by Bill Bryson
Until my teenage years, I was pretty sure I would grow up to be a scientist. I pictured myself with the beard, the lab coat, the telescope. What could be more exciting than making discoveries about the way the world works? Then I met Mr. Lane, my High School biology teacher, and he impressed upon me that science was mainly about memorization of the periodic table. My youthful fascination with science—the unfathomable depths of space, the terror of dinosaurs, the miracle of evolution—soon faded, becoming more of an armchair interest. Bryson's book is like a shock to the system, jumpstarting my old sense of scientific curiosity. In fewer than 500 pages, Bryson sweeps through the entire history of science, touching down wherever there's a good story to be told. You not only learn, for example, exactly what Isaac Newton contributed to science, but also what a world-class weirdo he was. Science is crawling with strange characters, career-destroying (and sometimes fatal) feuds, happy accidents (and awful ones), and competing ideas on almost every subject. Mr. Lane, wherever you are, maybe you need this book even more than I did.