Friday, August 20, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Bill Bryson

In 2003, Broadway Books published A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. George and I like the book so much that we own it in hardcover and on CD, and I listened to the CDs again on my drive to and from Maryland. Here are the introductory paragraphs of the's Words, Words, Words:

Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.

To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.

Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don't actually care about you--indeed, don't even know that you are there. They don't even know that they are there....

Bryson's book about nearly everything shows how we're not that much better than our ignorant atoms. He demonstates how little we really know about what we think we know, and how many times we've been wrong before. A Short History of Nearly Everything is as much an essay against scientific hubris as it is a celebration of just how lucky we are to exist at all and a challenge to do better than we have done at making the world a better place. I highly recommend it.


  1. I also love this book. He has such a great style of writing, a real sense of wit and humour in reflecting on everything!

  2. I have this book sitting beside my bed, kindly lent to me by my Sister when I mentioned to her that I'd read some of his books. She thoroughly enjoyed it:D
    Better get reading then:D xx

  3. I've read several of Bryson's books, but not this one. Thanks for the recommendation. My favorite Bryson book is "A Walk in the Woods."

  4. I LOVE his books... favorite is " A Walk in the Woods" but also "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" laugh out loud funny...

  5. I like all of Bryson's books that I've read, and really want to read his book on Shakespeare. He has such a delightful way with words.


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