Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.
Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.
It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we've been endowed with. But what's life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be. is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don't. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment's additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.
If you imagine the 4,500-bilion-odd years of Earth's history compressed into a normal earthly day, then life begins very early, about 4 A.M. with the rise of the first simple, single-celled organisms, but then advances no further for the next sixteen hours. Not until almost 8:30 in the evening, with the day five-sixths over, has Earth anything to show the universe but a restless skin of microbes. Then, finally, the first sea plants appear, followed twenty minutes later by the first jellyfish and the enigmatic Ediacaran fauna first seen by Reginald Sprigg in Australia. At 9:04 P.M. trilobites swim onto the scene, followed more or less immediately by the shapely creatures of the Burgess Shale. Just before 10 P.M. plants begin to pop up on the land. Soon after, with less than two hours left in the day, the first land creatures follow.
Thanks to ten minutes or so of balmy weather, by 10:24 the Earth is covered in the great carboniferous forests whose residues give us all our coal, and the first winged insects are evident. Dinosaurs plod onto the scene just before 11 P.M. and hold sway for about three-quarters of an hour. At twenty-one minutes to midnight they vanish and the age of mammals begins. Humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight. The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime barely an instant. Throughout this greatly speeded-up day continents slide about and bang together at a clip that seems positively reckless. Mountains rise and melt away, ocean basins come and go, ice sheets advance and withdraw. And throughout the whole, about three times every minute, somewhere on the planet there is a flash-bulb pop of light marking the impact of a Manson-sized meteor or one even larger. It's a wonder that anything at all can survive in such a pummeled and unsettled environment. In fact, not many things do for long.
In France, a chemist named Pilatre de Rozier tested the flammability of hydrogen by gulping a mouthful and blowing across an open flame, proving at a stroke that hydrogen is indeed explosively combustible and that eyebrows are not necessarily a permanent feature of one's face.
The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.
We may be only one of millions of advanced civilizations. Unfortunately, space being spacious, the average distance between any two of these civilizations is reckoned to be at least two hundred light-years, which is a great deal more than merely saying it makes it sound. It means for a start that even if these beings know we are here and are somehow able to see us in their telescopes, they're watching light that left Earth two hundred years ago. So, they're not seeing you and me. They're watching the French Revolution and Thomas Jefferson and people in silk stockings and powdered wigs--people who don't know what an atom is, or a gene, and who make their electricity by rubbing a rod of amber with a piece of fur and think that's quite a trick. Any message we receive from them is likely to begin "Dear Sire," and congratulate us on the handsomness of our horses and our mastery of whale oil. Two hundred light-years is a distance so far beyond us as to be, well, just beyond us.
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Short History of Nearly Everythingby Bill Bryson.
Between the covers of what appears on the surface to be a scientific tome, A Short History of Nearly Everything begins with an autobiographical recount. The author Bill Bryson starts by describing his schoolboy days, and how he and the kids his age were unable to stomach the boredom that came with science class nor the ineffectiveness of its textbooks. He also points to how scientific discovery has multiplied at such an exponential rate over the years since then, that within a short time, every scientific textbook was quickly rendered obsolete. And with how much scientific knowledge there is out in the world right now, he feels he needs to write his own very simple and easily digestible book for people like him, who want to learn science like a student, as an adult.
The book follows a very basic and scholastic format of six concisely divided parts, each subdivided into multiple brief chapters for an easy read, and making it quite well popular and well received. Each of the six parts covers a key area of scientific inquest, such as the Big Bang, the planet Earth and subsequently evolution and human development.
In the first part, dubbed “Lost in the Cosmos,” Bryson recounts, (while regularly thanking Ian Tattersall, one of the scientists and references for helping him on this journey) what he has learned about the creation of the earth. He narrates not only a layman’s description of the Big Bang theory, but also describes the scientists who first theorized it: Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias. A constant motif throughout the book, Bryson also discusses the story of the person behind the theory, and how the two men didn’t know how significant their findings were until they received media recognition. This part also includes chapters that discuss the edge of the universe, finding Pluto’s moons through fascinating devices as well as Revered Robert Evans and astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky and their work on supernovas.
The second part, “The Size of the Earth,” lives up to its name by addressing the size and orbit of Earth, as well as its other measurements. Bryson profiles dozens of significant scientific figures as well as their major contributions to geology, physics and chemistry, the more notable of which include Demetri Mendeleev, Marie Curie, Wilhelm Roentgen and Ernest Rutherford, all of whom have had their names lent to elements on the periodic table. Bryson goes into even more detail, citing Henry Cavendish, who very accurately measured the weight of the earth using a fascinatingly detailed apparatus that he had to look through from a separate room. Finally, he expounds that, although it was an American who found the first documented Dinosaur bone, it was actually a slew of European scientists who later divulged what it actually was.
As the subject of each part descends in size, the complexities of their inner workings increase dramatically. Bryson’s third part, “A New Age Dawns,” is a section about particles and atoms, and despite its intricacy, he presents the quantum physics and relativity theory as succinctly as possible. He further illustrates the vast amounts of energy within these particles, and how the universe is able to be made up of something, that to the naked eye, seems like nothing.
Part four, marked “Dangerous Planet,” is just that: a vibrant account of what this floating blue ball is actually capable of inciting. Earthquakes, volcanoes and climate change along with the apparently very likely threat of being bombarded by one of many meteors that constantly zoom by us.
The next two sections, “Life Itself” and “The Road to Us,” wind down the dangers and complexities of the world and how it all ends with us, or more specifically, with life. Not only how we came to be on this earth, but how unlikely it is, since most of the species became extinct, or were forced into extinction because of us. The improbable fact that we exist is not only recounted as an existential contemplation, but factually, that if our parents didn’t meet at that moment in time, and if everything wasn’t exactly right, then our entire story would be rewritten.
