Bryson, Bill: A Short History of Nearly Everything

The proposer introduced Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. He said that it was an excellent book for non-scientists to get a general grasp of recent developments across a broad range of sciences. It was a great mixture of hard science and amusing anecdotes about scientific pioneers.

 There was general agreement about the amazing nature of the book and a recognition that it required a non-scientist to have written it to make it comprehensible to the general reader. It was an important contribution to the cause of rational scientific analysis at a time when it was under attack from religious fundamentalism on the one hand and relativism on the other. The book brought out well the fragility of mankind’s continued existence from the risk of catastrophes including volcanoes, earthquakes, asteroids, and general climate change.

 One member indicated he had some negative reaction to the anecdotes – but found himself in a minority – and thought some diagrams would have been helpful. Nonetheless he acknowledged that he had been generally impressed by the book, in particular by the sections on areas of science he knew least well.

 There was less discussion of the book than usual, partly because of the absence of some members at a sporting event, and partly because there was general agreement on the excellence of the book, both in terms of writing and content.

 Not perhaps surprisingly discussion moved on to some of the issues raised by the book, in particular climate change. There was praise for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, which was playing a similar role to Bryson’s book in educating the public about current scientific thinking and the need for action on climate change.