almost can. "These are very close to religious questions," Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford, told the New York Times in 2001.

The Big Bang theory isn't about the bang itself but about what happened after the bang. Not long after, mind you. By doing a lot of math and watching carefully what goes on in particle accelerators, scientists believe they can look back to 10-43 seconds after the moment of creation, when the universe was still so small that you would have needed a microscope to find it. We mustn't swoon over every extraordinary number that comes before us, but it is perhaps worth latching on to one from time to time just to be reminded of their ungraspable and amazing breadth. Thus 10-43 is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001, or one 10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second.

Most of what we know, or believe we know, about the early moments of the universe is thanks to an idea called inflation theory first propounded in 1979 by a junior particle physicist, then at Stanford, now at MIT, named Alan Guth. He was thirty-two years old and, by his own admission, had never done anything much before. He would probably never have had his great theory except that he happened to attend a lecture on the Big Bang given by none other than Robert Dicke. The lecture inspired Guth to take an interest in cosmology, and in particular in the birth of the universe.

The eventual result was the inflation theory, which holds that a fraction of a moment after the dawn of creation, the universe underwent a sudden dramatic expansion. It inflated—in effect ran away with itself, doubling in size every 10-34 seconds. The whole episode may have lasted no more than 10-30 seconds—that's one million million million million millionths of a second—but it changed the universe from something you could hold in your hand to something at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger. Inflation theory explains the ripples and eddies that make our universe possible. Without it, there would be no clumps of matter and thus no stars, just drifting gas and everlasting darkness.

According to Guth's theory, at one ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, gravity emerged. After another ludicrously brief interval it was joined by electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces—the stuff of physics. These were joined an instant later by swarms of elementary particles—the stuff of stuff. From nothing at all, suddenly there were swarms of photons, protons, electrons, neutrons, and much else—between 1079 and 1089 of each, according to the standard Big Bang theory.

Such quantities are of course ungraspable. It is enough to know that in a single cracking instant we were endowed with a universe that was vast—at least a hundred billion light-years across, according to the theory, but possibly any size up to infinite—and perfectly arrayed for the creation of stars, galaxies, and other complex systems.

What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently—if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly—then there might never have been stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent, without precisely the right values to give it the right dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void.

This is one reason that some experts believe there may have been many other big bangs, perhaps trillions and trillions of them, spread through the mighty span of eternity, and that the reason we exist in this particular one is that this is one we could exist in. As Edward P. Tryon of Columbia University once put it: "In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time." To which adds Guth: "Although the creation of a universe might be very unlikely, Tryon emphasized that no one had counted the failed attempts."

Martin Rees, Britain's astronomer royal, believes that there are many universes, possibly an infinite number, each with different attributes, in different combinations, and that we simply live in one that combines things in the way that allows us to exist. He makes an analogy with a very large clothing store: "If there is a large stock of clothing, you're not surprised to find a suit that fits. If there are many universes, each governed by a differing set of numbers, there will be one where there is a particular set of numbers suitable to life. We are in that one."

Rees maintains that six numbers in particular govern our universe, and that if any of these values were changed even very slightly things could not be as they are. For example, for the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner—specifically, in a way that converts seven one-thousandths of its mass to energy. Lower that value very slightly—from 0.007 percent to 0.006 percent, say—and no transformation could take place: the universe would consist of hydrogen and nothing else. Raise the value very slightly—to 0.008 percent—and bonding would be so wildly prolific that the hydrogen would long since have been exhausted. In either case, with the slightest tweaking of the numbers the universe as we know and need it would not be here.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Pt. I Lost in the Cosmos 7
1 How to Build a Universe 9
2 Welcome to the Solar System 19
3 The Reverend Evans's Universe 29
Pt. II The Size of the Earth 41
4 The Measure of Things 43
5 The Stone-Breakers 63
6 Science Red in Tooth and Claw 79
7 Elemental Matters 97
Pt. III A New Age Dawns 113
8 Einstein's Universe 115
9 The Mighty Atom 133
10 Getting the Lead Out 149
11 Muster Mark's Quarks 161
12 The Earth Moves 173
Pt. IV Dangerous Planet 187
13 Bang! 189
14 The Fire Below 207
15 Dangerous Beauty 224
Pt. V Life Itself 237
16 Lonely Planet 239
17 Into the Troposphere 255
18 The Bounding Main 270
19 The Rise of Life 287
20 Small World 302
21 Life Goes On 321
22 Good-bye to All That 335
23 The Richness of Being 350
24 Cells 371
25 Darwin's Singular Notion 381
26 The Stuff of Life 397
Pt. VI The Road to Us 417
27 Ice Time 419
28 The Mysterious Biped 434
29 The Restless Ape 453
30 Good-bye 469
Notes 479
Bibliography 517
Index 529
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 389 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 394 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    One to savor

    This book has been sitting on my bedside for two months, and it has NOT been easy folks, and I mean that in the very best way possible. I am savoring this book chapter by chapter, and it has been an exercise in restraint.

