This book is really two histories in one: a prehistory, from before the universe began, right up to the emergence of homo sapiens; and a history of science from around the 17th century up to the beginning of the 21st century. For a book, it’s not particularly short, but when you consider the sheer breadth of the content, it does seem very short indeed.
I enjoyed this book, even if I didn’t understand the science sometimes. The most amazing thing about it was the frequency of mind-blowing facts, usually involving very large or very small numbers. There were moments I had to stop and re-read something which seemed fantastically unbelievable. This book has the hallmarks of anything by Bill Bryson: the humour, the eccentric characters, the wordiness, the fascinating anecdotes, the wonder that anything exists and functions at all.
What this isn’t a history of, is recorded human history (except for the science). I didn’t realise this before I read the book and to some extent the blurb is misleading. The phrase ‘rise of civilization’ is used but the story ends before that, presenting humans as just one of billions of species overcoming infinitesimal odds to be dominant on the Earth today.
First published in 2003.