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A Short History of Nearly Everything | Quotes

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1.

Worlds are precious.


Carl Sagan, Part 1, Chapter 2

Bryson begins the book with a concept he returns to in the course of the book. It's amazing and a bit lucky there is a world to live in, so people should work to preserve this one.

2.

There is actually a certain value in not finding anything.


Reverend Robert Evans, Part 1, Chapter 3

Evans is referring to the discovery of supernovae; however, the quote applies to science in general. Much of what scientists know stems from mistakes in procedure or experimental design and countless other problems, even not finding anything at all.

3.

Every atom you possess has ... passed through several stars and ... millions of organisms.


Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 9

In this quote Bryson captures the vastness and mysteriousness of the universe. An understanding of science illuminates the beauty, complexity, and fragility of human existence.

4.

There is a deep feeling that the picture is not beautiful.


Leon Lederman, Part 3, Chapter 11

This quote refers to the goal of physics to find a theory that neatly sums up both the large-scale, universal world and the smaller quantum world of the atom. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that physics, like many aspects of life, is messy and may never have a unifying theory.

5.

We don't understand it completely and what we do understand we haven't understood for long.


Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 11

Bryson mentions this sentence in context of the understanding of how Earth moves. However, it is appropriate in the context of many fields. The understanding of science, although exponentially greater in this century than in earlier ones, is incomplete and relatively recent. There is still much to learn about the universe, Earth, and the living things on it.

6.

Old ideas die hard.


Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 12

A common theme throughout the book is ideas persist stubbornly, even when new evidence is presented. It often takes a period of time for the new ideas to replace the old, and often during that time, there is a long period of controversy.

7.

Earth can provide plenty of danger of its own.


Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 13

While space poses some dangers to Earth, there are an equal number of potential dangers, if not more, on Earth itself. Bryson makes this point, in part, to emphasize the role of human activity on the ecology of Earth.

8.

We live in a world that doesn't altogether seem to want us here.


Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 15

The quote is a preface to a series of chapters highlighting the dangers inherent in living on Earth. While life itself is quite hardy, it has to be, because at times Earth is inhospitable.

9.

To have a planet suitable for life, you have to be just awfully lucky.


Narrator, Part 5, Chapter 16

The quote refers to the long line of lucky breaks the planet and the human species has had throughout history.

10.

Life in short just wants to be.


Narrator, Part 5, Chapter 22

While the quote specifically refers to the continual persistence of the existence of lichens, it refers to life in general, even in the face of numerous mass extinctions. It is a testament to the hardiness of living things.

11.

We live on a planet that has a more or less infinite capacity to surprise.


Narrator, Part 5, Chapter 23

The quote is a summary of why people know relatively little about life on Earth. There is an immense amount of life on Earth, and it appears in unexpected and unexplored places.

12.

All life is one.


Narrator, Part 5, Chapter 26

From what scientists know about the rise of life on Earth, all life is based on the same basic foundation—DNA, proteins, and genetic reproduction. While many scholars tend to emphasize the uniqueness of the human species, Bryson makes clear humans are but one of the innumerable living creatures on the planet.

13.

Finally, but perhaps above all, human nature is a factor in all this.


Narrator, Part 6, Chapter 28

While Bryson is referring specifically to interpretations in paleontology, the comment could apply to any other field Bryson discusses. Ultimately the entire book is based on the premise human nature has influenced the course of human history as well as the history of Earth.

14.

For the first 99.99999 percent of the history ... we were in the same ... line as chimpanzees.


Narrator, Part 6, Chapter 28

Bryson uses the quote to explain where humans come from, contextualizing it in terms of where humans fit compared to other animals. Despite the unique quality of the human brain, humans are 98.4% similar in genetic makeup as the chimpanzee. The diversion of the species line took place relatively recently, around three or so million years ago—an instant compared to the age of Earth.

15.

We may be the living universe's supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.


Narrator, Part 6, Chapter 30

Bryson is referring to the human contribution toward the extinction of numerous animal and plant species on Earth. However, this is also a reference to previous statements regarding climate change and its general impact on Earth.

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