A while ago John Gribbin wrote Science: A History, which attempted to cover all of the development of science in a single volume. The trouble is, it fell between two stools – itwasn’t readable as a narrative, nor was it a comprehensive encylopedia. Travel writer Bill Bryson has now done the same thing, but with significantly more success as he has very clearly abandoned any attempt to be comprehensive – the result is a much easier read.
If (like me) you are a Bryson fan you may find the book a slight disappointment. His genius is as a humorous raconteur of everyday events that have happened to him, and although he includes many enjoyable anecdotes, his style doesn’t work anywhere near as well when talking about a historical event. Despite this and a decided lurch towards the biological and earth sciences that leaves the rest a little under-covered, this is the best attempt yet to cover pretty well everything in a readable way. Bryson is perhaps at his best when coming up with amazing back-of-the-matchbox facts (if you took all the salt out of the sea and spread it evenly on the land it would form a layer 500 feet thick), and describing encounters with real live scientists, but it’s all good stuff.