[PhilThreeten] Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

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Aug 1, 2006, 11:19:37 AM8/1/06
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By the end of this book I had a layman’s grasp on quantum physics, a beginner’s understanding of how the universe works, and a far deeper appreciation for God. That last one was probably not Bill Bryson’s intention. But for Christians, this book is an important book to read.

First of all, it’s simple. Almost ridiculously too simple. Until, of course, Bryson points out that the reason it can be simple is because we understand so very little about the universe around us. For all the huff and puff of knowledge that people generate on a continual basis, most of it boils down to the fact that much of it is a big guess. So, Bryson narrows his material down to what can be mostly agreed on and then gives brief explanations of how different theories spring off of that knowledge.

Second, it’s funny. After reading that last paragraph those same bowel throbbings that are the precursor of all-out panic that you regularly felt during high school and college science classes likely returned. Let them subside. Bryson handles the material not only in a simple way but he adds some really good humor! I found myself laughing out loud a number of times. And its not just Bryson’s humor about the topics that is so addicting – he tells the stories that you’ll never find in science textbooks because…well, they’re just too embarrassing.

Third, it’s encompassing. He really does touch on nearly everything. From the distance of stars to the structure of atoms – from the movement of continents to the movement of clouds with brief stops in the measurement of mountains and the depths of the sea – he seems to touch upon just about every topic of science that you can reasonably wonder about. So although there are over 475 pages (not to mention notes and bibliography) it all seems to flow nicely.

Two things that need to be pointed out (especially for Christian readers). First, you need to get past the evolution. Bryson is not presenting his material from a God-perspective – in fact, I think its safe to say, that its from just the opposite perspective. However, there is SO much other good material in this book worth reading that it is something that is worth putting up with.

Additionally, because God is not in the picture, it causes Bryson to make some logical leaps that are, quite honestly, sad to see in an otherwise well-documented, honest presentation of what science knows and doesn’t know. For instance, on page 13, he says, “Others attribute the Big Bang to…something that introduced a measure of instability into the nothingness that was. It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can.” Thankfully, later on the same page, he quotes someone who admits that these questions of original causation are very close to religious questions.

But those are all minor points in the overall usefulness of the book. I’d highly recommend it to anyone and for Christians especially to just sit back and be prepared to be awed by your God who created and understands all these things that we are just dabbling in.

Categories: Readings, Thinking

Posted by PhilThreeten to PhilThreeten at 8/01/2006 11:14:00 AM
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