25 interesting bits from a Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

It is a testimony to a book’s power when, after reading it, you immediately seek out similar books to read.
Having finished this fantastic book recently, I have been reading nothing but science books since.

The great thing about this book is that it combines the amazing facts about the natural world with the curious  tales of the great and often eccentric minds who discovered their secrets.
The “sciency” parts are explained in very simple terms that even a layman like me can understand and there’s plenty of humorous asides and anecdotes.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the more interesting bits from the book.

1  All the visible stuff in our solar system including sun, planets and a billion asteroids fill up less than a trillionth of the available space.

2 We all remember the diagram of our solar system from the classroom, but on a true scale diagram, if the earth were the size of a pea, Pluto would be a mile and a half away.

3 The distance to the edge of our solar system is 50,000 times the distance to Pluto.

4 Based on what we know, there is absolutely no prospect that any human will ever leave our solar system.

5 Isaac newton would sometimes wake up in the morning and when swinging his feet out of bed  would sit frozen for hours by the rush of thoughts to his head.

6 Newton’s Principia was only published thanks to Edmond Halley’s financing of it.
The royal society was having financial difficulties due to the fact that last year’s publication The History Of Fishes was a flop.

7 The geologist and paleontologist William Buckland  was determined to taste every animal on the planet.

8 Best remembered for coining the word Dinosaur, Richard Owen also gave us the modern concept of museums as places the common folk can visit and not just scientists.
He was also one of the meanest persons in science history and the only person Darwin ever hated.
And he looked like Ebeneezer Scrooge.

9 Carl Wilhelm Scheele one of the founders of modern chemistry, had a habit of sniffing and tasting any new element or chemical he discovered including poisonous ones.
He was found dead at the age of 43, killed by his last discovery.

10 Shortly after publishing his landmark papers featuring E = mc^2 \,\!, Albert Einstein applied for the positions of university lecturer and high school teacher and was rejected in both cases.

11 For forty years, every study of the effects of lead exposure on humans was funded by a lead additive company, we still don’t know the damage sustained by the planet and mankind due to this crime.

12 People who are directly in a meteor’s path will not be killed by the impact.
The compressed air in the path will heat up to 60,000 degrees Celsius, making them instantly vanish.

13 Tokyo is referred to by geologists as “the city waiting to die”.
The book was published in 2003, before the Fukushima event.

14 In the early days of pump and hose assisted diving, there was a dreaded phenomena called “the squeeze” where the diver’s entire body would be sucked into the hose and diving helmet, leaving just some bones and flesh in the diving suit.
Ouch.

15 For dozens of years, nuclear waste was dumped in the oceans using hundreds of thousands of plastic drums that would sometimes be perforated with machine guns to help them sink.
And I thought Monty Burns was bad.

16 The fish used in fish sticks was originally cod, then haddock, then redfish and lately pacific pollock.
Fish is whatever’s left in the oceans.

17 Slime molds are amazing creatures.

18 The human body has about 10 million different varieties of white blood cells, each designed to destroy a specific enemy.

19 We have fossil records of  only one species for  every 120,000 species who have lived on the planet.

20 The Permian extinction killed off at least 95% of all the animals we know about from the fossil records.

21 The energy released by the dinosaur killing meteorite was 100 million megatons or about one Hiroshima-sized bomb for every human on the planet.

22 You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat- catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.
Robert Darwin to his son Charles upon seeing his academic grades.

23 Ironically, the one thing On the Origin of the Species didn’t explain was how species originated.

24 A human body contains 20 million kilometers of coiled DNA.

25 Every living thing is an elaboration on a single original plan.
All life is one.

Read on.

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2 Responses to 25 interesting bits from a Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

  1. Sebastian says:

    I absolutely loved reading this book. Can you recommend any that are similar?

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