It had been ages since I read anything new, opting to re-read some old favorites (graphic novels count as “reading”!), but I recently picked this up on the advice of several fellow bloggers. Bill Bryson is the also the author of The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, which I remember reading and loving when I was a senior in high school.
I love this kind of science book. See, I’m fascinated by science, but terrible at grasping the nuts and bolts of it. It just doesn’t gel with the way my brain works, I guess. I’m better with words and things that have no black-and-white correct answer. But give me a good book that presents the fascinating facts without making me solve equations to get there, and I’m hooked.
I also love the behind-the-scenes stuff that this book reveals. Scientists can be very odd people; and there have been some epic battles between them over the centuries. And history is very fickle, oftentimes something would be discovered by a scientist, only to be ignored; and just a few years later another scientist will discover the same thing, and for some reason the world is more receptive to it, and that’s the person whose name goes into the textbooks. Bryson does his best to give those poor forgotten bastards their due.
My favorite popular science writer is Carl Sagan. His books returned to me a sense of awe in the universe, without the need to believe in some magical sky daddy. (That’s right, you barstards! I’m an atheist, and I’m not hiding it since Obama gave us non-believers a shout-out in his Inaugural Address.) Bryson continues very much in that tradition; although he’s maybe a little less awe-inspiring, probably because he’s not a scientist himself. But he’s just as interesting a writer.