Monday, November 2, 2009

A Short History of Nearly Everything


I've always been terrible at science. Well, I can't exactly say "always" because I stopped thinking about science five years ago, back when I had to do it at high school. I'll pass on the formulas, just give me some adjectives please.

The only thing I really liked about science was the Scottish teacher I had for a little bit in fifth form and how he would say things like "excrete" with his wonderful accent and roll the r's.

I've recently started reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, though I didn't quite realise just how science-y it would be. Does he get to the History part of the title soon? I suppose you can't really have the history of the universe without talking about gravity and rocks and galaxies and all of that.

Although A Short History is taking me a little longer to get through than the usual books I read, I am understanding 96 per cent of what he's writing about, and he actually makes it super interesting too. I should have forgone those three years of high school science altogether and just read this book instead.

Bryson writes with a clarity that all those Nobel scientists wish they could (sometimes being the smartest person in the room means you can't talk or write with words less than three syllables long) and has the sort of subtle, tongue-in-cheek humour that I can appreciate. Here's an example of what I mean, where he is talking about the creation of the universe:

"In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any forms of words, the singularity assumes heavy dimensions, space beyond conception. The first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) produces gravity and the other forces that govern physics. in less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast ... In three minutes, 98 per cent of all matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich."

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