A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Imagine wrapping all of your high school science classes (Geology, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics) up into one seminar class, so that each discipline provided insights into answering "What is this place and how did we get here?". Sounds like a pretty good class, right? Now imagine it being taught by Sam Kinison.

You get a whirlwind introduction to physics (it's all made of atoms), chemistry means atoms stuck together (we don't have time for electron valences p.107). You know why we have to get through this quickly? Because YOU'RE GONNA FUCKING DIE! You think you're special? We got comets, earthquakes, and volcanoes that'll take you apart faster than a GINSU-WIELDING ALIEN HEXAPOD!

Speaking of biology, it's all DNA spawned from primordial glop. Geology tells us how we got from glop to the globe we know. That's it. The End. It's over because YOU JUST FUCKING DIED, YOU MISERABLE BIPEDAL FREAK! You live on the tattered shreds of some magma ejecta that you call a continent that just happens now to not be dying of a heat wave or buried under TWO MILES OF ICE. But chances are that you're not going to make it that long, because you're gonna get KILLED BY TINY FUCKING THINGS YOU CAN'T SEE! AHH AHHHH AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

This book actually does read like this (doubt me? go read the contents at Amazon). Granted, this book does have at least one really good joke in it (p 123), where he recounts Paul Valery and Albert Einstein meeting and talking. Apparently, Valery asked Einstein whether he kept a notebook to record his ideas, Einstein peered back at Valery with mild surprise, saying "Oh, that's not necessary. It's so seldom I have one.".

Unfortunately, Bryson stops the joke there, leaving it at "haha, Einstein's so modest!". The flavor of this little exchange changes when you know that Valery's notebooks (cahiers) span *many* volumes. Who's Paul Valery? Precisely.

Altogether, do you remember your high-school sciences? I.e. can you roughly explain what this place is, and how we got here? Then you can skip this book. Want some entertaining non-fiction by Kinison? Read this book. Just be warned that Bryson doesn't actually swear, he just tries to scare the bejesus out of the 9th grader in you. ;)

Heh, why did you even bother? I wrote that one off as a waste of time just by glancing at it in the bookstore. I figure why bother with Bryson when there are books by Hawking I still haven't read. -- Dave W.
Many people recommended it.
Heh, reading back over my comment, it sounds kind of condescending. Didn't mean it that way. Personally I hadn't heard much about the book till I saw it in the bookstore and my impressions were not favorable, so I was surprised you were reading it. -- Dave W.
No worries. I really enjoyed writing like Sam Kinison. That made up for pretty much everything wrong with the book. ;)