Who says science is dull?

By Randolph E. Schmid

Associated Press

If you could somehow travel to the end of the universe and look outside, what would be there?

That's a question that has perplexed many people, and one that is addressed in an ambitious new book by one of the country's most prolific and skilled writers.

The answer, Bill Bryson tells us in "A Short History of Nearly Everything," is that you simply can't get to the edge of the universe.


No, not because it's too far -- though it is -- but because space bends in ways people can't adequately imagine, so that "even if you traveled outward and outward in a straight line, indefinitely and pugnaciously, you would never arrive at an outer boundary. Instead you would come back to where you began."

Bryson's massive volume reflects the enthusiasm of someone who grew up thinking that science was extremely dull and only recently became interested in the subject. He spent three years learning all he could and compiling as much of this as possible into the book.

Wisely, the title includes the word "nearly," since neither this book nor a collection many times its size can claim to include a history of everything.

But Bryson combines a wide range of interesting science with a smooth and skilled style to make reading about science fun. Along the way he drops in fascinating pieces of information that remind you of the delightful tidbits James Burke scatters through his books.

Consider, for example, if Charles Darwin had followed the advice of editor Whitwell Elwin, who read a draft of Darwin's work and advised the great naturalist to write about pigeons instead, commenting, "Everyone is interested in pigeons."

Darwin ignored the advice and went ahead with "On the Origin of Species" anyway.

Or go with Bryson to the world of geology, a surprisingly young science.

"We know amazingly little about what happens beneath our feet," reports Bryson. "It is fairly remarkable to think that Ford has been building cars and baseball has been playing World Series for longer than we have known that the Earth has a core."

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