It took me a shamefully long time to complete A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson — multiple months, in which I even put it down for long periods of time and read other books (For shame!).
The book is a monstrous undertaking that serves as an overview of all time (going back to the Big Bang and advancing to the present), covering all areas of science in the process.
Though an educational read, the book can drag on at times. One unexpected gem Bryson embeds in this book is in his ability to depict the discoverers and scientists as flawed, sometimes eccentric, often under-(if at all)-appreciated human beings. On one level, it is empowering to realize what amazing discoveries were made by self-taught, self-made scientists. Nowadays, it seems you have to go to school for half your life to study a subject and maybe publish a paper that is important outside the narrow niche of your own subject. This hasn’t always been the case, and Bryson illustrates that truth wonderfully.
This idea is what stuck with me the most. Degrees don’t make for original thought or observation. In conjunction with having read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories, I’m reminded that scientists can often get so caught up within their narrow focus that they fail to string together bigger ideas. We’d do well to remember that discovery, observation and original thinking springs from following our own interests even as we don’t know where they’ll lead and even if they are obscure and boring to most everyone else!