Since last years’ reading project (the goal was to read 12 Classics in 12 months) was both a success and such great fun, I decided to do it again and read 12 Classics this year – one each month. I chose twelve Classics that had already been waiting for me on my bookshelf, of which six are Classics written in German, as well as six written in English. Those Classics have been titled as such over the course of a few centuries and vary greatly in terms of length, date of publication and genre.
Sooo… the month of September is long gone now, but after two and a half months of reading I finally finished the Classic for the month of September: ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson. Published in 2003, it is one of the more recent Classics I’ve read this year, and it is all about sciences and why and how the world we know today has become this way.
B I L L B R Y S O N – A S H O R T H I S T O R Y
O F N E A R L Y E V E R Y T H I N G
“If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here – and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life at all in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course. We enjoy not only the privilege of existence, but also the singular ability to appreaciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better.”
Bill Bryson | A Short History of Nearly Everything | p. 573
Having finished this book with its teeny-tiny writing of a bit over 600 pages, I can absolutely say that this non-fictional science book was, indeed, a history of nearly everything, albeit not a short one. But that doesn’t bother me at all, now that I’m done and ready to share my thoughts with you.
With “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, Bill Bryson has taken it upon himself to describe how our world (and with it everything else) came to be. In six chapters, he touches upon the Universe with its Solar System, on Earth itself and all those discoveries that humans made about its origin, on Elements and Atoms, on the Big Bang, Volcanos and everything that lives – or has lived a long, long time ago. Bryson tries to uncover how we, the species of Homo Sapiens, came to be, and why we’re generally designed to walk on two legs, and how Life in itself is able to come into existence.
This may sound like a lot, but I promise you, this book contains much more than what I just loosely summed up for you. It’s the kind of science book you wish you had when you were still at school, not really grasping anything your teacher scribbles on a dusty chalk board. The way Bill Bryson writes about nearly everything science becomes vastly entertaining, at times even unbelievably funny. He has a way with words that doesn’t bore you into a deep slumber, but makes you feel excited to get to know a piece of his knowledge.
“Once in a great while, a few times in history, a human mind produces an observation so acute and unexpected that people can’t quite decide which is the more amazing – the fact or the thinking of it.” – p. 72
Dearest Readers, I’ve learned a lot in these past two and a half months of reading Bill Bryson’s wonderful book. My copy of ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ is almost bursting with sticky notes and although my reading experience has been frustrating at times, it hasn’t been because of Bill Bryson. Really! But let me tell you in detail.
You see, sadly, I’ve never quite grasped the whole package I’ve been taught at school about physics or chemistry (let’s not talk about mathematics, please). I just couldn’t see how that affected our lives, as dumb as that might sound. But I’m interested in all things going on with our Earth and the Universe and occasionally read up on things like Ice Ages or species, languages and cultures that have gone extinct, climate change, global warming, et cetera. I’m also in a very privileged position where information is easily accessible and having a fiancé who is interested in and knows incredibly much about nearly everything (pun intended), also comes in quite handy each and every single day of my life. Bill Bryson took all that which I didn’t really understand in school and turned it into something fascinating and amazing, into something you are so awestruck about you need to put your book down for a minute and think about what you just read.
And I think that’s the main reasons why this book took me so long to finish. It’s not something you just read for your own entertainment, place it aside and forget about. Every passage you read you have to mull over, even occasionally marking it as ‘to look up more of this topic later’.
“So we have a paradoxical situation. Proteins can’t exist without DNA and DNA has no purpose without proteins. Are we to assume, then, that they arose simultaneously with the purpose of supporting each other? If so: wow.” – p. 352
Bill Bryson made me want to know more about various things he mentions in his book. He made me want to know about the Earth I’m living on and about the fleetingness of our own lives in the face of its age. And since ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ came out sixteen years ago, I can only guess how much has changed since then, how much more has been found out and accomplished since then. The thing I would have needed was some note that popped up every time I came upon a theory, a scientific accomplishment that is now outdated or proven right or wrong or has been guesswork at the time of publishment. I can barely describe how delightful it felt to stumble upon a theory I knew had been proven wrong – and my thoughts were: wow, what else has changed since then? I guess a lot.
“Physics is really nothing more than a search for ultimate simplicity, but so far all we have is a kind of elegant messiness – or as Lederman put it: ‘There is a deep feeling that the picture is not beautiful.'” – p. 212
“A Short History of Nearly Everything” is a kind of book I want everyone to at least try to read until the end. It’s educational and witty, and it really broadens your horizon, even if it came out nearly two decades ago. It’s like listening to this one teacher who is so delighted and excited about the things he’s teaching you, you can’t but be excited to learn more about them, too.
Author: Bill Bryson
Title: A Short History of Nearly Everything
Press: Black Swan Books
Year of publication: 2003
Genre: [Non-Fiction| Science]
Übersicht der 12 Klassiker im Jahr 2019:
Januar: Aldous Huxley – Brave New World
Februar: Hermann Hesse – Siddhartha
März: Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
April: Stefan Zweig – Sternstunden der Menschheit
Mai: Charles Dickens – Great Expectations
Juni: Theodor Fontane – Irrungen, Wirrungen
Juli: Jules Verne – Around the World in Eighty Days
August: Max Frisch – Homo Faber
September: Bill Bryson – A Short History of Everything
Oktober: Thomas Mann – Mario und der Zauberer
November: Henry James – The Portrait of a Lady [abgebrochen]
Dezember: E.T.A. Hoffmann – Nussknacker und Mausekönig