Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Short History....

Unlike Wosog, I think I have only read one of Bill Bryson's books before: "Notes from a Small Island", as I recall. At Christmas I was given, by my niece Nosog and her partner Michael, the illustrated version of "A Short History of Nearly Everything". This is a weighty tome with 624 pages, and it is beautifully illustrated. I instantly liked the look of the book, but I thought it would end up being what some would call, a "coffee table book" from which I'd read little snatches from time to time. However, it's so well written that I've started reading it from cover to cover. I've reached page 140 so far.

There have been a few famous scientists who have been good at communicating science to "the masses": the book that springs to mind is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time", which has sold 9 million copies since 2002. As a reader with a fair scientific background, I wasn't sure what Mr Bryson could teach me much on the subject, but I was wrong: Bill explains scientific concepts very well. What is most interesting about the book, however, is how interesting he makes the scientists!

How else would I have found out, for example, that Isaac Newton once stuck a needle into his eye socket just to see what would happen? Where else would I have discovered that Henry Cavendish was so painfully shy that even his housekeeper communicated with him by letter! My latest discoveries are (a) that, despite her 2 Nobel Prizes, Marie Curie was never elected to the Academy of Sciences because she had a scandalous affair with a married physicist, and (b) that Mme Curie's papers from the 1890s are still too radioactive to be handled safely without protective clothing!

Stranger than fiction indeed: you must read this book!