"There is a certain kind of child who awakens from a book as from an abyssal sleep, swimming heavily up through layers of consciousness toward a reality that seems less real than the dream-state that has been left behind. I was such a child." Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris (1998)


This book is designed for the person who found high school science a drag. Forget the formulas and definitions you were compelled to memorize. This book is about science for the layperson; there is scarcely a formula in it - it is a fun read as Bryson shows you a view of science which will both entertain and inform.

Bryson's thesis is that it is possible - and enjoyable - to both appreciate and understand the wonders of science at a non-technical level. He succeeds. He addresses the questions science seeks to answer; some of those answers are both counterintuitive and mind boggling.

What is the basic question? For science, it is hardly ever the "why?" but always the how." How did this world, and us, go from there being nothing at all to something, and how did that something become us, and what happened in between? And what is this "something" we experience?

A few of the stories:

Physicist Leo Szilard once told Hans Bethe that his diary was "facts for the information of God." Bethe asked if he did not think God already knew the facts? "Yes," said Szilard, "but not this version of them."

If you were to pick yourself apart with tiny tweezers, one atom at a time, you would wind up with a mound of atoms, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.

To be yourself means that you are the lucky recipient of a fortunate ancestry. For over three billion years every one of your forebears on both sides has been (page 3) "attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so." You are unique!

Pluto is not really a planet, regardless of what your 5th grade teacher Miss Harshmellon may have told you. If the earth were reduced to the size of a pea, Pluto would be a microbe a mile and a half away. Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, but the times were such that a very eccentric (and very dead) astronomer, Percival Lowell, is remembered for it.

The Lewis/Clark expedition in 1805 found dinosaur fossils, but failed to recognize them. That honor goes to a 12 year old girl, Mary Anning, in 1812. "She sells sea shells by the seashore" was coined after her.

Too many stories to tell here! The book is profound, and at the same time funny. The world we live in is full of wonder. You will enjoy it.

John W. Burgeson, as published in the Rico Bugle, Rico, Colorado, 03-02-2005

JWB's Home page