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A Short History Of Nearly Everything [Format Kindle]

Bill Bryson
4.3 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (22 commentaires client)

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From primordial nothingness to this very moment, A Short History of Nearly Everything reports what happened and how humans figured it out. To accomplish this daunting literary task, Bill Bryson uses hundreds of sources, from popular science books to interviews with luminaries in various fields. His aim is to help people like him, who rejected stale school textbooks and dry explanations, to appreciate how we have used science to understand the smallest particles and the unimaginably vast expanses of space. With his distinctive prose style and wit, Bryson succeeds admirably. Though A Short History clocks in at a daunting 500-plus pages and covers the same material as every science book before it, it reads something like a particularly detailed novel (albeit without a plot). Each longish chapter is devoted to a topic like the age of our planet or how cells work, and these chapters are grouped into larger sections such as "The Size of the Earth" and "Life Itself." Bryson chats with experts like Richard Fortey (author of Life and Trilobite) and these interviews are charming. But it's when Bryson dives into some of science's best and most embarrassing fights--Cope vs. Marsh, Conway Morris vs. Gould--that he finds literary gold. --Therese Littleton

Extrait

1 HOW TO BUILD A UNIVERSE

NO MATTER HOW hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton. It is just way too small.

A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course an insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this i can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. So protons are exceedingly microscopic, to say the very least.

Now imagine if you can (and of course you can't) shrinking one of those protons down to a billionth of its normal size into a space so small that it would make a proton look enormous. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter. Excellent. You are ready to start a universe.

I'm assuming of course that you wish to build an inflationary universe. If you'd prefer instead to build a more old-fashioned, standard Big Bang universe, you'll need additional materials. In fact, you will need to gather up everything there is--every last mote and particle of matter between here and the edge of creation--and squeeze it into a spot so infinitesimally compact that it has no dimensions at all. It is known as a singularity.

In either case, get ready for a really big bang. Naturally, you will wish to retire to a safe place to observe the spectacle. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to retire to because outside the singularity there is no where. When the universe begins to expand, it won't be spreading out to fill a larger emptiness. The only space that exists is the space it creates as it goes.

It is natural but wrong to visualize the singularity as a kind of pregnant dot hanging in a dark, boundless void. But there is no space, no darkness. The singularity has no "around" around it. There is no space for it to occupy, no place for it to be. We can't even ask how long it has been there--whether it has just lately popped into being, like a good idea, or whether it has been there forever, quietly awaiting the right moment. Time doesn't exist. There is no past for it to emerge from.

And so, from nothing, our universe begins.

In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception. In the first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) is produced gravity and the other forces that govern physics. In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast. There is a lot of heat now, ten billion degrees of it, enough to begin the nuclear reactions that create the lighter elements--principally hydrogen and helium, with a dash (about one atom in a hundred million) of lithium. In three minutes, 98 percent of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.

When this moment happened is a matter of some debate. Cosmologists have long argued over whether the moment of creation was 10 billion years ago or twice that or something in between. The consensus seems to be heading for a figure of about 13.7 billion years, but these things are notoriously difficult to measure, as we shall see further on. All that can really be said is that at some indeterminate point in the very distant past, for reasons unknown, there came the moment known to science as t = 0. We were on our way.

There is of course a great deal we don't know, and much of what we think we know we haven't known, or thought we've known, for long. Even the notion of the Big Bang is quite a recent one. The idea had been kicking around since the 1920s, when Georges Lem tre, a Belgian priest-scholar, first tentatively proposed it, but it didn't really become an active notion in cosmology until the mid-1960s when two young radio astronomers made an extraordinary and inadvertent discovery.

Their names were Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. In 1965, they were trying to make use of a large communications antenna owned by Bell Laboratories at Holmdel, New Jersey, but they were troubled by a persistent background noise--a steady, steamy hiss that made any experimental work impossible. The noise was unrelenting and unfocused. It came from every point in the sky, day and night, through every season. For a year the young astronomers did everything they could think of to track down and eliminate the noise. They tested every electrical system. They rebuilt instruments, checked circuits, wiggled wires, dusted plugs. They climbed into the dish and placed duct tape over every seam and rivet. They climbed back into the dish with brooms and scrubbing brushes and carefully swept it clean of what they referred to in a later paper as "white dielectric material," or what is known more commonly as bird shit. Nothing they tried worked.

Unknown to them, just thirty miles away at Princeton University, a team of scientists led by Robert Dicke was working on how to find the very thing they were trying so diligently to get rid of. The Princeton researchers were pursuing an idea that had been suggested in the 1940s by the Russian-born astrophysicist George Gamow that if you looked deep enough into space you should find some cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang. Gamow calculated that by the time it crossed the vastness of the cosmos, the radiation would reach Earth in the form of microwaves. In a more recent paper he had even suggested an instrument that might do the job: the Bell antenna at Holmdel. Unfortunately, neither Penzias and Wilson, nor any of the Princeton team, had read Gamow's paper.

