read: 24 September 2005
This book was fun and I learned stuff from it. Bryson has an incredible knack for explaining fairly complicated topics using metaphors that make sense but at the same time don’t talk down to you. He’s also a master at doing this without trotting out too many cliches. So, you learn new things, or you even learn about thing you may have already known about, but in new ways and with new and interesting trivia. He’s well read. He doesn’t just rely on secondary sources to flesh out his tales of astronomy and biology, he talks to scientists, he reads books about them, he goes to archives and looks through papers.
Above all, he’s funny. You wouldn’t think this was a necessary part of learning about DNA, approaching it with a sense of humor, but it helps. He has a tendency to anthropomorphize his subjects, so he gives feelings to the DNA and insight into the black holes he discusses. Bryson starts by talking about the beginning of everything with the Big Bang and the solar system and winds up talking about the end of everything with cautionary tales about extinction and the survival of our species. He’s good at scale. He has a tendency to explain large amounts of time or very tiny things by lining them up against something you already know about. He’s very fond of clock metaphors, so that when he’s talking about the evolution of the species that eventually became homo sapiens you get a real sense of just how long things like that took. The only thing that is bad about this book is that I am done reading it. For even the mildly curious or the slightly scientifically interested: go, get this book, you will not be disappointed.
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