Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Audiosynced: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I'm not a big nonfiction reader.  I like it in theory, and I often bring stacks of interesting nonfiction titles home with the intention of reading them all, but I'm usually distracted by the latest dystopia or mystery or romance and then the nonfiction books are overdue and I need to return them to the library.

That's why I'm especially glad I brought home Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything on audio.  This is most likely a book that would have languished in my "to read" pile if I had checked out the print version, but the audio proved a delightful way to keep myself entertained on a road trip I took earlier this month.

The basic concept of the book is this: Bill Bryson describes how the universe, and everything in it, came to be.  This is a pretty tall order, but it's precisely because he covers so much in so little space that he manages to keep the lay reader (or listener) interested.  He covers the big bang, evolution, plate tectonics, ice ages, and volcanoes, among a dozen other subjects.  He also talks a lot about the people behind the major discoveries and includes a few funny stories that show just how odd (or just plain human, really) scientists can be.  The book is never dry or boring, but it also doesn't give the reader a full picture on any one subject.  It's a fascinating look at science for non-scientists.

One of the greatest joys of the audiobook experience was Bryson's narration. The book is full of humor, and Bryson's voice lets that shine through.  He speaks deliberately and with a very slight English accent (I may be imagining this, since I know he is American but spends a lot of time in England) that adds interest to the listening.  He also occasionally refers to himself in the text, which makes the fact that he's narrating all the more real.  I also really appreciated that the book was tailored to the listener, not the reader.  By this I mean that whenever the text read "If you're reading this," it was changed to "If you're listening to this."  It's a nice touch that iced the experience for me.

I should mention that I listened to the abridged version, which I normally try to avoid at all costs.  Abridgements are the bane of my audiobook existence and I'm baffled as to why they exist in the first place.  I think this book suffers from the abridgement.  The unabridged version is short in the first place, but abridged it's simply too short (only five discs!).  Bryson skips from one topic to another with almost no transition in many places, and I needed more elaboration at certain points to really satisfy my curiosity.  Perhaps, though, that's also a success of the book: it left me wanting more and feeling even more curious about the world in which we live.

6 comments:

  1. Bill Bryson is one of my go-to comfort reads because of his sense of humor. It's very midwest humor, which a lot of people find a little crass at times.

    This is a book I have had languishing in a pile for, um, years. I might have to try it on audio.

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  2. Oooh! I haven't read this but I've read his other stuff. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  3. I adore Bill Bryson! I first read Mother Tongue because of my interest in the English language and then plowed through the travelogues, laughing hysterically all the way. And, for the life of me I can't understand why The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid isn't populating summer reading lists everywhere.

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  4. You are not imagining the faint English accent. I notice it too. I've listened to a few of his audiobooks and felt the same way the first time I heard him narrate... it's like a British/American hybrid.

    Kind of like Phil Koegan from the Amazing Race. He's from New Zealand but his accent is an American/New Zealand hybrid.

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  5. I listened to this a few months ago and LOVED it (I can't remember if it was the abridged version or not, sadly). It's great, especially if you're casually into science. (Also, doesn't he live in England now? I don't know--he seems to keep moving back and forth!)

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  6. I hate abridged audios too! And while I haven't listened to Bryson, I'd almost be surprised if he didn't have a slight accent as he lived in England for at least 20 years. His book Notes From a Small Island talks about that.

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