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  • A Short History of Nearly Everything

  • By: Bill Bryson
  • Narrated by: William Roberts
  • Length: 18 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, World
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (10,959 ratings)

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Editor reviews

In his latest release, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson compounds the story of human existence, or rather what is known of it so far, into one incredible audiobook expertly narrated by American voice performer William Roberts. Be entertained by even the most complex of discoveries, all broken down in a way that makes them understandable and enlightening. Covering innumerable topics of human achievements, you will be tremendously inspired by the significance these discoveries have had on life as we know it today. Available now from Audible.


Featuring a special introduction written for the audiobook edition and read by the author

A Radio 4 Book Club Selection.

A Short History of Nearly Everything is Bill Bryson's fascinating and humorous quest to understand everything that has happened from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. He takes subjects that normally bore the pants off most of us, like geology, chemistry, and particle physics, and aims to render them comprehensible to people who have never thought they could be interested in science. In the company of some extraordinary scientists, Bill Bryson reveals the world in a way most of us have never seen it before.

Click here to see all the titles in our Bill Bryson collection.

Click here to see all the titles in our Radio & TV Book Clubs collection.

©2003 Bill Bryson (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

Critic reviews

"To read Bryson is to travel with a memoirist gifted with wry observation and keen insight that shed new light on things we mistake for commonplace. To accompany the author as he travels with the likes of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton is a trip worth taking." ( Publishers Weekly)
"Stylish [and] stunningly accurate prose....Brims with strange and amazing facts...destined to become a modern classic of science writing." ( The New York Times)

What listeners say about A Short History of Nearly Everything

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Long listen, needs concentration!

I decided to give this a go on audiobook, as the length of the actual book put me off. I'm glad I did. If you are expecting 'History' in the traditional sense here, be warned - Bryson's book covers 'History' in terms of the creation of the world, the universe and everything, and is in fact far more concerned with physics and chemistry.

Very interesting in parts, although I have to be honest and say big chunks went over my head - it's the sort of listen that you can tune in and out of as you wish. Be warned though - it's very very very long, so you will need determination to get through it all.

84 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A short Review of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson is best known for writing fun travelogues of his journeys around the world and, here, he turns the same sense of humour and writing style to this brief walk through the history of science.

Split in fairly broad swathes by subject, he addresses what we know, what we suspect and what we thought we knew but now figure we got wrong. This is interspaced with tales of the people behind the discoveries (many oddballs and eccentrics).

This is by no means complete, but there is a surprisingly large amount covered including cosmology, geology, biology and lots of other things you hated at school because they weren't presented this clearly or interestingly.

The only downside to the audiobook comes when discussing some numbers where the sheer immensity gets lost a bit without seeing it written down but it's the most minor of quibbles for a truly special text introducing reasonable intelligent science to the reasonably intelligent person.

202 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

This book has made me a nerd...

I am someone who listens to Lee Child's and pretended to be Jack Reacher when my family wasn't watching. I really don't know why I chose to download it, science ain't my thing! Or should I say wasn't, my friends think I've gone mad. Conversations are now punctuated by "did you know..." Or "I've just discovered...."

What's happened to me? The simple pleasures of Jack Reacher bashing up baddies just isn't enough any more. So be warned this book is a virus that will grip you, cause you to delay reaching your destination, and probably make you want to befriend bacteria. Don't get me started on how far things are and how small we must be....

Health warning: the genius and wonderful engaging pace of this book will leave you wanting more even after the hours and hours it leaves you hiding in a quiet spot gripped by its wonder. Use wisely and with caution.

76 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Knowledge enough to blow your mind

You certainly gets your monies worth with this book, as you'll need to listen to it over and over to get to grips with all the information contained. Having said that, it's easy listening and the narrator is easy on your ears.

58 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

An outstanding read

This book is a genuine tour de force which I have listened to now many times, and will listen to again, and again.

39 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars


I was gripped by this from beginning to end. Bryson provides an overview of modern science, tracing the story of various disciplines. What stands out is the way that he makes each narrative strand fascinating in its own right, while weaving them into a bigger picture. I loved the way that he provides a historical perspective on scientific endeavour. He's really good at explaining where various ideas came from and why they seemed radical in their day. I'm sure that if you're a serious scientist then Bryson is just glossing the surface. But as an interested non-scientist I found that this explained and illuminated a lot of ideas I had previously found vague and confusing. Fascinating.

