The Ultimate Primer on Life on Earth

A Short History of Nearly Everything
By Bill Bryson
Black Swan, 687 Pages

The idea for the book occurred to Bill Bryson on a long flight over the Pacific when a question popped in his mind. Are the oceans growing more salty or less with time? (He found out in the end that there is as yet a definite answer he could get out of the scientists today on this question) The question then took on a persistent life of its own until he realized that he did not have the faintest idea about the only planet he is living on.

A Short History of Nearly Everything is the result of Bryson’s quest. Packed with bite-size knowledge that will tremendously come in handy in parlor games or when one’s child suddenly blurts out in public within eavesdropping distance of all interested adults, the inappropriate question of the origin of the human species. Written with the simplicity of a layman searching for simple answers to various pertinent questions about life on earth, Bill Bryson takes us through stage by stage from the beginning of the universe (from a kernel of proton the size of the dib ink of a dot with matter packed inside and then expanding tremendously within seconds of the explosion, into a tremendous expanse. It is still being debated whether this universe is being contracted, or expanding indefinitely or staying in status quo), the beginning of life (caused by the collision of a major planet into earth that brought carbon, the indispensable element that makes life possible on earth), various mysteries about the core of the earth (a gigantic cauldron that causes magnetism which in turn makes gravity possible and yet is capable of causing havocs such as the shifting of tectonic plates and earthquakes), and the discoveries of our DNA (how uniquely each one of us is, considering that we are each the miraculous results of permutations, imagine a jackpot machines with hundreds of icons the size of a row of buildings hitting on the exact numbers to produce a single irreplaceable human being — so mind-boggling scientists are still at work to figure out more).

At each stage of our beginning, Bryson introduces human’s scientific efforts to understand the earth we live in, the universe and the various mysteries that make our life here on earth sustainable. He takes us on a journey of scientific discoveries that is so intriguing that his book reads almost like a first rate thriller.

This is an indispensable book for those celebrities that clamor daily on the back pages of the national dailies about how committed they are to keeping our environment safe and clean by showing us how they sort through their garbage, etc. as if that helps a whole lot in keeping our environment safe. This book will show these well-intentioned personalities that global climate change is caused mostly by CFCs (Clorofluorocarbons) invented in the 30’s by a scientist named Midgley, immediately embraced by producers for a diverse products from refrigerators to deodorant puffs. A single kilogram of this substance emitting into the stratosphere will annihilate the ozone and stay on for a century! Sorting out the garbage will hardly do much in preserving this planet. It requires great political will of every country to phase out CFCs last reported CFCs will be banned in Southeast Asia in 2010 and bring our ozone back to its normal state. So unless we dumped our air-conditioners and started cycling to work, not much we do individually will help in restoring our ozone level.

This book also shows that as keepers of this planet we have done a really shoddy job. Daily, hundreds of species become extinct in our hands, either because of our quirky taste or because of our preternaturally destructive instincts. But Bryson is not preaching the preservation of the earth or of its species; he is more interested in making us understand our place in the universe. How miraculously we have come this far against all odds. Our existence is so unique we barely scrape the surface of the mysteries.

One thought on “The Ultimate Primer on Life on Earth

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