My rating: 4.20/5
This is a phenomenal book that traces the scientific history of the universe and the world, as we know it. It synthesizes for a layman a number of theories and facts about the birth of the universe, particle physics, formation of earth, plate tectonics and volcanic activity, the beginning, evolution and continuous extinction of life, among other things. It also traces the scientific revolution of the last 400 years and one cannot feel but astounded at how weakly mounted on evidence are theories we regard as widely held knowledge. It is also arresting that a number of facts we take for granted have not been around for long, that science was shaped by accidental discoveries and a tug of war between the egos and passions of a few motivated individuals, and the extent of our ignorance about and insignificance in the world around us.
Since this book is popular science, take it with a grain of salt. At a number of places, Bryson’s simplifications almost cross over to the imprecise. For example, he remarks that an electron spins around its own axis and disregards that information too can travel only as fast as light. At another instance, he remarks that the destructive potential of wind is an exponential and not quadratic function of its velocity.
By all means, give it a read.