Parts five and six also tell the story of Charles Darwin and On the Origin of Species. specifically the outcry that surrounded it, because of constant musings on creationism, and how “the one thing he couldn’t explain was how species originated.” Bryson also writes that apparently, despite his books flying off the shelves, the idea of evolution at the time was not a new one.
Bryson concludes with the fascinating yet unfortunate description of humankind – a species that is so adept at unlocking the wonders of the world, while at the same time “pounding [it] into extinction,” citing the dodo bird as an example. He posits the question of ‘when did this all begin,’ and that we can do better, because as far as we know we are the only humans out there, and more than anything we are lucky to be here.
Bill Bryson does a solid job of providing as much information as possible, in the most comprehensible of ways, making the variety of the descriptions of our world seem almost fantastical because of their uniqueness. In fact, this is a common theme in the book, the complexity and inimitability of our universe, and the question of how significant we are in such a vast space, which edges us onto the following, more common theme:
Human beings are lucky. Multiple times Bryson points to the fact that the likelihood of human beings evolving to our level is almost infinitesimal, and that we need to embrace this opportunity by maintaining the earth we were given.
A Short History of Nearly Everything contains so much scientific material that it presents itself simply as a vast sphere of information, but like the world we live in, it contains so much opinion and personality that it doesn’t just make you learn, it makes you think.
A Short History of Nearly Everything Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
For people over 30 years of age, science has changed a great deal since they were in school. New scientific theories, developments and discoveries abound that adults may be interested in learning about. However, how would one go about learning these things in an easy, simple way? Author Bill Bryson readily admits that he found science textbooks boring as a child, and his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, is the successful result of his effort to produce a concise, readable, entertaining summary of current scientific thinking, for adults.
Each section within the book deals with one sphere of inquiry, such as outer space, the Earth, and living things. Each chapter explores a specific question such as "How did the Universe start?" or "What are supernovae and why are they important?" This is usually this is done by tracing the development of a thought or theory on a particular issue from its origin to the present. Along the way, Bryson illuminates the interesting and inspirational lives of key scientists and researchers.
Part 1 focuses on our universe and mankind's place in it. The first chapter details the Big Bang Theory, which suggests that the universe was formed in just a few brief moments. Two young astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, detected visible matter believed to be remnants of the Big Bang, and thus inadvertently discovered the evidence of this now-popular theory. Although they shared a Nobel Prize for their work, neither man realized the significance of their discovery until they read about it in TheNew York Times .
The size, shape, weight and orbit of the Earth are the focus of Part 2. In these chapters, Bryson profiles important geologists such as Henry Cavendish, who, in 1797, accurately measured the weight of the Earth using an apparatus so delicate that he had to peer at it with a telescope through a keyhole from an adjoining room. These chapters also detail Marie Curie's work with uranium, and explain why it was a European - not an American - who first described a dinosaur.
In Part 3, Bryson presents the theory of relativity and quantum physics as comprehensibly as possible. This section illuminates the flexible fabric of spacetime and the incredible amount of energy locked inside every molecule. It also attempts to explain the complex, static sub-atomic world, where nothing exists until it is observed, electrons travel from one spot to another without going through the intervening space, the universe is composed primarily of solid nothing, and particles travel faster than light.
The frightening revelations in Part 4 outline the dangers the Earth faces every day. These include being hit by one of the millions of meteors that cross the Earth's path two or three times per week; the potential eruption of the supervolcano at Yellowstone; a type of earthquake that can occur anywhere, any time; the ever-present and growing threat of global warming; and the history of ice ages and the possibility of their reoccurrence.
The final section deals with the topic of life on Earth. Life is amazingly abundant, and inexplicably lacking in diversity. Every living thing on Earth uses the same blueprint for life, suggesting a common ancestor somewhere in the dim, distant past. Bryson concludes by pointing out that humans are very lucky to be here. Over 90 percent of species that have lived on Earth since the dawn of time have become extinct - some by natural processes and others by way of mankind's ignorance.
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In A Short History of Everything. Bill Bryson sets out to explain advances in science in a way that uses everyday language that will appeal to the everyday reader. His goal in particular is to explain to those who are over the age of 30 just exactly how much science has changed in the past decades. The scientific topics he covers include astronomy, the Big Bang theory, chemistry, evolution, geology, paleontology, particle physics, and even quantum mechanics. He separates his book into different scientific subjects and begins each chapter with a frequently asked question, such as, "How did the Universe start?"
Bryson uses the first part of his book to explore the start of the universe and how mankind came to be a part of that universe. He starts out by explaining the discovery of the Big Bang Theory and any holes in the theory. He further explains that the theory cannot "begin to explain how we got here." He then proceeds to describe the new-found theory of how we came to exist.
In Part 2 of his book, Bryson describers how geologists like Henry Cavendish came to calculate the weight of the Earth and further details the shape, size, and orbit of the Earth. He also goes into a discussion of the discovery of dinosaurs and Marie Curie's discovery of uranium.
He uses the third part of his book to delve deeply into physics, such as the theory of relativity and quantum physics. He explains Einstein's theory of space-time continuum and delves deeply into particle physics.
In Part 4. he describes the dangers that threaten Earth on a daily basis, such as the threat of being hit by meteors, the chances of a gigantic volcanic eruption in Yellowstone National Park, a calamitous earthquake, the threat of global warming, and the chances of a new ice age.
He uses his fifth and final section to describe the abundance and diversity of Earth's life forms. He argues that the fact that we all have the same set of control genes demonstrates every life form on Earth came from a shared ancestor. He ends by speaking sorrowfully of extinction and the extent to which extinction is mankind's fault.
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