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Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

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I’m excited to share my first book-related item here. I’m a life-long reader and writer. Heck, I dream in words and get bored by instrumental music. I’m even currently trying to do a book discussion at my blog about the new Harry Potter book.

I used to read 100-150 books a year but I’m down to about 50-75 these days.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson&#8212Bryson is perhaps most famous for his classic piece of memoir/travel writing: A Walk in the Woods. In that popular book I detected two styles of his writing, one which I liked and which irked me.

What I liked most is his witty, skewed, clever way of looking at the world that is both educational and entertaining. What I didn’t like was how much time he spent putting other people down, whether it was his companion on the hike or the people he encountered along the way.

In subsequent books by him I found this quality even more annoying, as he acted like he considered himself smarter than everyone else. Which brings us to this new book where, for whatever reason, that works perfectly for the material.

Perhaps it is that he seems to have toned down jokes criticizing people. Or maybe it is because, as readers or&#8212in my case&#8212listeners on audio cds. We know that we are somewhat ignorant about the knowledge he is about to impart to us. For whatever reason, though, this style seems to work perfectly in this case.

He provides loads of good information about history, science, and other topics, which he shares using a variety of teaching/writing styles, and I came away feeling like I learned a great deal. I give the book a 9.
Ed: JH Edited: PC

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • deekay

    I love this book, too. Sounds like it should be boring but he injects enough personality to make it fascinating. He shows how precarious our whole existence is – I had moments where I figured that if a fish were to sneeze, we’d all be doomed. The section on physics was the only one to disappoint me. I’d love to understand quantum physics even on some tiny level, but he pretty much leaves it at: “Yah, give it up. You’ll never get it.”

  • Scott Butki

    Ironically Physics is a current course of mine, my final pre-requisite for a masters of teaching program I’m already in.

    I’ve found one way to learn complicated topics – I used it for a chemistry class – is this book series, “The cartoon guide to…” by Larry Gonick.

  • DrPat

    I’m fond of Schaum’s Guides myself.

  • Scott Butki

    I’m not familiar with Schaum’s but I’ll check it out. Thanks for the tip.