A Short History of Nearly Everything

Narrated by: Richard Matthews
Length: 18 hrs and 13 mins
Categories: History, World
4.5 out of 5 stars (21,670 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of the world’s most beloved and best-selling writers 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 Trail - well, most of it. In 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 understand - and, if possible, answer - the 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. 

©2003 Bill Bryson (P)2003 Books on Tape, Inc. Published by Arrangement with Random House Audio Publishing Group, A Division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Not to be missed." (AudioFile)
"Destined to become a modern classic of science writing." (The New York Times Book Review)

Featured Article: 20 Best History Audiobooks You Never Heard in School


While history is by definition the study of the past, no subject tells us more about the present, or is as exciting to follow in contemporary times. The range of subgenres within history writing is huge. Some authors cover a massive scope, while others zoom in to examine tiny, overlooked elements in a new way. Unlike your history class of old, these selections don’t demand memorization of names and dates. Read on for the best in our catalog.

What listeners say about A Short History of Nearly Everything

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A complete breakfast

Forget high school science. Just have your kids enjoy this book. Bryson gives a very understandable and thorough overview of astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc., in an extremely engaging way. It is like hearing your favorite college professor sit down on a table in front of a group of students and weaving a fascinating story. The human interest aspects of the books were a plus to the scientific explanations. Although this is a tremendously enjoyable read for inquisitive adults, share it with your children and they might actually take up an enduring interest in science. This book is certainly far better than all of my high school science courses combined (and probably college too). Highly recommended.

26 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Six stars

The is the one book I wish I could give six stars. I read this once per year and insist my friends read it. My only complaint that it needs to be updated with the latest scientific knowledge available. They should do a 10 year anniversary update.

45 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The Only Book I reread imediatley after reading

I cant say enough about this book! I was introduced to Bill Bryson while incarcerated. And might I just say that even hardened criminals could not get enough of this book. I made most of my money by renting out this book. The demand was so great that I had another copy mailed to me. I have since lent a copy to many friends, and have yet to have most of them returned. The only one which was returned was because that person bought their own copy so that they could highlight it. This book is infectious! My only regret is that I havent been able to aquire an illustrated version. This book does indeed feel like a short history of nearly everthing. But everyone I have ever ask about this book says that it only makes them want to know more about one or more of the topics in the book. That has been the case with me as well. I have gone back to school in order to learn more about the subject matter within the pages of this life altering book. Read this book, it will open new worlds and inlighten old ones

213 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fascinating; Perfect for Adult ADHD

This book does something that few others do. It gives just enough information (without being too much) and makes it absolutely spellbinding. I don't want to know about cosmology, chemistry, and/or physics in minute detail, but I want a conversational knowledge of these and many other things scientific. Bryson provides that in an extremely entertaining, interesting manner. Although it is long, I whole-heartedly recommend the unabridged version.

122 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

abridged - unabridged

I loved the abridged version so much I just had to get the unabridged version when it became available. The abridged version is a very good abridgement, probably contains enough detail for most, and Bill Bryson's narration of it is the icing on the cake for sure. The unabridged version offers a fuller explanation of many points and so exposes the listener to more stories and Bryson wit which is always enjoyable. Richard Matthews does a great job narrating although he's not exactly Bill Bryson, he's sounds a lot like him and is a good second choice. If you can't get enough of Bill Bryson, you're best bet is the unabridged version. You won't get bogged down with unnecessary scientific detail--it's all very enjoyable listening. If you just want to learn about the subject quickly, the abridged version is lots of fun.

98 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

an all too

I'm sorry for the folks who bought the abridged version of this title. Opting for Bryson abridged is pointless. His prose is already polished to a pearly economy.

If you can listen to the final 22 minutes of this book without cringing, crying, or resolving to affect change in the way all of us treat this magnificent and mysterious planet; you are a hard, hard case. With disciplined but entertaining prose, Bryson surveys the branches of science that explain who we are and how we got to wherever it is we are. Spectacular!

33 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Best survey of science book out there

After listening to this book, you will feel like a scientist and think of yourself as understanding our place in the universe like a true intellectual. Bryson just knows how to explain difficult concepts across all of the science disciplines. This is a great first book for someone who is interested in reading other science books or just ending their quest with this book. My cheap self was reluctant to get it because of the two credit price, I'm glad I let my spendthrift self take over.

The book does more than just talk about the science it also delves into the personalities involved with the great discoveries and illustrates how some of our greatest discoveries came about through the perseverance of smart people.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Engrossing and dazzling

I am a scientist, and I feel that Bryson has a keen eye for what is important. His book is crammed with wonderful concepts and observations from a remarkable breadth of fields. It is always easy to understand, yet consistently mind-boggling. I personally found the stories of scientists' escapades captivating: it is so healthy to be reminded that science is a human endeavor. These stories of ruthlessness and heartbreak along the path of discovery are exactly the things that elevate this book above textbooks. Also, the narrator does a wonderful job of giving the author's words their intended voice, be it profound, tragic, or comic.

43 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Give it a try

I never thought plate tectonics, atom smashing and trilobites could be so entertaining - there were times I actually chuckled. The author presents what could be a series of tedious lectures about dry subjects in a very understandable way. By using humor, he makes the subjects user-friendly without talking down to his audience.

I can't remember all the names mentioned and how to pronounce some of the terms used but I now look at clouds differently, am a little afraid of Yellowstone blowing up and think some scientists were really brave, creative and a little looney.

The narrator is great. In fact, I may purchase more books just because he narrates. I think he has a lot to do with my enjoyment of the book, capturing the tone I think the author intended.

I usually read fiction, particularly mysteries and thrillers but this was an excellent departure from that. I think anyone with a passing interest in how our world works would enjoy this book - not to mention discover things like: Newton pushed pointed objects into his eye sockets just to see what happened; heat is simply a matter of molecules banging into each other; Yellowstone is actually a volcano. Who knew!

59 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Now I know nearly everything

I found this a wonderful listen. The flow of information is smooth and the author has a knack of compressing complex chunks of information into extremely funny and engaging vignettes. He also brings an air of humanism to the exploits of these supposed great eggheads of science and discovery and their works. He transformed them from the staid names and dates I was forced fed in school into real people and exciting events. They should just play this tape in lieu of high school history classes. Highly entertaining, and you?ll learn a lot too!

13 people found this helpful