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Editorial Reviews

"Imagine if you can -- and of course you can't..." is how Bryson opens his explanation of how a universe is born. And he has the uncanny ability to not say too much, nor too little; to use metaphors brilliantly but without cliché; and to sound like he's actually learning as he goes along. Like Stephen Hawking before him, Bryson skips from one BIG topic to the next with the curiosity of a child and the patience of a schoolteacher. It's like having a front-row seat to the history of the world. With his slightly bemused English accent, narrator Richard Matthews sounds completely at home in the material, chatting knowingly and with perfect dry comic timing. For managing to cover the universe and keep it lively, this experience definitely merits as an all-time favorite.

Publisher's Summary

Bill Bryson has been an enormously popular author both for his travel books and for his books on the English language. Now, this beloved comic genius turns his attention to science. Although he doesn't know anything about the subject (at first), he is eager to learn, and takes information that he gets from the world's leading experts and explains it to us in a way that makes it exciting and relevant. Even the most pointy-headed, obscure scientist succumbs to the affable Bryson's good nature, and reveals how he or she figures things out. Showing us how scientists get from observations to ideas and theories is Bryson's aim, and he succeeds brilliantly. It is an adventure of the mind, as exciting as any of Bryson's terrestrial journeys.
©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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Sean
  • Kettering, OH, USA
  • 05-13-04

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.

67 of 70 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Andrew
  • Pocatello, ID, USA
  • 11-09-09

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

114 of 123 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

71 of 78 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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!

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Julia
  • Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, United States
  • 07-25-05

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Aaron
  • palo alto, CA, USA
  • 04-30-05

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.

33 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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!

48 of 55 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story
  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 05-27-12

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Barbara
  • San Antonio, TX, United States
  • 05-03-05

Everyone needs to know this stuff

Near the beginning Bryson states that he knew almost nothing about the only world he would ever inhabit. Most people seem to be in pretty much the same state. If you listen to this you will join him in not being quite so ignorant.

That's great, but what I like best is that while he presents our best current understanding of how our universe works, he also provides a series of wonderful profiles of the very human men and women who have slowly and painfully (and in some cases arrogantly) built up the framework of what we know -- and upon which we will continue to built our understanding. It is an ode to science and scientists. As far as I am concernerned this should be required readling...or listening!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful