A Short History of Nearly Everything (YGtCTO Words #21)

Book written by Bill Bryson

I never imagined I would read so much written by someone born in Des Moines. What can I say? Life takes us to unexpected places.

If you have set foot in a bookstore in the past twenty years, then you have probably run into one of Bryson’s books: A Walk in the Woods or The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir or A Short History of Nearly Everything or one of the many, many others. Just a glance through the titles and covers foretells a light read ready made for a beer and a hammock. Come on now- The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain is hardly even playing fair anymore!

We have a long history of not taking humor seriously (and just about as long a history talking about that fact, too). We promise to change and agree to appreciate the funny among us, but then we go ahead and act like anybody could make a well-timed fart joke. All right, that might be a fairly low bar, but still, humorists do not receive the accolades that they deserve.

The thing with humor is that it can be used for more than body effluvia- it can make the indigestible comprehensible. I daresay it is a rarity among humanity who would willingly seek out a 500 page book on the history of science without a school assignment somewhere in the offing. No book so thick could qualify for past time enjoyment. Yet, the hours spent with A Short History of Nearly Everything will fly by. And you’ll have something to discuss at the next social gathering other than celebrities, sports, and the impending downfall of the U.S. based on the election results.

Bryson has long been a master of the travelogue, writing about Australia, Europe, and North America extensively. His approach to science in A Short History of Nearly Everything is similar, as he travels around talking to experts in various fields and then translating his learning into understand-ability for the lay reader. Fundamentally, the travel writer may be our prototypical non-fiction author. After all, travel combined with literacy almost required that a person capture whatever knowledge they had obtained of the outside world.

In the same sense, travel writing is possibly the ideal starting point for any writer. Essentially, it requires the discipline of noting sights and experiences. In that regard, it is not so far afield from journalism, the other field where Bryson achieved success. The intersection of the two may explain his prodigious output.

Circling back though, humor tends to breed more humor. Those who prove facile tend to keep at it. The rarity is finding a way to illuminate the world with that gift.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 238 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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