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A Short History of Nearly Everything

By Bill Bryson
Review by Charlie (Chemistry)

A Short History of Nearly Everything is not your typical academic book – it is written more like a story than a textbook and has quite an informal, chatty tone. For this reason, I found that it was an enjoyable and varied approach to additional reading. I found that the content of the book was not too tricky to understand, and the logic behind some of the discoveries even explained where some of the formulas that I was using in my A Level Physics lessons came from! However, no knowledge is assumed and Bryson explains all concepts in a simple, yet detailed way, with plenty of wit and jokes to keep you engaged.

Bryson explores the most important past scientific discoveries in a truly fascinating way. Not only can you find out exactly how scientists went about measuring the distance between the Earth and the Sun, but you can also read about feuds between famous scientists with opposing viewpoints. Perhaps the most amusing part to read about is the failures within many quests for new discoveries, some of which are surprising! Within the book, Bryson also discusses the personalities of the scientists and how they interacted with the companions who aided them with their research, and who quite often got no credit!. I really liked being able to see how different pieces of science and history connect to explain everything we know about the world around us.

The chapters in the book dip into many areas of science, from astronomy to geology, and even discusses some wacky concepts that have impacted science today. As a chemist, I found it particularly entertaining to discover that eighteenth century scientists believed that a mysterious force, named the “élan vital”, existed and could bring inanimate objects to life. Furthermore this force was part of the reason why two forms of chemistry were established: organic and inorganic. Aside from the slightly weird past ideas, there are plenty of discoveries which form the backbone of science as we know it, and any reader is bound to be captivated by these.

The book has the events in chronological order and really helped me to gain a deep understanding for how each scientific discovery led to the next. It also gave me a much greater appreciation for the need for modern research and heightened my excitement to apply to study at a university with such an outstanding reputation for research. I would highly recommend it to any applicants with an interest in science in general, but in particular to those applying for Chemistry, Physics or Earth Sciences. Reading this book will not only feed your curiosity, but it will also begin to explain some of the “why?” questions in science and hopefully will increase your enthusiasm to apply to study at the University of Oxford!

Video Review by Hannah (Chemistry)

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
ISBN-10: 1784161853
ISBN-13: 9781784161859

Try checking the availability of this book at your school or local library or explore second hand bookshops and websites. You may also wish to purchase from either Amazon or Blackwell’s.

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