    Mr. Bryson has accomplished the goal he laid out for himself (as described in the introduction) brilliantly. He realized that he knew very little about the physical world he lived in, and attributed this to the fact that scientific texts are rarely the kind of read that a layman would term "gripping". He set about researching the history of the various physical sciences -- geology, particle physics, etc., and then filled this book with the fascinating stories behind everything from the invention of rubber to plate tectonics to Einsteins relativity theory.

    Reading this book is like tucking into a deliciously rich dessert, and I am savoring every page. I recommend it highly, and especially to anyone looking for a book to read while traveling as it would be a thoroughly absorbing way to while away the time.

    21 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Amusing and Informative

    I haven't much to say about this book, except that it's very fun to read while providing some very memorable anecdotes. The book literally tries to cover the history of everything, focusing mainly on science and social advances. Bryson wrote the book making it a point to sound as animated as possible, since this could be pretty dry material given the topic. And he does a great job of engaging the reader, using hilarious anecdotes and keeping the style lighthearted.

    I found it very amusing to go through, and very informative. Some parts were more entertaining than others, but that should be a given in a book like this. If you're a fan of science, learning, or dry humor, then this is a good choice for you.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2008

    I have read this book many, many times!

    I love Bill Bryson books. My love for Bryson's clever and engaging writing style all started with A Short History of Nearly Everything. I picked this book up one day with no real intention to read it cover to cover 'it was purchased for my husband and was lying around our house'. After a chapter, I was hooked! I love this book and have recommended it to others, who also were delighted with it. I have read this book cover to cover at least 3 times. A Short History of Nearly Everything is an informative and interesting look at our world. If you like science (or reading in general), then I recommend this book. Bill Bryson presents information in a way that makes it fun to learn. It helps that Bryson is just plain funny. This book presents everything in a way that makes it donwright fun to read. As a side note, I also love A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country, also by Bill Bryson. I find myself a but sad when I come to the end of a Bill Bryson book because I enjoy reading them so much 'I never want the book to end!'. My solution is to run out and by something else he has written. Never have I enjoyed reading so much!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2003

    ABRIDGED? Forget It!

    My wife and I love Bill Bryson's books and have listened to most of them on tape while driving. We looked forward to getting A Short History of Neary Everything, but since it is ABRIDGED, we are not going to buy it. We hate books that are chopped up. Sorry Bill, we want the whole thing or nothing.

    7 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    Informative and Interesting

    Excellent job of converting complex concepts into examples that can be grasped by most people. Potentially boring explanations come alive to help the reader understand some of the great mysteries of life.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2010

    Different than anything I've read before

    This was a really interesting book - different than anything I've ever read before. It was basically a history of science, which sounds kind of boring, but it's told through a series of anecdotes and stories about different scientists (many you've heard of before and many that you haven't). It got slow in a couple spots, but overall it was a good read. I would make it required reading for every high school science student - just because you learn so much about the science itself when you're in school but you don't really learn much about the people and the history of scientific discovery. Plus, the biggest thing I think this book shows is how little we really know. When you're a science student in school, you can get the impression that there's nothing left to discover - that we're so advanced and have so much technology - but we really have only touched the surface in our scientific knowledge in a lot of areas.

    I have a new appreciation for some of the great scientists in history too, like Newton and Haley - these guys were truly amazing. It's unfathomable how they came up with some of the things they did - and how right on target they were.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2010

    A Review of A Short History of Nearly Everything

    In this book,the author covers everything from the beginnings of the universe to the beginnings of the human species. The topics covered in this book: The Universe,The Size or this Earth, Physics,the geography of the Earth,and the beginning of Humans and extiction of certain species. This particular book is different because Bryson uses humor to engage the reader. It is also an interesting book beacause he not only talks about the main topics discussed above but he gives a short biography of many of the scientists who were involved in important discoveries. This is any overall intriguing book because he covers such a variety of topics. This book should be used in schools to teach science.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A must Reading for "Buding Scientists"

    I wish I had read this when I was young--except it did not exist then! A fascinating read from beginning to end. Mr Bryson combines his wonderful wit with a detailed layperson approach to science and the people who were/are the scientists.

    This is an excellent starter from which to expand into a detailed examination of most anything. I bought copies for my 40's something sons only to have them tell me "Dad! where have you been? We read this years ago!"

    Parents with 7 to 10th grade children might have fun reading it together (do they still do this?). Us older people will learn about a lot that has changed since we were students. Great fun. It is nice to write a review about something that deserves it.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    One of the easiest books to read! Will definitely make you feel a little smarter when you're done.

    In this book Bill Bryson put together all the scientific and historical facts and discoveries that conclude what we now know about Earth and its' processes. The author is a writer, not a scientist, and tries to explain things in a non-scientific terms for a similarly non-scientific audience. Having a scientific background I already knew most of the physics, astronomy, and chemistry aspects that the author introduces, but how I wish my professors made us read "A Short History of Nearly Everything" instead of "A Brief History of Time"! This book is a very easy read. All science requires a lot of math, which is why most people struggle with it. In this book, Bill Bryson has eliminated math completely and wrote a book on the history of our planet while incorporating scientific principals and humor instead. I've recommended the book to several friends who now claim they have a basic understanding of particle physics without "all that math crap"!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2012

    Must read

    This book is a must read for anyone interested in anything. It puts into plain language how man discovered the physical world. I plan to re-read it since there is so much information, it is hard to absord in one read. Loved it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    One of the greatest science books of the 2000's

    I was very pleased with this book, this book tells you how scientists know what they know. I'd highly recommend this book for any science buff.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2010

    A must, very recommendable. A great gift...

    I'm reading it, and I'm agree the Boston Globe review: Its makes science interesting and funny...You can bet that many questions you have about the universe and the world will be answered here"

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    I'm smarter now

    I absolutely enjoyed this book. Mr. Bryson has a compelling way of making science enjoyable. I'm happy to have picked this up. I often refer back to it numerous times during the week.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Short History of Nearly Everything - Really Is

    I have read a number of Bill Bryson's books, but none of them were like this one. Missing was his usual humor but included were a set of facts that "knocked my socks off!" I am an engineer by training, but unfortunately never formally studied the Life Sciences. This book opened my eyes as to how complex, glorious and robust "life" is. As Bryson, to my knowledge, is not a scientist or engineer, he did a great job of reporting and documenting the sources of his assersions about the history of scientific thought. I thought it was very well researched and written from the viewpoint of the ordinary, but somewhat educated, person with much of the technical lingo set aside.

    I would rate this non-fiction work among the best books I have read in the last several years. I'll still continue to read Bryson's travel narratives, but his was a real treat as well.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2008

    The Audio Book needs a Table of Contents

    I have read the book and listened to it several times on audio book. I am a high school science teacher who would like to share this book with my class, but without a table of contents it is a tedious task to find the correct section on the CD to match the subject at hand. Can you help? Anyone?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2005


    This book is unlike any other Bryson book publoshed. It is neither his recollections, encounters or observations -- rather, we are taken on an intellectual tour of the world of science. As a non-scientist who is helping my teenager study many of these topics in her 7th grade science class, I find this a wonderful alternative to the staid prose of the science textbook.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2015

    The title is very misleading.  The content is so called "sc

    The title is very misleading.  The content is so called "science."  I was looking for history.  The view is one sided.
    The author presents theory as fact.  Fails to include science that refutes his view.  
    A book on Creationism vs. Evolution, by an actual scientist, is what I would recommend if the theory of evolution
    tantalizes you.  Bottom line "every design has a Designer."
    I would never purchase another Bill Bryson book.  Waste.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2014

    Short, breif, and informative

    Although lenghty, it is written clearly and in lay terms creating an updated, modern reference to existence

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    Bryson has a good sense of humor that makes the book easier to r

    Bryson has a good sense of humor that makes the book easier to read. He goes more in-depth into those boring science classes you had to suffer through in middle school and gives you this information in a series of events that gives you a good understanding of the short history of nearly  everything. The book is very informative but slightly out of date considering that Pluto is no longer considered a planet. However with the slight misinformation, i'd highly recommend reading this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    This book had me hooked from the moment I picked it up to the mo

    This book had me hooked from the moment I picked it up to the moment i set it down. I would recomend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about science in a fun and easy way. I learned  everything from quarks to seacows and i believe I would be able to hold a conversation with a science professor on these topics. All in all I would honestly read this book again and I have already given the book to my mom to read.(Hunter J) 

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