A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History Of Nearly Everything

byBill Bryson

Paperback | September 14, 2004

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One of the world’s most beloved and bestselling writers takes his ultimate journey -- into the most intriguing and intractable questions that science seeks to answer.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trail -- well, most of it. In In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand -- and, if possible, answer -- the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

From the Hardcover edition.
BILL BRYSON'S Bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, In A Sunburned Country, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Bill Bryson's African Diary, and A Short History of Nearly Everything. He lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and children.
Title:A Short History Of Nearly EverythingFormat:PaperbackDimensions:560 pages, 9.17 × 6.05 × 1.25 inPublished:September 14, 2004Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385660049

ISBN - 13:9780385660044

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting A good read with lots of information.................on almost everything.
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from meh Bryson undoubtedly has both some charm and talent, but both, after an enthusiastic and intriguing beginning, are in short supply in this tedious and labored dog of a book. He plods on and on, an activity that was more amusing on the Appalachian Trail but is wasted and wasting in this vast accumulation of marginally related factoids. He piles detail upon detail like a man resolutely digging his own grave, and the bemused reader is beaten into a sort of verbal catalonia. I was engaged enough by the beginning to buy the rest, and I regret not having stopped myself at the sample. I suggest you not repeat my mistake.
Date published: 2017-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My all-time favourite book I've had this book since 2008 when a teacher assigned us the prologue to read. It congratulated you, the reader, on making it to this point. Survival isn't easy and it's taken a combination of genetics, skills, and luck to get you to this point today. Suddenly my worldview was changed and a whole world of scientific discoveries and their histories was laid out for me. My life has changed so much in the past 9 years, but my love and appreciation for this book hasn't. I recommend it to everyone who is even a little curious about their world. It's written in an engaging and highly entertaining style, and not a sentence goes by without some new and interesting information being added. Buy this book, don't even think about it because you won't regret it.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun read! Fascinating review of nearly everything! However, it can get bogged down with too many details at times.
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Love this book! Great, interesting read that really makes you think about life and humans.
Date published: 2016-12-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting .. BUT too much fluff!! Just ok. I was dissapointed.
Date published: 2016-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Are you human? Read this book! A friend recommended this book and I was trapped inside the pages after the first chapter. Not only does it educate you on our past but it helps gain some perspective on the grand scheme of things.
Date published: 2016-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredibly Interesting I loved this book. It was incredibly interesting, well researched and witty! Can't recommend it enough for people who love to learn about everything.
Date published: 2016-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun, easy read I am currently half way through this book and I cannot put it down! The title is bang on, literally a short history of every aspect of science. Even if you are like me have read more than your average science related topics, you will learn something, guaranteed! HIs writing style is engaging and funny.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A VERY thorough review or nearly everything. Bravo, Mr. Bryson. You've written a nearly comprehensive guide to the universe while maintaining interest and readability.
Date published: 2015-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This book has everything If you're looking for a little light reading this book is not it. It's amazing how Bryson fits so much information into a tiny little book. I've had to re-read it just to wrap my mind around what's going on. Bryson ties the book together nicely with his trade mark dry humor and makes it very readable.
Date published: 2015-03-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A thumbs up I’m a lover of fiction. So the very fact that I made it through this scientific book is testament enough that it has a rich context. I like how Bryson makes facts tasty by wrapping them in an engaging story. However, I do feel that at times he crams too much data in. This is the book to read if you want to learn about the world from the point of its creation up until today. I now know all about craters and volcanoes and bacteria and, well, also about all of the stuff that we don’t know.
Date published: 2014-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! This book is fascinating. So well written. This book is everything that intrigues us about science without the dry-as-dust teachers droning on about it and making us abhor its very existence. For my full review, check out my blog: http://tubchairtimes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/short-history-of-nearly-everything-bill.html
Date published: 2012-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Couldn't put it down I couldn't put it down! This is the first non-fiction book I can say that about. I wish some of my college professors presented information as well as Bill Bryson. I will definitely be reading more of his books.
Date published: 2010-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A history of scientific discoveries and their discoverers This is a very ambitious book by Bryson. He undertakes to explain, well, all major branches of science, and peppers their stories with his whimsy and occasional humour. The history in the title is natural history, not of civilization. His writing is very reachable and clear, and his style doesn't have empty generalizations. He actually makes high school science subjects extremely interesting, I think, even for non-science minds, and he does this by poignant comments and putting a human face to the discoveries. And I think that last point is the key to this book's success. While it is a history of the discovery of sciences in our natural world, it is just as much a history of the people and their stories that made those discoveries and developed those theories. I learned a great deal, not only in the specifics of the branches but also in how they connect, which is something you may not get from a show about biology or geology, since he also takes a horizontal view. I also found it entertaining because of his writing style and personal stories.
Date published: 2009-10-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice, neat package of geological history Bryson takes a look into the history of the earth, universe, the human race, and science in general. In over 450 pages, he manages to give you, well, a brief history of nearly everything involved with these subjects! It's a bunch of interesting facts stringed together with information about those who came up with the facts and what was involved to figure them out. Bryson covers everything from when Earth was created, what's at the centre of the earth, why do volcanoes/earthquakes happen, what are we all composed of, why did the dinosaurs go extinct, what is out there in our universe, how long people have been around, and much much more. It truly is amazing how recent some of these discoveries are! I guess I take for granted how common knowledge these discoveries are and just assume that we've known about them for a long time. It's also interesting to get the context behind the many discoveries that have shaped our history and learn a little bit about the people who made these discoveries. This book won't be for everyone. Some will find it too tedious and boring. But if you have a general interest in our history and how things have formed, then you'll enjoy this book. It's not the quickest read, but it is still quite interesting. I did find, however, the chapter on fossils a bit dull, but it moved on fairly quickly. It would be nice to get a compact view on our history in terms of human events to sit alongside this volume.
Date published: 2008-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to read! This is my first time reading a book by Bill Bryson. I've always been facinated by the history of, well... everything! Bill did a great job of putting this book together for just about anyone to understand! Love it and hopefully will read more of his books in the future!
Date published: 2008-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Science for the Common Man "A Short History of Nearly Everything" will remain on my top ten list of books for a long time to come. I have always found science intriguing, but rarely have the ins and outs of our universe--from the greatest cosmological discoveries to the tiniest microscopic worlds--been explained so well, and so entertainingly. Bryson takes the reader on a trip through almost every aspect of science, introducing us to the great mysteries, wonder, and intrigue that can be found along the way. He also takes the time to talk about the often eccentric and notable personalities that have played major roles in the scientific discoveries we take for granted, and believe me, there were some really strange oddballs out there! Regardless of you level of schooling or scientific training, this book can be picked up and read by everyone--and I think it should be.
Date published: 2008-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The book everybody reads Ok, so clearly that's a lie. Because then you would have already read the book, and since you're reading this review.... you see what I mean. But my point is, it's the only book that has been read by every member of my family. Considering our diverse interests that is quite something. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson is a fantastic book. Bryson is a travel writer by trade, but decided that there might just be something interesting about the world and universe in which we live, and so dived into the world of science. He's made science interesting and accessible, unlike all the textbooks that I ever had. He's done a tremendous amount of research, shows the causal links between what might seem like random acts. There are all kinds of terrific stories about the people involved and how seemingly intelligent 'discoveries' prove to be horribly destructive. It's an interesting book but not an overwhelming one and so if you wanted to be amazed this summer it would be a great read. Have fun in the sun! If you're interested in reading any of my other non-fiction book reviews please check out my blog: thebookhunter.typepad.com/my_weblog
Date published: 2008-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson has produced a comprehensive book “of nearly everything”. If you want to know about atoms and molecules, anthropology, Einstein, Darwin, genetics or even the effect of over-fishing the oceans this book has the knowledge you are looking for. I loved reading about the extinct animals that our world was once blessed to have, can you imagine a sloth tall enough to look into a house’s upper window? What a treasure that some people had the mind set to record their observations of these extinct animals, but what a shame that people on whole did not realize the implications of misusing the earth and thereby causing extinction. One thing I have learned over the years and this book reinforces that theory is that science should be digested with a grain of salt. I use to believe that science was absolute, but as I age I now know that science and its concepts are in constant flux. A great book I recommend it to all adults and teens that have even the slightest interest in any genre of science.
Date published: 2008-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A book to cherish Before I entered teacher's college, my geography teacher told me that if I only ever read one book in my life, I had to make sure it was 'A Short History of Nearly Everything.' It took a long time before I stumbled upon it in a public library, but I deeply regret not having read it sooner. This is a book that I will read again and again, and will take as many opportunities as I can to work it into my lesson plans. This is the type of book that creates a spark in someone's heart, and makes them hunger for more. After 5 years of university, Bill Bryson inspires in me the same curiosity of the universe and our world as I had when I was a child. Hopefully, it will inspire my students too.
Date published: 2008-03-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from useful and interesting! Bill Bryson offers the basics on...well, the history of nearly everything. Much of the subject matter is dry and dense, but his ease of storytelling makes this a fairly easy read. Recommended for anyone who never took chemistry or world history in high school because they thought it was boring.
Date published: 2008-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful The first time I read this book, it was amazing. As if I had been existing in the world, not knowing anything of it. The way Mr. Bryson weaves together fact, theroy, and story is wonderful. I learned more from this book on the history of the world, then from any Classroom. I reread this book once a year because I love it and everytime I read it I learn a little more.
Date published: 2008-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is essentially a history of science focusing on the people involved more so than the science itself. I have been wanting to read a book like this for a while to get a better understanding of the people who made great discoveries and the times they lived in. It is clear from reading this book that Bill Bryson is not a scientist and I found that often his explanations were clumsy and that he did not understand the science he was trying to explain, but for the most part this was a good thing. It allowed him to move through the scientific theories quickly to focus on the effects those theories had on the world and the people in it.
Date published: 2007-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great read, but a tad overbearing on the trivia. Bill Bryson's "A Short History Of Nearly Everything" was and is a great read, by a large margin worth the sticker price. However, you should be warned, this book is designed to make you want to research more and more into the topics he has covered, so don't be surprised if you find yourself taking radar images of the mid oceanic ridge after you have finished his geology section. A great primer for what you can learn on your own and how science classes should have been, the only true flaw in the story is that Bryson tends to be a bit biased in his works, dedicating more time to the topics that he is either experienced with or interested in, he also tends to lay on the trivia aspect a little thick when he is covering the history of the sciences. That said, it is a great book, i particularly found the later chapters "The restless ape" and "the mysterious biped" to be most enlightening. If you are trying to get into the science genre, this is the starting book for you.
Date published: 2007-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very very cool This book was very interesting. At first I thought why would I really want to read this book, but a friend of mine recommended it for it's simple language and excellent flow from one topic to the next. All the things about science that I never really got in highschool made a lot of sense when I read this book. I had never taken chemistry and so a lot of what he was talking about was new and interesting for me like so many other things in it. Anything that I had previously knew or understood was still interesting because he brought his own viewpoints without really making it his opinion but just a retelling of history and the facts in an easy and likeable way. You should really give this book a shot because it's worth it.
Date published: 2006-07-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a glimpse of what school might have been like A wonderful, ambitious summary of the universe's history, and perhaps of greater interest, the quirky characters that have shaped natural history and our understanding of it. This was truly a breathing-of-life into what should be awe-inspiring, but is all too often presented in such a fashion as to appear fragmented, cold and sanitized. My regards to Mr. Bryson for yet another formidable work.
Date published: 2006-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from loved it. i absolutely loved this book. this is the science book that i wish we had to read back in highschool, because you actually enjoy learning about the world around us. informative and funny, clever and down-right interesting. there is an awful lot of information in this book, but i don't think that is a negative - i simply just re-read it to make sure i absorbed everything. and i enjoyed it just as much the second time 'round.
Date published: 2005-09-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from It tries to be interesting... A book that shows promise, but it just too much. Interesting and funny in parts, but I found myself skipping through a lot of information that I found boring (there is such thing as information overload). Definitely not a book you can pick up for hours at a time, but you can learn some interesting (and useless) information in it.
Date published: 2005-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Short Review of Nearly Everything I read a review for this book back in Jan. and I Was surprised at the reaction it was getting so I had to take a look at it myself. I figured seeing im only 17 it would be right over my head, boy was I wrong. The writer does an amazing job of breaking everything down into the smallest pieces and makes everything as understandable as it can get and most times comical too, just to keep it interesting.
Date published: 2005-05-18

Read from the Book

1: HOW TO BUILD A UNIVERSENo matter how hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton. It is just way too small.A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course an insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this i can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. So protons are exceedingly microscopic, to say the very least.Now imagine if you can (and of course you can't) shrinking one of those protons down to a billionth of its normal size into a space so small that it would make a proton look enormous. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter. Excellent. You are ready to start a universe.I'm assuming of course that you wish to build an inflationary universe. If you'd prefer instead to build a more old-fashioned, standard Big Bang universe, you'll need additional materials. In fact, you will need to gather up everything there is -- every last mote and particle of matter between here and the edge of creation -- and squeeze it into a spot so infinitesimally compact that it has no dimensions at all. It is known as a singularity.In either case, get ready for a really big bang. Naturally, you will wish to retire to a safe place to observe the spectacle. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to retire to because outside the singularity there is no where. When the universe begins to expand, it won't be spreading out to fill a larger emptiness. The only space that exists is the space it creates as it goes.It is natural but wrong to visualize the singularity as a kind of pregnant dot hanging in a dark, boundless void. But there is no space, no darkness. The singularity has no "around" around it. There is no space for it to occupy, no place for it to be. We can't even ask how long it has been there -- whether it has just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it has been there forever, quietly awaiting the right moment. Time doesn't exist. There is no past for it to emerge from.And so, from nothing, our universe begins.In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception. In the first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) is produced gravity and the other forces that govern physics. In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast. There is a lot of heat now, ten billion degrees of it, enough to begin the nuclear reactions that create the lighter elements -- principally hydrogen and helium, with a dash (about one atom in a hundred million) of lithium. In three minutes, 98 percent of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.When this moment happened is a matter of some debate. Cosmologists have long argued over whether the moment of creation was 10 billion years ago or twice that or something in between. The consensus seems to be heading for a figure of about 13.7 billion years, but these things are notoriously difficult to measure, as we shall see further on. All that can really be said is that at some indeterminate point in the very distant past, for reasons unknown, there came the moment known to science as t = 0. We were on our way.There is of course a great deal we don't know, and much of what we think we know we haven't known, or thought we've known, for long. Even the notion of the Big Bang is quite a recent one. The idea had been kicking around since the 1920s, when Georges Lem tre, a Belgian priest-scholar, first tentatively proposed it, but it didn't really become an active notion in cosmology until the mid-1960s when two young radio astronomers made an extraordinary and inadvertent discovery.Their names were Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. In 1965, they were trying to make use of a large communications antenna owned by Bell Laboratories at Holmdel, New Jersey, but they were troubled by a persistent background noise -- a steady, steamy hiss that made any experimental work impossible. The noise was unrelenting and unfocused. It came from every point in the sky, day and night, through every season. For a year the young astronomers did everything they could think of to track down and eliminate the noise. They tested every electrical system. They rebuilt instruments, checked circuits, wiggled wires, dusted plugs. They climbed into the dish and placed duct tape over every seam and rivet. They climbed back into the dish with brooms and scrubbing brushes and carefully swept it clean of what they referred to in a later paper as "white dielectric material," or what is known more commonly as bird shit. Nothing they tried worked.Unknown to them, just thirty miles away at Princeton University, a team of scientists led by Robert Dicke was working on how to find the very thing they were trying so diligently to get rid of. The Princeton researchers were pursuing an idea that had been suggested in the 1940s by the Russian-born astrophysicist George Gamow that if you looked deep enough into space you should find some cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang. Gamow calculated that by the time it crossed the vastness of the cosmos, the radiation would reach Earth in the form of microwaves. In a more recent paper he had even suggested an instrument that might do the job: the Bell antenna at Holmdel. Unfortunately, neither Penzias and Wilson, nor any of the Princeton team, had read Gamow's paper.The noise that Penzias and Wilson were hearing was, of course, the noise that Gamow had postulated. They had found the edge of the universe, or at least the visible part of it, 90 billion trillion miles away. They were "seeing" the first photons -- the most ancient light in the universe -- though time and distance had converted them to microwaves, just as Gamow had predicted. In his book The Inflationary Universe, Alan Guth provides an analogy that helps to put this finding in perspective. If you think of peering into the depths of the universe as like looking down from the hundredth floor of the Empire State Building (with the hundredth floor representing now and street level representing the moment of the Big Bang), at the time of Wilson and Penzias's discovery the most distant galaxies anyone had ever detected were on about the sixtieth floor, and the most distant things -- quasars -- were on about the twentieth. Penzias and Wilson's finding pushed our acquaintance with the visible universe to within half an inch of the sidewalk.Still unaware of what caused the noise, Wilson and Penzias phoned Dicke at Princeton and described their problem to him in the hope that he might suggest a solution. Dicke realized at once what the two young men had found. "Well, boys, we've just been scooped," he told his colleagues as he hung up the phone.Soon afterward the Astrophysical Journal published two articles: one by Penzias and Wilson describing their experience with the hiss, the other by Dicke's team explaining its nature. Although Penzias and Wilson had not been looking for cosmic background radiation, didn't know what it was when they had found it, and hadn't described or interpreted its character in any paper, they received the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics. The Princeton researchers got only sympathy. According to Dennis Overbye in Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, neither Penzias nor Wilson altogether understood the significance of what they had found until they read about it in the New York Times.Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.Although everyone calls it the Big Bang, many books caution us not to think of it as an explosion in the conventional sense. It was, rather, a vast, sudden expansion on a whopping scale. So what caused it?One notion is that perhaps the singularity was the relic of an earlier, collapsed universe -- that we're just one of an eternal cycle of expanding and collapsing universes, like the bladder on an oxygen machine. Others attribute the Big Bang to what they call "a false vacuum" or "a scalar field" or "vacuum energy" -- some quality or thing, at any rate, 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. It may be that our universe is merely part of many larger universes, some in different dimensions, and that Big Bangs are going on all the time all over the place. Or it may be that space and time had some other forms altogether before the Big Bang -- forms too alien for us to imagine -- and that the Big Bang represents some sort of transition phase, where the universe went from a form we can't understand to one we almost can. "These are very close to religious questions," Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford, told the New York Times in 2001.The Big Bang theory isn't about the bang itself but about what happened after the bang. Not long after, mind you. By doing a lot of math and watching carefully what goes on in particle accelerators, scientists believe they can look back to 10-43 seconds after the moment of creation, when the universe was still so small that you would have needed a microscope to find it. We mustn't swoon over every extraordinary number that comes before us, but it is perhaps worth latching on to one from time to time just to be reminded of their ungraspable and amazing breadth. Thus 10-43 is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001, or one 10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second.Most of what we know, or believe we know, about the early moments of the universe is thanks to an idea called inflation theory first propounded in 1979 by a junior particle physicist, then at Stanford, now at MIT, named Alan Guth. He was thirty-two years old and, by his own admission, had never done anything much before. He would probably never have had his great theory except that he happened to attend a lecture on the Big Bang given by none other than Robert Dicke. The lecture inspired Guth to take an interest in cosmology, and in particular in the birth of the universe.The eventual result was the inflation theory, which holds that a fraction of a moment after the dawn of creation, the universe underwent a sudden dramatic expansion. It inflated -- in effect ran away with itself, doubling in size every 10-34 seconds. The whole episode may have lasted no more than 10-30 seconds -- that's one million million million million millionths of a second -- but it changed the universe from something you could hold in your hand to something at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger. Inflation theory explains the ripples and eddies that make our universe possible. Without it, there would be no clumps of matter and thus no stars, just drifting gas and everlasting darkness.According to Guth's theory, at one ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, gravity emerged. After another ludicrously brief interval it was joined by electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces -- the stuff of physics. These were joined an instant later by swarms of elementary particles -- the stuff of stuff. From nothing at all, suddenly there were swarms of photons, protons, electrons, neutrons, and much else -- between 1079 and 1089 of each, according to the standard Big Bang theory.Such quantities are of course ungraspable. It is enough to know that in a single cracking instant we were endowed with a universe that was vast -- at least a hundred billion light-years across, according to the theory, but possibly any size up to infinite -- and perfectly arrayed for the creation of stars, galaxies, and other complex systems.What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently -- if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly -- then there might never have been stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent, without precisely the right values to give it the right dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void.This is one reason that some experts believe there may have been many other big bangs, perhaps trillions and trillions of them, spread through the mighty span of eternity, and that the reason we exist in this particular one is that this is one we could exist in. As Edward P. Tryon of Columbia University once put it: "In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time." To which adds Guth: "Although the creation of a universe might be very unlikely, Tryon emphasized that no one had counted the failed attempts."Martin Rees, Britain's astronomer royal, believes that there are many universes, possibly an infinite number, each with different attributes, in different combinations, and that we simply live in one that combines things in the way that allows us to exist. He makes an analogy with a very large clothing store: "If there is a large stock of clothing, you're not surprised to find a suit that fits. If there are many universes, each governed by a differing set of numbers, there will be one where there is a particular set of numbers suitable to life. We are in that one."Rees maintains that six numbers in particular govern our universe, and that if any of these values were changed even very slightly things could not be as they are. For example, for the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner -- specifically, in a way that converts seven one-thousandths of its mass to energy. Lower that value very slightly -- from 0.007 percent to 0.006 percent, say -- and no transformation could take place: the universe would consist of hydrogen and nothing else. Raise the value very slightly -- to 0.008 percent -- and bonding would be so wildly prolific that the hydrogen would long since have been exhausted. In either case, with the slightest tweaking of the numbers the universe as we know and need it would not be here.

From Our Editors

One of the world's most curious, beloved and bestselling writers takes his ultimate journey -- into the most intriguing and intractable questions that science attempts to answer, from understanding everything that has transpired since the Big Bang to the rise of civilization

Editorial Reviews

“Stylish [and] stunningly accurate prose. We learn what the material world is like from the smallest quark to the largest galaxy and at all the levels in between . . . brims with strange and amazing facts . . . destined to become a modern classic of science writing.”—The New York Times“Bryson has made a career writing hilarious travelogues, and in many ways his latest is more of the same, except that this time Bryson hikes through the world of science.”—People“Bryson is surprisingly precise, brilliantly eccentric and nicely eloquent . . . a gifted storyteller has dared to retell the world’s biggest story.”—Seattle Times“Hefty, highly researched and eminently readable.”—Simon Winchester, The Globe and Mail“All non-scientists (and probably many specialized scientists, too) can learn a great deal from his lucid and amiable explanations.”—National Post"Bryson is a terrific stylist. You can’t help but enjoy his writing, for its cheer and buoyancy, and for the frequent demonstration of his peculiar, engaging turn of mind.”—Ottawa Citizen“Wonderfully readable. It is, in the best sense, learned.”—Winnipeg Free Press