Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything
Throughout the book, I kept thinking how much work Bryson must have put into this book…, the amount of reading, cross-referencing, travelling, etc., he must have subjected himself to. All to know the why and how of things. Amazing. His effort was worth each page he must have painfully ploughed through.
It starts with discussing the ‘Big Bang’, weaves its way through the many inventions and discoveries that have changed human life since, and then traces the origin of life, right up to us. Not that it answers every random question you ever thought of (my favourite, when I was a kid, was ‘Are there black flowers?’). And I don’t think it was ever meant to be.
It’s a book that should have been written long ago ideally when I was a kid. So I would read it and realise science has more to it than what my textbooks made it out to be. I didn’t hate science. I quite loved it. But when things started getting slightly complicated, say, by Class X, chemistry seemed intimidating, physics dull, and biology was full of complex diagrams I couldn’t, for the life of me, fathom. I remember my biology teacher saying that half the marks apportioned to diagrams were awarded to the drawing and half to the labeling. I always made sure I got the labeling right. I had to, else how would you know a heart from a large intestine?
Coming back to Bryson, there were some chapters, especially the ones that dwelt on the age of the earth, which did drag. Now, how would it make a difference if the earth is 9,000,000,000,000,000 million years old or if it is 9,000,000,000,000,001 million years old? I would still prefer my chicken curry hot.
I do appreciate his efforts in going behind the scenes and bringing to light very shy scientists, or sometimes even laypersons who were never credited for their insight just because they were laypersons.
The book does remind me of Shivram Karanth’s column for kids in Taranga. You could send in any question on science to Karanthajja and it would be answered in the column. I did send in my black flower question but never saw it answered :(
It also reminds me of similar attempts to popularize science by a Kannada author, whose name eludes me now. If anyone reading this can, then please let me know. He was the son of a famous poet is the other thing I can remember about him.