________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover A Really Short History of Nearly Everything.

Bill Bryson.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2008.
169 pp., hardcover, $29.95.
ISBN 978-0-385-66352-6.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

***½ /4


In the 1960s, an American professor, Frank Drake, worked out the chances of advanced life existing in the cosmos. According to people like Frank Drake, we may be only one of millions of advanced civilizations. Unfortunately, space being spacious, the average distance between any two of these civilizations is reckoned to be at least 200 light years, which is a great deal more than merely saying it makes it sound.

It means, for a start, that even if these beings know we are here and are somehow able to see us on their screens, they're watching light that left Earth 200 years ago. So they're not seeing you and me. They're watching people in silk stockings and powdered wigs- people who don't know what an atom is, or a gene, and who make their electricity by rubbing a rod of amber with a piece of fur and think that's quite a clever trick.

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Casual, conversational and clever, this book is an abridged and adapted version of Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. With his relaxed writing style infused with humour, Bryson explores the mysteries of the universe from the Big Bang to the present. The book is divided into six main sections, the first of which ("Lost in the Cosmos") covers the origin of the universe and space exploration. In the second section, "The Size of the Earth," readers will learn about geographical formations, dinosaurs and fossils, the science of geology, atoms, chemistry, the Periodic Table and the work of several scientists. "A New Age Dawns" contains information about Einstein and his theories as well as the Hubble Space Telescope. This section has some difficult concepts for the targeted audience to grasp, such as time being variable, ever-changing and having shape. Plate techtonics, volcanoes and earthquakes are the subjects of the fourth section, entitled "Dangerous Planet." The fifth section, "Life Itself," delves into the relationship between the Earth and the moon, layers of the atmosphere, clouds and rain, bacteria, Charles Darwin, evolution, and extinct species. Readers will also learn how to classify a living thing, from its species down to its primitive domain. Finally, "The Road to Us" highlights the Ice Age, the evolution of humans, DNA, and humans' effect on the Earth, pollution and global warming being some examples.

     Throughout the book, Bryson features a number of scientists, their discoveries and their theories — some valid and others bogus — that eventually led to humans' understanding of the inner workings of the universe. There are just a couple of minor flaws in this book: the first is that some of the concepts are far more difficult to grasp than others (in this instance Bryson tries to use analogies to help readers comprehend) and the second is that there is no title page or other type of differentiation from one section to the next. Illustrations include colour photographs, charts, diagrams and cartoon-like drawings, all of which enhance the text. A table of contents and an index are provided.

Highly Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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