Having seen a few people reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, I decided to check it out in case it was as good as I'd hoped. It was better. The author, Bill Bryson, doesn't just explain scientific concepts. He also details the history of their discoveries with a sense of humour reminiscent of Douglas Adams.

One particularly good example is the tragic tale of Guillaume Le Gentil, an astronomer who attempted to work out the distance from Earth to the Sun by observing the transit of Venus, something which only happens twice in a lifetime, eight years apart. Despite his painstaking efforts, circumstances prevented him from making the observation on both occasions. After his eight year hiatus, he finally returned to his family, only to find out they'd already declared him dead and plundered his estate.

A less depressing tale is that of Jack Haldane, who experimented on himself as well as his friends and family using a decompression chamber. Although he ended up somewhat deaf due to perforating his eardrum, he considered himself fortunate to have gained the ability to blow smoke out of his ear, which he called a "social accomplishment." Such stories are rife throughout this book.

Bryson has performed a great service to society by making so much of our accumulated knowledge accessible to so many. I'd recommend this book to anyone even vaguely interested in learning not just how the universe works, but how we actually came to know these things in the first place. This is the history of science at its most humorous. Please, stop reading this, walk down to your nearest library or bookstore, and grab a copy. You'll be glad you did.