This is Bill. And also you, after you read the book, to all your loved ones.
It scratches all the science itches in a way that is ACCESSIBLE (important because I don't understand stuff) without sounding PANDERING (important because I like to pretend that I understand stuff and don't want to be talked down to, dammit).
As any good history book would, it starts at the beginning with the chemical(ish) composition of the pre-universe just before the Big Bang, continues through the formation of aforementioned universe and various galaxies, to the formation of our solar system and planet, to the rise of life, the history of geology and chemistry, the WTFery of quantum physics, and finally the evolution of man and a few questions about our future.
A few things I learned that I read aloud to the husband, and will therefore make you suffer the same fate:
- Proxima Centauri, the closest star to us, is 4.3 light years away, which would take you 25,000 years to reach by regular spaceship. HURRY UP AND GIVE US WARP DRIVE, SCIENCE.
- Because scientists, while being Very Smart and Able, are also Messin' With Shit They Don't Understand and Are More Often Wrong Than Right, every radiocarbon date you read today is too young by around 3% (that's a whole lotta too young when you're talking millions of years, there).
- The captain of the HMS Beagle chose Darwin as a traveling companion because he liked the shape of Darwin's nose. RELATED: Darwin never used the phrase "survival of the fittest." Middle school science teachers, you lie!
- Despite proof to the contrary that existed for decades, geologists didn't accept plate tectonics as fact until like the 70s or 80s- I can't find the highlighted section so I don't know the exact date but DAYUM. Get with it.
My biggest takeaway (aside from the science) was all gossip about the SCIENTISTS. THESE GUYS, let me tell you. Now, I come from a fairly conservative Southern Baptist background and so much of the time I'm reading about their antics and thinking- you guys sound like old, white, Southern Baptists preachers, with your NO NEWFANGLED IDEAS, PLEASE and your WE DON'T ADOPT NEW METHODS EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE PROVEN BY SCIENCE BECAUSE WE ARE JERKS SORT OF and your SCIENCE IS ALWAYS RIGHT BY WHICH I MEAN MY BRAND OF SCIENCE AND NOT THAT GUY'S. Suffice it to say, my biggest realization here was that historically speaking, scientists can be (and usually are, if Bryson is to be believed) just as fundamentalist and close-minded as the most churchy of church people, often with equally ridiculous and harmful results.
So if you want to know all the things about everything, ever, this is what you should read. However, be prepared for a healthy dose of Bryson reminding us that science itself is an evolving process and for as much as we know, there are approximately infinity things that we do not know/are wrong about.