Should really have been called, “An Abbreviated History of Western Scientific Thinking, from 1600 to Modern Times”, but that wouldn’t have been nearly so catchy. Nor is the book much more interesting than the expanded title would suggest. If you have any kind of interest in popular science, this book is going to seem like an extensive re-hash of what you already know. Bryson spends a lot of time relating anecdotes involving both key and lesser-known scientific figures from the last few hundred years, but the scope of the book inevitably forces him to omit lots of detail. If you have watched the BBC series Local Heroes with Adam Hart Davies, you’ll be very disappointed. Bryson doesn’t have the same energy or love for the subject matter as Hart Davies. Although his foreword proclaims a burning desire to understand the questions science has answered (or tried to answer), by the end of the book his wit feels forced, and any impression of real enthusiasm has fallen by the wayside. Pity.
Actually, I rather liked A Short History – while it’s true that much of the knowledge presented was familiar to me, some of it was not – and the presentation was interesting and humerous. I’d give it four out of five stars.