“A Short History of Nearly Everything” by William Bryson

The Book “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, written by a famous American author William Bryson is considered a brilliant combination of science and fiction books. It is worth mentioning that such a term as science fiction is not quite appropriate in this case because it does not show the most peculiar features of this book.

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First, one should give some background information about the author of this book. It is necessary to bear in mind that Bill Bryson is not only a scientist but also a journalist. In addition to that, he is also an educator; in fact, he occupies the position of Chancellor at Dunham University. He is the author of many books concerning sciences and philology (the English language to be more exact).

His book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” can be viewed as an example of the so-called popular science, in other words, such kind of literature interprets science to make it more understandable for the uninitiated reader. Among the representatives of this style, we may single out Isaac Asimov, Brian Clegg, and Jack Cohen.

Bill Bryson says that the main reason for publishing this book was the state of affairs in present-day science, according to him much of the subjects, taught in modern schools find no reflection in the hearts and minds of students. In addition to that, the author states that teachers do not even intend to stimulate that burning desire for knowledge.

Bill Bryson believes that the overwhelming majority of textbooks are written in the language, which is beyond students comprehension. In his belief, the authors of textbooks should make allowances for the target audience, especially the age characteristics. The main problem is that many scientists dont do it

As regards the contents of this book, it is next to impossible for us even to enumerate all the aspects of modern science that the author covers in his work, For instance, it touches on such issues as the size of the universe, and explains its development. Moreover, Bill Bryson discusses such interesting problems as the evolution of human beings. The author also makes some conjecture as to what may happen if an asteroid hits the Earth. Bryson analyzes the effect of Homo Sapiens on other species. As we have already mentioned, this book discusses a great number of issues.

If we try this book, it is necessary for us to take into account some peculiarities of the authors style. First, Bill Bryson writes popular science books. The usual algorithm of literary analysis is not quite appropriate.in this case, because the authors goal is not only to entertain the reader but also to educate him. Therefore, we should take a slightly different approach to the book.

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It is widely believed that such popular science should be analyzed according to ton such criteria as practicality, ethics, and aesthetics. Perhaps, it would be better to give some explanation as to this point. Aesthetical criterion implies the analysis of the author’s style, humor, tone, figures of speech, and so on and so forth.

As far as the ethical criterion is concerned, we can say that our analysis should show the authors concept of good and evil, though it is not easy to do it, considering the nature of this book. It is worth mentioning, that, science does not deal with such notions as good and evil, therefore it can be neither moral nor immoral.

Regarding, the last criterion, practical, it is necessary for us to evaluate the practical use of this book because the author intends to throw light on some questions which may not be familiar to the general audience. We have to answer the question of whether this book may mislead the reader or not.

Thus, having outlined the major criterion of evaluation, we should ascertain whether this book meets all of them. Regarding its credibility, it should be mentioned that in the majority the data, provided by Bill Bryson is based on facts.

Many scientists even say that the depth of the authors research is amazing, his bibliography contains references to the works of very prominent scientists. The author just makes this information available to the reader. However, some scholars say that the book is to a certain degree inaccurate in some places.

For example, some scientists say that Bill Bryson is not one hundred percent write, describing the movement of the meteorite and especially, its impact on Earth. Moreover, they say that this book may produce a false impression on the reader; it may seem to him or her that such issues as astrophysics or evolution may be explained in a few words.

Regarding, the authors’ style, we can say that the most peculiar feature of this book is the skillful use of dialogues. To a certain degree, it reminds Socratic Method of teaching, a discussion, or debate, this way is believed to be the most efficient one. Another characteristic feature of this book is the humorous touch. The purpose of this humor is to attract the readers attention to what is being discussed. For instance, even the opening words of this novel seem to catch our eye.

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Bill Bryson says, “I didn’t know what a proton was, or a protein, didn’t know a quark from a quasar, didn’t know how an atom was put together” (Bryson, 3) these very words may ignite the passion for learning at least in some people. It is worth mentioning, that the author assumes a somewhat ironic attitude towards some prominent scientists, who are entirely obsessed with their subject and cannot see anything ironic else. For example, he describes a prominent physicist Henry Cavendish, as the person, who is so self-centered that even” even his housekeeper communicated with him by letter”(Bryson, 199) Certainly this statement is a little bit exaggerated, however, such humorous remarks even make this book more interesting.

Moreover, the author discusses the state of affairs in modern science, especially the attitude of modern scientists towards human beings and other species. Bill Bryson says, “We may be the living universe’s supreme achievement, and its worst nightmare simultaneously”(Bryson, 344) Thus, we may that “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, is also some kind of a moral tale. This book discusses the influence that Homo Sapiens has on other species. In his opinion, this influence is often quite detrimental.

Thus, having discussed Bill Brysons book, according to the aesthetic, practical, and ethical criteria, we may conclude that the author gives an analysis of modern science, in a very humorous and interesting fashion.


Bill Bryson.(2006) A Short History of Nearly Everything, Illustrated Edition. Doubleday Canada, Limited.

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