The noise that Penzias and Wilson were hearing was, of course, the noise that Gamow had postulated. They had found the edge of the universe, or at least the visible part of it, 90 billion trillion miles away. They were "seeing" the first photons--the most ancient light in the universe--though time and distance had converted them to microwaves, just as Gamow had predicted. In his book The Inflationary Universe, Alan Guth provides an analogy that helps to put this finding in perspective. If you think of peering into the depths of the universe as like looking down from the hundredth floor of the Empire State Building (with the hundredth floor representing now and street level representing the moment of the Big Bang), at the time of Wilson and Penzias's discovery the most distant galaxies anyone had ever detected were on about the sixtieth floor, and the most distant things--quasars--were on about the twentieth. Penzias and Wilson's finding pushed our acquaintance with the visible universe to within half an inch of the sidewalk.

Still unaware of what caused the noise, Wilson and Penzias phoned Dicke at Princeton and described their problem to him in the hope that he might suggest a solution. Dicke realized at once what the two young men had found. "Well, boys, we've just been scooped," he told his colleagues as he hung up the phone.

Soon afterward the Astrophysical Journal published two articles: one by Penzias and Wilson describing their experience with the hiss, the other by Dicke's team explaining its nature. Although Penzias and Wilson had not been looking for cosmic background radiation, didn't know what it was when they had found it, and hadn't described or interpreted its character in any paper, they received the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics. The Princeton researchers got only sympathy. According to Dennis Overbye in Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, neither Penzias nor Wilson altogether understood the significance of what they had found until they read about it in the New York Times.

Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.

Although everyone calls it the Big Bang, many books caution us not to think of it as an explosion in the conventional sense. It was, rather, a vast, sudden expansion on a whopping scale. So what caused it?

One notion is that perhaps the singularity was the relic of an earlier, collapsed universe--that we're just one of an eternal cycle of expanding and collapsing universes, like the bladder on an oxygen machine. Others attribute the Big Bang to what they call "a false vacuum" or "a scalar field" or "vacuum energy"--some quality or thing, at any rate, that introduced a measure of instability into the nothingness that was. It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can. It may be that our universe is merely part of many larger universes, some in different dimensions, and that Big Bangs are going on all the time all over the place. Or it may be that space and time had some other forms altogether before the Big Bang--forms too alien for us to imagine--and that the Big Bang represents some sort of transition phase, where the universe went from a form we can't understand to one we almost can. "These are very close to religious questions," Dr. Andrei Linde, a cosmologist at Stanford, told the New York Times in 2001.

The Big Bang theory isn't about the bang itself but about what happened after the bang. Not long after, mind you. By doing a lot of math and watching carefully what goes on in particle accelerators, scientists believe they can look back to 10-43 seconds after the moment of creation, when the universe was still so small that you would have needed a microscope to find it. We mustn't swoon over every extraordinary number that comes before us, but it is perhaps worth latching on to one from time to time just to be reminded of their ungraspable and amazing breadth. Thus 10-43 is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001, or one 10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second.

Most of what we know, or believe we know, about the early moments of the universe is thanks to an idea called inflation theory first propounded in 1979 by a junior particle physicist, then at Stanford, now at MIT, named Alan Guth. He was thirty-two years old and, by his own admission, had never done anything much before. He would probably never have had his great theory except that he happened to attend a lecture on the Big Bang given by none other than Robert Dicke. The lecture inspired Guth to take an interest in cosmology, and in particular in the birth of the universe.

The eventual result was the inflation theory, which holds that a fraction of a moment after the dawn of creation, the universe underwent a sudden dramatic expansion. It inflated--in effect ran away with itself, doubling in size every 10-34 seconds. The whole episode may have lasted no more than 10-30 seconds--that's one million million million million millionths of a second--but it changed the universe from something you could hold in your hand to something at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger. Inflation theory explains the ripples and eddies that make our universe possible. Without it, there would be no clumps of matter and thus no stars, just drifting gas and everlasting darkness.

According to Guth's theory, at one ten-millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, gravity emerged. After another ludicrously brief interval it was joined by electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces--the stuff of physics. These were joined an instant later by swarms of elementary particles--the stuff of stuff. From nothing at all, suddenly there were swarms of photons, protons, electrons, neutrons, and much else--between 1079 and 1089 of each, according to the standard Big Bang theory.

