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Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

Editorial Review - Bookreporter.com - Kate Ayers

Thank goodness Bill Bryson has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Here I thought he just walked all over the world and then wrote about it fortunately not. I've read about half a dozen of his books: A WALK IN THE WOODS, NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND, NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY, NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, even a dictionary he wrote. Not one of them failed to elicit embarrassing giggles, often at highly ... Read full review

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My son in-law, knowing I work in a scientific field, gave me this book, and I found it fascinating, but found one unforgiveable misstatement. On 263, where you discuss the difference between the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales you state correctly the basis of the Celsius scale as based on the freezing and boiling points of water. But the basis of the Fahrenheit is far more interesting, but you say "for reasons unknown, blah, blah. blah, etc., etc." and as a talented writer with a great sense of humor, you could have made hay with this knowledge. Anyone having had an introductory course in college chemistry, which you may not have had, would have been told that Daniel Fahrenheit, a German physicist, living in Holland developed a scale where 100 degrees was the normal temperature of the human body, actually 98.6 F, and zero was the coldest temperature that could be achieved, at that time, in a mixture of ice and table salt. Thus, by happenstance, the freezing point of water comes out to be 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
John E. Yocom, Simsbury, CT USA
 

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This is a great book that takes you through an assortment of topics across the scientific world. If only text books were written this way.

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I started reading Polish translation ("Krotka historia prawie wszystkiego"). A was annoyed by leaving imperial units in the book, but the review is not about translation...
I spotted MAJOR errors
at the beginning of the book and ceased reading as not worth wasting my time.
One is edge of Oort's cloud at 2ly. As Centauri ternary system weighs about 1.9 masses of Sun at average 4.4ly distance, gravititional equilibrium point is about 1.85ly away from Sun. So cloud's edge can't be at 2ly, as it would be attracted by Proxima system. Current estimates of Oort's cloud boundary are at about 50'000AU (what's funny, value mentioned in the book) giving about 0,8ly - value well within Suns gravitational well.
Okay, some estimates put the outer edge at ridiculous 200'000AU (3.2ly), so I could get over with it.
But one that rally halted me from further reading is this:
"On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with the Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over 300 metres away and Pluto would be two and a half kilometres distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway)."
Lets assume that pea has roughly 6mm diameter. Pluto's diameter is 1/6 of Earth's, giving about 1mm in this scale. Mr Bryson has damn big bacteria over there and a really bad eyesight...
I KNOW there are extreme bacteria up to 0.7mm in size, but such comparisons are usually done to average and not to the extreme values. At 0.7mm you would clearly see it, so by saying "you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway" author clearly does not mean this 0.7mm behemoth. Average bacteria size is about 1/1000mm.
Miscalculation you say? Well, he did it twice!
"Even if you shrank down everything so that Jupiter was as small as the full stop at the end of this sentence, and Pluto was no bigger than a molecule, Pluto would still be over 10 metres away."
Assuming full stop is about 1/3mm in diameter, Pluto would be ~5 micrometers (~ 1/200mm). You won't see it with naked eye, I agree. Vast majority of bacteriae are 0.5 - 5 micrometers in size, so previous comparison would be more appropriate here.
There ARE macromolecules. Largest ever chemical molecule weighs 12 tonnes (you can see it at 42.270343, -83.208868 in Google Maps, look south-east) - this is by definition, that vulcanized rubber creates single, compound molecule. Largest "normal" molecule is mesoporous silica at diameter of 80 nanometers (100 times smaller than "Micropluto"). Average organic macromolecules are about 5nm (insulie, hemoglobine, over 1000 times smaller than "Micropluto").
What's funny, at Jupiter-per-dot scale, Sun would be ~3mm in diameter and largest known star (UY Scuti) would be roughly 5m in diameter (!!!), just the scale of largest known "rubber molecule".
No, I don't intend to read a book, where I have to verify each end every number, if it is not off by 10-1000 factor from the real one...
 

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Great book, it answers the various questions you may encounter in your curious life, all in great detail. 10/10.

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Loved the audio book.

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Life changing. Absolutely Life Changing. Understandable writing combining all the scientific disciplines explaining what is. It leaves the WHY it is to you to contemplate. Bill Bryson respects your intelligence and your ability ti make your own conclusions or not. Now when someone asks if I've read "The Bible" I ask have they read "Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything". Thank you very much, Bill. I wish we could have dinner together. Just to talk. You pick the place. I'm buying. 

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Easy read considering the material.

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2004
At times very interesting but forgettable trivia, but he really asks some great questions and delves into a few topics to great effect. Some startling looks at life at the cellular level, Earth, the universe - emphasizes how random life is.

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Brilliant book. History blended with science was never done so well. and the best part is its understandable and interesting.

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