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Book Thoughts: A short history of nearly everything

I realize I haven’t been posting here too regularly, and I don’t really have a good reason why I haven’t other than, well I haven’t. Anyway, I felt compelled to write about a book I just finished (3 years after my mom raved about it and bought me a copy to read) by the excellent writer Bill Bryson called “A short history of nearly everything.” Bryson wrote the book after realizing just how little he knew of the world around us. He couldn’t help but ask “why,” for everything. And believe me, that title is more fitting than you would think.

Bryson starts with a discussion on the creation of the universe all the way back to the big bang and works his way up to modern times. The book goes into incredible details not only about the evolution of thoughts and theories, but of the people behind them. Bryson really does a great job of including the quirks of some of the greatest scientific minds in our history, but for me I was really struck more by the amazing history (what we know) of the universe.

I’m truly in awe at the remarkable development of our universe, the galaxy, the solar system, the sun, our planet, and ultimately life. There were so many incredible developments that brought you to this very moment. Starting with the settlement of our earth, just in the perfect conditions (close to sun but not too close) and the first gurgles of life 3.6 Billion years ago (BILLION!) life undergoes an amazing amount of tinkering and development. I really love the playful nature of life’s development, it’s almost as if life is the best investor/entrepreneur that ever was constantly pushing out new versions of living beings just to see which could flourish, and thus continue on existence. To me it’s clear that life just has one purpose, to continue living. It doesn’t care if it is in humans or fleas, all it knows is that it’s constantly developing the right living being for whatever comes next. Humans just happen to be the perfect fit for the moment, but that too will change.

It would be naive to think that humans will continue on as we are forever seeing how we have only existed in what only can be considered a fraction of a second on the clock of earth. Modern humans (that’s you and me) only came into existence roughly 120,000 years ago (the earth is 4.6 BILLION years old). In fact we aren’t even the longest existing human like creature. Some hominids lived for a million years before disappearing (we haven’t even lived 10% of their time…in fact modern humans have only existed for about .0001% of earth’s history).

But we are here, tracing our very existence back to some sort of ooze the twitched 3.6 Billion years ago and continually developed and evolved, and amazingly survived. Earth saw countless numbers of rapid changes and mass extinctions, but nothing, not even the most devastating of events was able to kill off life. Life, as I said, is an incredibly resilient thing (just about anywhere there is access to energy, either through sun or geothermal, and water there’s life on earth). I really feel incredibly grateful to be here now.

I guess for me the real takeaway from this book is that the world around us is filled with endless questions and endless entertaining and awe inspiring answers. It has been amazing for me to see the universe in a whole different perspective. I’ve even come to marvel at the pigeons pecking the trash around the streets of NYC as remarkable points of success coming from a long line of trial and error. There’s so much to be grateful for, and so much to respect. I guess you could read this book and come away feeling small, as only a tiny speck of something so enormous or you could come away as I did, and feel truly lucky to be part of such a wonderful story. Our story. Everything’s story. That’s pretty cool.

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