Such quantities are of course ungraspable. It is enough to know that in a single cracking instant we were endowed with a universe that was vast--at least a hundred billion light-years across, according to the theory, but possibly any size up to infinite--and perfectly arrayed for the creation of stars, galaxies, and other complex systems.

What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently--if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly--then there might never have been stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent, without precisely the right values to give it the right dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void.

This is one reason that some experts believe there may have been many other big bangs, perhaps trillions and trillions of them, spread through the mighty span of eternity, and that the reason we exist in this particular one is that this is one we could exist in. As Edward P. Tryon of Columbia University once put it: "In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time." To which adds Guth: "Although the creation of a universe might be very unlikely, Tryon emphasized that no one had counted the failed attempts."

Martin Rees, Britain's astronomer royal, believes that there are many universes, possibly an infinite number, each with different attributes, in different combinations, and that we simply live in one that combines things in the way that allows us to exist. He makes an analogy with a very large clothing store: "If there is a large stock of clothing, you're not surprised to find a suit that fits. If there are many universes, each governed by a differing set of numbers, there will be one where there is a particular set of numbers suitable to life. We are in that one."

Rees maintains that six numbers in particular govern our universe, and that if any of these values were changed even very slightly things could not be as they are. For example, for the universe to exist as it does requires that hydrogen be converted to helium in a precise but comparatively stately manner--specifically, in a way that converts seven one-thousandths of its mass to energy. Lower that value very slightly--from 0.007 percent to 0.006 percent, say--and no transformation could take place: the universe would consist of hydrogen and nothing else. Raise the value very slightly--to 0.008 percent--and bonding would be so wildly prolific that the hydrogen would long since have been exhausted. In either case, with the slightest tweaking of the numbers the universe as we know and need it would not be here.


