Category Archives: Book Notes

Book Notes – A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I’m calling this series ‘Book Notes’ because ‘Book Review’ sounds scary. Book Review suggests a thorough examination of the good, the bad and the ugly and then a careful critique of the book. My book notes are going to be a lot of random rambling. As I said in my previous post, I have embarked on a journey to read through this list. I began at the beginning with this book, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and boy am I glad I did.


This book hooks you in from the word go and does not let you go. There were nights when my eyes were burning with sleep but I kept reading anyway. I will note here that I tend to get overexcited about a lot of things but I have never been so caught up by a non fiction book. This book is about the history of our planet. So in a way you could say that this is probably the greatest story ever told. And it is told so well. It just flows from page to page and the humour is just brilliantly done. Don’t worry I’m not giving away any plot twists, but you have to hear a few of my favourite lines from this book.

When talking about Mitochondria, the power house of the cell, “We couldn’t live for two minutes without them, yet even after a billion years mitochondria behave as if they think things might not work out between us. They maintain their own DNA, RNA and ribosomes. They reproduce at a different time from their host cells. They don’t even speak the same genetic language as the cell in which they live. In short, they keep their bags packed. It is like having a stranger in your house, but one who has been there for a billion years.”

Here’s another wise observation about bacteria: “Bacteria may not build cities or have interesting social lives, but they will be here when the Sun explodes. This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be”

I just love how this book covers so much ground, without ever leaving the reader feel breathless. You read with fascination about the quirks in Albert Einstein’s and Isaac Newton’s personalities which somehow helps to understand a little better the work that they did. I don’t know why that should be the case but it is. School textbooks should really take a leaf out of this book. My biggest complaint when studying the sciences was always that the way things were written in the textbooks were so unsatisfactory and choppy. I vaguely wondered about the connections between subjects but never seriously enough to find out more about it. If you have ever been in that position, I promise you this book will make your eyes pop and your heart sing. The author explores the history of the entire planet through the eyes of the pioneers of every field, giving fresh life to the dusty and musty impression most of us have of ‘history’ in the first place.

It also helps put things in somewhat more perspective than we are used to in our everyday lives. Time and space across the universe are such vast concepts that our minds are not even capable of grasping most of it. And we puny humans have been around for only the blink of an eye and for all we know that is about as long it would take to wipe us off for good. So the next time you’re running late for a meeting or irritated with the traffic on the roads or just grumpy because you haven’t had your morning coffee; instead of invoking the wrath of the gods, just relax and tell yourself that none of it matters anyway. We exist by accident; we’re not even as special as we think we are; and one day when we die, the universe will very efficiently break us down leaving no trace whatsoever.

I do hope you read and enjoy this book as much as I did!


PS # It is not a book for the fainthearted though, 575 pages with another 100 odd pages of reference notes if you like that sort of thing.