Bill Bryson is a
wanderer; author of several laugh-out-loud-funny books based on his world travels. But
heís also a wonderer. Staring out of an airplane high above the Pacific, he pondered the
saltiness of it all. How salty is it? And why is it salty? And why arenít the Great
Brysonís quirky humor enlivens this narration of the science
all around us. He wonders why a hat, when placed on a table, doesnít just float to the
ceiling. And why, when two pool balls meet, they glance off each other instead of simply
passing through one another. He gets the answers to these troubling issues and helpfully
shares them with us.
Brysonís book, as his title says, has almost
everything. Blue Whales? Got Ďem. Quarks and black holes? Covered. Microbes? He
devotes a whole chapter to them. (Warning: you may want to skip the section on dust
mites.) But the fun of the book is finding out when each new discovery or idea came
about and which scientists fought over them. Whoíd have thought a bunch of
nineteenth-century geologists could get so worked up over a few rocks?
The author didnít just read books for his research. He hopped planes to talk with
a variety of specialists. In Australia he interviews a man who hunts supernovae by
memorizing entire star fields. A Yellowstone geologist shows Bryson around and casually
mentions theyíre standing on a massive volcano that can blow at any time. (Most of North
America would likely feel the explosion.) Two guys in Iowa describe the giant meteor
crater discovered there. Why havenít we heard of it? Ice Age glaciers, acting as
ancient bulldozers, filled the hole and smoothed it over.
the book, you get a sense of what humankindís place is in all of this, how weíve affected
Earth, and how lucky we are to be here.
Although Iím not a science nut, I
did enjoy this book and kept with it even when the slogging got hard. But, Bill? For
your next book, please get back to travel. I hear Ireland is nice.