From the Hardcover edition.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 2874 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 692 pages
  • Editeur : Transworld Digital; Édition : New Ed (23 janvier 2010)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0035OC7VI
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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  • Word Wise: Activé
  • Composition améliorée: Activé
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.3 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (22 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°2.551 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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8 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Not quite everything, but enough... 21 février 2006
Par FrKurt Messick TOP 1000 COMMENTATEURS
Format:Broché
I was first acquainted with Bill Bryson through his works on the English language and various travelogue types of books. In these books he proved to be an entertaining writer, witty and interesting, with just the right amount of I'm-not-taking-myself-too-seriously attitude to make for genuinely pleasurable reading. Other books of his, 'Notes from a Small Island' and 'The Mother Tongue', are ones I return to again and again. His latest book, one of the longer ones (I was surprised, as most Bryson books rarely exceed 300 pages, and this one weighs in well past 500), is one likely to join those ranks.
Of course, a history of everything, even a SHORT history of NEARLY everything, has got to be fairly long. Bryson begins, logically enough, at the beginning, or at least the beginning as best science can determine. Bryson weaves the story of science together with a gentle description of the science involved - he looks not only at the earliest constructs of the universe (such as the background radiation) but also at those who discover the constructs (such as Penzias and Wilson).
A great example of the way Bryson weaves the history of science into the description of science, in a sense showing the way the world changes as our perceptions of how it exists change, is his description of the formulation, rejection, and final acceptance of the Pangaea theory. He looks at figures such as Wegener (the German meteorologist - 'weatherman', as Bryson describes him) who pushed forward the theory in the face of daunting scientific rejection that the continents did indeed move, and that similarities in flora and fauna, as well as rock formations and other geological and geographical aspects, can be traced back to a unified continent.
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6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Surely entertaining, but very anglo-centric 5 décembre 2007
Par Arne123
Format:Broché
Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" takes you on an interesting walk through the history of science, offering a good mixture of facts and entertainment. Of course, the entertaining melody of this anecdote-rich book occasionally comes at the cost of a certain superficiality, but this should not be held against the author.
What is quite disappointing, however, is that this "Short History" is endlessly anglo-centric. British, U.S. American or Australian scientists are depicted in detail with all their eccentric and usually positive attitudes, while non-anglosaxons are all too often troublemakers or simply ... absent! It is quite astonishing to read a history of science with big shots such as Galilei, Kepler, Kopernikus or Pasteur hardly or not at all being mentioned. Thus, Billy-boy, I give you five stars for chutzpah and only four for this book.
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13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 La science - lisable et mignonne ! 7 novembre 2004
Par pragya108
Format:Broché
Il a une façon de raconter - Bill Bryson, et de tout expliquer -qui est très attachante. Beaucoup des infos très interessants sur nos origins et ceux de notre univers, le tout expliqué avec une language de tous les jours pour tout le monde.
Seule petite critique à faire... la suite de chapitres n'est toujours pas logique... mais vu l'ampleur de recherche et des faits cités et explicité... ce n'est pas bien grave!
A lire pour tous des curieux de la terre... un livre qui nous reponds à beaucoup de nos questions fondamentales, mais en même temps qui nous pousse à poser encore d'avantage.
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3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Caveat Lector! 8 mars 2014
Format:Broché
This is the worst kind of science writing imaginable. Most of it is not even wrong, just junk. If you scan the book, you will learn who slept around with whom (Marie Curie), who was a good high-school athlete (Hubble), who was really weird (Newton and a lot of others) and that Zürich is the capital of Switzerland. However, if you want to understand why Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Avery, Crick and so many others changed the way we understand the world, look elsewhere. You will enjoy the book if you like being talked down to by a scientific illiterate, if you enjoy trivia, if you think an electron is a musical instrument and if you are ready to believe, I quote, that the Michelson-Morley experiment was based on the fact that the earth spends six months moving away from the sun and six months moving back toward the sun. As I said, not even wrong...
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7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 instructif et divertissant 15 novembre 2005
Par Un client
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Bravo pour ce livre qui réussit à expliquer - avec un sens d'humour - et une curiosité manifeste , tout ce que nous avons appris a l'école et à la fac pour la chimie, la physique !
Tout est bien expliqué et accessible : Bill Bryson a réussi de faire vivre une matière poussièreuse, et les Faraday, Newton , Einstein sont expliqués non pas comme des curiosités historiques mais des hommes vivant dans leur époque.
Passionnant ! un cadeau idéal pour tout amoureux de la bonne lecture et veut raffraichir ses connaissances scientifiques.
Un excellent travail de vulgarisation !
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 ESSENTIEL 27 mars 2011
Format:Broché
Ce bouquin devrait être obligatoire dans les lycées et collèges et présent dans tous les foyers... Très sérieusement documenté et s'appuyant sur une bibliographie on ne peut plus rigoureuse, Bill Bryson développe ses talents de vulgarisateur hors pair et nous fait profiter de son humour dévastateur pour nous aider à remettre en cause nos propres à priori sur le monde qui nous entoure.
Plus q'une histoire des idées ayant abouti à notre perception la plus avancée du cosmos et de la naissance des formes de vie, il s'agit véritablement d'une introduction à une épistémologie réjouissante quant au futur développement du savoir humain. La lecture en "V.O." permet en prime de savourer pleinement la délectation de l'auteur (non scientifique) lors de sa découverte des idées et conflits ayant émaillée le surgissement des théories les plus contemporaines en matière de cosmologie, physique fondamentale, biologie, paléontologie, théories de l'évolution etc...
La traduction française (excellente) n'atteint que partiellement cette restitution.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Intéressant et humoristique
Contenu intéressant et instructif le tout délivré avec humour.
Very interesting contents and full of fresh goog humour. Lire la suite
Publié il y a 23 jours par Pascal
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Pour les passionné de sciences
Pour tout ceux qui aiment la sciences, qui s'intéressent un peu à tout et qui veulent lire en anglais. Lire la suite
Publié il y a 1 mois par Lucie Langouët
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent bouquin
Très bien documenté, anecdotes humoristiques à foison, une mine de renseignements inédits et surprenants. Lire la suite
Publié il y a 7 mois par Thomasset Michel
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Not for me
Thought it was a short history of everything like... things, objects, which could have been fun...
Too boringly scientific for me, I'm afraid !
Publié il y a 7 mois par Amazon Customer
5.0 étoiles sur 5 very good book
This book was an enligthment to me. The book illustrates that life is extremely complex and that what we now is just the beginning of what can be known out there.
Publié il y a 10 mois par Geoffroy
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Another good book
A Short History of Nearly Everything is an enlightening, educational, entertaining, and easy to read book for readers who have a natural curiosity about life. Lire la suite
Publié le 27 janvier 2014 par John T C
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Mauvais choix
J'ai tout simplement fait un mauvais choix, je cherchais un livre pour passer le temps lors de mes trajets quotidiens et celui-ci et bien trop compliqué pour ce moment de... Lire la suite
Publié le 14 novembre 2013 par Stephen
5.0 étoiles sur 5 filling in the gaps
We all have gaps in our grasp of the history of the World, Science, Nature, the Universe and wotnot. Lire la suite
Publié le 2 octobre 2013 par Mme Dorothee King
4.0 étoiles sur 5 un must have
Bill Bryson a ce talent peu commun de rendre simples et passionnantes des choses compliquées et hermétiques. Lire la suite
Publié le 23 septembre 2013 par clab
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Très intéressant
Une histoire de la science contemporaine (et un peu moins contemporaine) brillamment racontée. Lire la suite
Publié le 28 février 2013 par Gilles Ducharme
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