non-fiction

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

In the introduction to this book, Bill Bryson explains why he decided to write a ‘popular science’ book. Bryson felt that most text books are needlessly complex and in general kind of dull. According to him,

“There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.”

Thus, A Short History of Nearly Everything was born. In it Bryson tries to explain scientific matters in a language that would be easily understood by the general populace.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson was published in 2003. It became a best seller on its publication and won several awards.

This book touches on an astonishing variety of topics. It starts with the creation of the universe, moves on to Quantum Physics, Geology, Biology and finally discusses Palaeontology and the origin of human beings. Natural disasters like volcanic irruptions & earthquakes and theories about mass extinctions are also discussed. The narrative is made livelier by interjecting it with humorous anecdotes about the people behind the science.

I really liked how Bryson talks of the people behind the science. The lives of known and unknown people behind some of the greatest discoveries come alive through Bryson’s narrative.

Bryson’s sense of humour shines through the narrative. I could quote passage after passage from the book that made me laugh.

Bryson tries his best to put the most difficult scientific terms and formulas in plain English accompanied with clever and witty examples. He does succeed to a large extent but an understanding of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics helps. I fortunately have a grasp on these subjects as they formed the backbone of my education. I am surprised at how much information I have retained from my school days! Also, I am by profession an Anthropologist. So, the chapters about fossils and the debate surrounding the origin of human beings were right up my alley.

The book does contain some factual errors but they are not numerous. Generally the book is accurate and informative.

A Short History of Nearly Everything is a fairly big book. My edition runs over 600 pages and is divided into 6 parts & 30 chapters. It took me a while to finish it but not because it’s boring or difficult. Time constraint was a major factor. Plus, this is one book you cannot skim over. Most of it has to be read with careful attention. I did skim over the final chapter entitled Goodbye but that’s because it talks about how human beings are responsible for the extermination of many species of animals. Sometimes killing them for food but mostly killing them just for the sake of fun, out of boredom and sometimes callousness. Bloodlust, cruelty and above all a general attitude callousness, it seems, is in our blood. Reading of so many instances of our cruelty made me sad. So, I skimmed over most of it.

How much my being an Anthropologist with an interest in Physics, Chemistry; etc, etc, influenced my enjoyment of the book I am not sure. Overall, I can say that I loved reading A Short History of Nearly Everything. It took me quite some time to finish it but I liked it and rarely felt bored. Recommended.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock – A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler

I am not really a major non-fiction reader. People may actually be shocked at the lack of non-fiction titles in my library. I don’t know why that is because I actually have enjoyed my little forays into the realm of non-fiction. It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock is no exception.

As an avid movie watcher, I have seen many of Alfred Hitchcock’s works. I must admit his movies make me feel uneasy (i.e. Rope. The movie starts with a scene that no one warned me about.) and at times plain revolted (i.e. Frenzy. Grisly to say the least.). But nevertheless, I find his movies interesting to watch and was eager to learn more about them.

It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock – A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler was published in 2005. The book gives a chronological account of Hitchcock’s life right from his childhood, his beginning in the nascent British film industry, his meeting and marriage withAlma, his rising fame, migration toAmericaand finally his declining years. All of this in interjected with a lot of gossipy anecdotes from well known personalities.

I don’t really care about the personal aspects of the lives of the people involved in the movie business. They are, after all, mere human beings like the rest of us. So, although I doubt the accuracy of some of the personal bits of the book, it didn’t mar my enjoyment of the book.

What really interests me are movie plot summaries and little snippets of the shooting of the movie. The book has enough of those to keep me satisfied for a long time.

I like the cover of the book. It is striking. As I read this book en route to my workplace many people asked me what book I was reading and they seemed genuinely interested in it.

A rather sanitized image of Alfred Hitchcock is presented here. There are hints of a darker side but they are few and far between. His alleged treatment of Tippi Hedren (seriously, what a name!) is mentioned and discussed and that’s about it. Overall, the book presents Hitchcock as a slightly odd but immensely talented man who really meant no harm.

This a very, very easy book to read. I moved quite fast through it. The prose was comfortable to read.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock – A Personal Biography. Recommended.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Head Over Heels in the Dales by Gervase Phinn

Head Over Heels in the Dales is a book in Gervase Phinn’s autobiographical Dales series. It is the third book in the series after The Other Side of the Dale  and  Over Hill and Dale.

Gervase Phinn is a school inspector. He works in the idyllic Yorkshire Dales. His life as an inspector with his motley crew of colleagues, the love of his life Christine Bentley and of course the children of the schools he visits makes up the story of the Dales series of books.

In Head Over Heels in the Dales, Mr. Phinn has started his third year as an inspector. Life is good as he is getting married to Christine. Finding a place to live and starting a new family takes up much time and resources. The trials and tribulations at work continue as there is talk of a new chief being appointed much to everyone’s discomfort. And of course amid all this the school inspections continue with mostly humorous results.

I found Mr. Phinn’s school visits very funny. I laughed out loud several times. Precocious little children and their often apt observations about life entertained me. Reading about the teachers was also enjoyable.

I did have one serious problem while reading this book. If it were fiction based on real life experiences I would have really liked this book. But the book is supposedly non-fictional. “Could real life be this dramatic or humorous?”– the thought often crossed my mind as I read the book. I have got a feeling that large chunks of the book maybe a tad embellished.

The personal side of the narrative I didn’t like all that much. Dr. Geraldine Mullarkey’s mysterious personal life, Mr. Phinn’s gushing musings on his stunning fiancée Christine with her big blue eyes and golden hair, Sidney Clamp’s mood swings, it was all so ‘fiction like’ and some of it was, frankly, irritating. 

As the book is supposed to be autobiographical and is tagged non-fiction, I do have some reservations about criticizing any of the book’s characters. These are supposed to be real people. Criticizing them without knowing anything about them feels inappropriate. But the truth is I found several of them to be quite insufferable.

Head Over Heels in the Dales is more or less enjoyable, especially the parts about the school visits. Most reader’s I think will not have my whole ‘feels almost totally unreal for a non-fiction’ problem. Others may enjoy this far more than I did.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.