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Editorial Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: An ambitious title to say the least. But Bryson, arguably the best author-narrator around, gives us all an entertaining history lesson delivered in that voice-of-an-old-friend that has made all Bryson's work so enjoyable. This is no travelogue, as we are used to from Bryson, but it is more about life than any other "history" you'll hear. — Chris Doheny

Publisher's Summary

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson takes his ultimate journey - into the most intriguing and consequential questions that science seeks to answer. It's a dazzling quest, as this insatiably curious writer attempts to understand everything that has transpired from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization.

To that end, Bill Bryson apprenticed himself to a host of the world's most profound scientific minds, living and dead. His challenge is to take subjects like geology, chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics and see if there isn't some way to render them comprehensible to people, like himself, made bored (or scared) stiff of science by school.

On his travels through space and time, Bill Bryson encounters a splendid gallery of the most fascinating personalities ever to ask a hard question. In their company, he undertakes a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge. Science has never been more involving, and the world we inhabit has never been more full of wonder and delight.

©2003 Bill Bryson (P)2003 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House Inc.

Critic Reviews

"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
  • Robert
  • Encino, CA, United States
  • 08-30-03

Listen to this book with your kids!

I admit I am a big Bryson fan, but this is his best book yet. I'll let others speak to content, but I wanted to urge parents to share this book with their kids. I read the unabridged hard copy, then downloaded the abridged version so I could share it with my daughters - ages 10, 16, and 18. We listened on a long road trip through Montana. If you can believe it, they all cried when it was over, touched by Bryson's poignant message at the end about our place in the universe and the attendant responsibility of being at the (current) pinnacle of evolution. When we got home, my two older daughters immediately went to the bookstore to purchase their own copies so they could read the entire book again. It's gotta be good when your teenagers can't put it down. And it has generated great family conversation about a wide variety of topics ever since. Listen to this book. It will make you a more interesting and interested person . . . .

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

This audio edition is abridged!

As I listened to this book, I had the feeling that it was missing a lot of details, explanations, and Brysonisms though it was nonetheless enjoyable. At the very end, I realized that this is an abridged version due the the crediting of an abridgement editor (I hadn't noticed that the abridgement notice on audible). The audio recording is only about half the book. No wonder it seemed sketchy. From what I've read of the book, it seems much better. I hope that Bill or Random House will put out a recording of the whole book.

55 of 58 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Entertaining, educational, and fun

What more can you ask for? From atoms to cosmology, we learn not only of why people think what they do, but also some of the characters who initially thought that way. I had no idea that Issac Newton was such an oddball; it certainly lets you know that nerds are not a new phenomena.

105 of 112 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Steve
  • Goffstown, NH, USA
  • 05-24-03

One of the best

In short, simply fabulous. If this book in anyway piques your interest, then you definitely should select it. Never have I enjoyed a book on such weighty matters - it is concise, informative, thought provoking, while at all times witty!

76 of 81 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Robert
  • Coventry, CT, USA
  • 07-29-03

A pleasure to listen to

As a scientist, I often find books designed for the nonscientist to be oversimplified or simply wrong. This book is rigorously accurate while presenting the material with a clarity and precision that keeps you both interested and informed. I give this audio book the highest rating as the most enjoyable I have listened to of the past 30 audio books I have enjoyed.

The author is also the narrator, and he is excellent. He makes the subjects of particle physics, anthropology and geology exciting and he presents the material with a mixture of timeline and relevance that brings everything together. Only at the very end does he present his opinions about all this, and they are worth listening to, but regardless of your views, you will enjoy the book.

This is as good as it gets. You owe yourself a listen.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Really, outstanding, interesting, and hypnotizing

First off, the narrator is perfect. *Perfect.* Just an outstanding voice, perfect pitch and inflection, and delivers the many wry, humorous lines with the dry tone only the English can truly manage.

Second, the book itself is fascinating. Even for people who don't like science, Bryson has written a beautiful guide that is interesting as much for the human characters as for the science itself. And the facts are presented so well, with so many good comparisons and easy-to-grasp metaphors that you'll find yourself interested, even if you think you hate science.

And last, this may be the perfect book for dropping off to sleep with. Bryson's transitions from topic to topic are clever and smooth, but it's not plot-driven; the book can really be listened to from any point, for any length of time. Missed 20 minutes because you fell asleep before your iPod sleep timer shut off? No big deal, you won't miss it. Catch it the next time around.

And you will listen to this book again. It's interesting enough and humorous enough that the parts you remember are worth hearing again, and there will be delightful surprises and laughs in those chunks you missed.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

String theory and big bang for the comon man

Between the library and the internet I listen to two to three books a week, and this has remained my number one recommendation since I heard it almost a year ago. Imagine, an explanation of the smallest known (or theorized) particles in the universe to the expanse of the universe itself. But most of all Bill Bryson makes it fun. If you enjoy knowing a little about everything but not too much about anything, if you're trivia fanatic, if you simply enjoy learning, this is a must. Perhaps the best compliment I can offer is the fact as soon as I finished "A Short History" I immediately began to search for other works by this author (and they're all good too).

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Bryson does it again!

Bryson's done it again. His witty and informative travelogue series has provided hours of entertainment.

A Short History... is defintely a departure from his typical format and that had me a little curious about how he would address these issues. As a working scientist and academic I was quite pleased with his handling of the material. It's a nicely written history of science enlivened quite nicely, thank you very much, with Bill's typical flair for a fine phrase.

As another reviewer pointed out, Bryson is undoubtedly the best narrator for his own work. He is a prime example of a man who knows his own words and delivers them phenomenally well!

Get this book! You won't regret it.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Paul
  • Clyde, NC, USA
  • 05-24-03

A MUST for all who want an A+ Layman science boost

Superb and clear, an eminantly readable history of man's developing scientific grasp of nearly every aspect of the collected knowledge of every decipline in the current critical areas of physical science.
It is both a linear history of mans discoveries, genious leaps, and inovations,as well as a concise explanation of the salient details of these discoveries.
It also renders a fine discussion of the varied aspects of our current understand and misunderstanding of the mysterious universe above, around, beneth, and within us.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sean
  • Newport Beach, CA, USA
  • 09-20-03

Highly Recommended

This was one of the most enjoyable books I have ever 'read'. I am an avid reader of science and other non-fiction books and I would place this one at or very near the top. Rather than stopping short at explaining the scientific principles, experiments, discoverers, dates etc, Bryson repeatedly puts it all into context to illustrate what an amazing and impossible world we live in. I realize that this isn't by any means a new approach, but he manages to do it in a very entertaining and engaging way. His voice and delivery are perfect for the task -- so much so that I'm not sure if I even would have enjoyed the written text as much on its own. Many stories that I have heard a hundred times (like Einstein's writings on relativity) I became much more exciting as narrated by Bryson. He also covers topics that are rarely covered in other popular science books, and makes you wonder how such interesting topics could be so universally neglected. I can't recommend this book strongly enough. Though I would say that I found the first couple of chapters less interesting than the remainder.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful