A Short History of Nearly Everything

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I'm having a really great time right now reading/listening to Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything. The book itself is very intriguing - a lively and engaging narrative of how our universe came to be and where it is now, the sciences and people who have explored those questions for so long, and the amazing oddities and subtleties about how our world works. It's a little geeky, but definitely written for non-geeks who want the Big Picture in the biggest sense of the word.

But in addition to enjoying the book for its content, I keep having serendipitous experiences of that content relating to personal events. For example, in a recent chapter Bryson talked about extremophiles, creatures that can live in the most extreme conditions, and how they've changed our understanding of just what kinds of environments can support life. All of the sudden, I start seeing references to extremophiles everywhere. In particular, Bryson talks about some of the worms that survived the space shuttle Columbia's destruction and what they taught us. This chapter came about right on the day of the anniversary of that event, and on the same day that I was listening to a This American Life episode in which David Sedaris talks about those same worms. The universe is trying to tell me something about extremophile worms, I just know it.

I was also watching the movie The Core recently, and not only was it a mediocre movie with bad science (oh, why, Hillary Swank, why!?) but I actually understood (at a surface level anyway, no pun intended) a lot about why it was bad science. Bryson had just finished teaching me about Earth's magnetic fields and their relationship with the Earth's core, so I could convert disappointing cinema into..enlightened comedy? Okay, that's taking it to far.

Needless to say, if you have any curiosity about the wonders of our world and the quirky personalities of the people who study it (and aren't already one of those people), A Short History is a great read.

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