A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. A great book to share – it’s been given to me by two former students and, in turn, I’ve passed it along to friends and family. It lives up to its title, skimming the surface of most branches of the natural sciences, starting with the origins of the universe and ending with the descent of humans. The student who first handed it off was particularly enthusiastic about the odd bits of knowledge into every page. To me, the beauty of the book is how these scientific facts are embedded within personal and political histories of those who discovered them. Sure, it’s fun to learn that humans have about the same number of genes as grass and far fewer than newts, but somehow more fun to learn that, when they weren’t dying from X-ray exposure, pioneers in the study of DNA were using family connections to steal one another’s work, being refused passports for their liberal views, and alienating their colleagues to the point of early retirement.
Posted March 03, 2009