Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, 2003.
I picked up Bryson’s book—having been urged to read it for some time now—-in the airport in Glasgow, because I had nothing I wanted to read on the flight home.
Bryson’s book won’t teach you anything you didn’t know, detail-wise, about science if you’re remotely interested in science. So why read it? My answer is that it gave me two things: a light-hearted and amusing look at some of the back-stories that lie behind scientific discovery (and in particular, a view of interesting personalities), and a renewed appreciation for the sense of scale in a scientific approach to the world. The first is light-hearted fun. The second is at turns a delightful reminder of our human egocentrism that allows us to neglect both the vast number of things left to be discovered and the sheer complexity of what we do know; and at others a scary reminder of the precariousness of human life (be it in terms of axial tilt, ice ages, super-volcanoes, diseases, mutation, …). All in all, if you like science, it’s a pleasant read—I bothered to finish it upon my return, albeit slowly—after starting it late in the plane ride following a Robert Ludlum divertissement.