47 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

a fascinating journey through science

Bryson delivers a truly mesmerising account of scientific exploration and the people behind it in this fantastic work. All of the areas one would expect are covered, with cosomology, astronomy, geography, geology, and biology all given comprehensive cover.

That Bryson is not a scientist undoubtedly helps him cover such a wide range. His tone is that of man on a voyage of discovery himself (as he surely was) and not as an academic in an ivory tower. This abstraction allows for touches of Bryson's humour to shine through when similar texts from within science would perhaps be a little dry.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of 'A Short History' is the attention given to the human stories behind the great discoveries discussed; we are given insights into the minds of Darwin, Newton, Lyle and countless others that fascinate, inform, and leave you grasping for the nearest pen as you feel the need to track down that certain biography or key text. This move lightens the factual density nicely and allows us to see another aspect of science. This imposing, faceless entity that is 'Science' is not the clean, crisp discipline its practitioners would wish, but a place filled with all the deceit and vengeful intent of your average episode of Eastenders.

For my money, Bryson spends a little too long discussing the catastrophic (although this is probably reflected in science itself) without putting his facts it into context, and this is perhaps the books greatest flaw. Still, 'A Short History' is peerless and certainly warrants your attention. I would also implore you to listen to this unabridged version. While the abridged version is read by Bryson which is an appeal, the narrator here is fantastic and certainly does the book justice. The chapters last around 40 minutes meaning that while the sum total is large, each segment can be easily digested. If you do choose the unabridged version; you are in for a 20 hour treat that won't easily be forgotten.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A great contribution

I listened to it in the car twice, my sons read it. I bought four copies of the book to give away to friends. ALL found it incredibly insightful and well written. So informative about important scientific developments. The author reads it perfectly. Very nice to listen to.

77 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A history of why the world is like it is

This is a book with an astonishingly wide scope which it covers admirably. Never during its 19 hours was I bored and it remains accessible throughout. It's packed full of things you never even knew that you didn't know!

The fact that it's described as a history may suggest that it's all about things that happened in the past and indeed much of the book does cover events from Big Bang through to recent history. But in covering such history it also explains much about how the world is today.

This is a fascinating book that will interest a wide range of people. You don't need to be an expert historian or scientist to understand and enjoy this book. I'd definitely highly recommend it.

A word about the narration also - I've listened to a number of Bill Bryson books narrated by William Roberts and he is always an excellent narrator. The way he narrates the book just adds to what is already an excellent book and ensures that one's interest is not lost for a second.

21 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant book

This is probably my favourite non-fiction title I have listened to so far. It pretty well delivers on it's titles promise, in that it covers so many subjects, from the origins of the Universe through to recent man's history. There are so many entertaining anecdotes and interesting facts, coming in such high concentration that as soon as it finished, I listened to the whole thing again so I could retain some more of them to amaze other people with!

If schools could capture just a fraction of the interest that this book creates in their classes, rather than rolling out tedious dates and formulas, then I am sure they would find grades would go up. History, Science, Geography, Biology, Astrophysics are but a few of the subjects that are brought to life with real facts delivered in a humourous and informative manner. Excellently narrated and highly recommended.

25 people found this helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Marius
  • 30-08-05

Superbly whimsical

A superbly whimsical miscellany of knowledge. The narrator matches the style of Bill Bryson impeccably. The range of subjects covered is wide, and the treatment of each is first class. If every child starting high school listened to this before choosing subjects, there would be a far greater enrolment in the sciences. Whether you're a kid of 9 or 90, you will find this fascinating. I cannot resist a minor quibble - the wealth of Johannesburg was not based on diamonds, but gold. The South African city founded on diamonds is Kimberly, whence the term Kimberlite, the volcanic rock that frequently yields diamonds. That aside, what a great book.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • P Shveid
  • 17-02-09

Long and Fun.

If youre interested in science in general this is a great book.
The price for over 15 hrs is a great buy.
Imposible to listen in one sesion.
Buy it, dont be chicken.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Steve
  • 14-03-05


This is indeed one of the best books I have had the good fortune to read and also one of the best narrations from all of my Audible purchases.

All Audible customers should consider purchasing this book, whether or not you are history fans. The book is captivating, once you start listening you will not be able to stop -

be prepared to have your life disrupted!!!

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tushan
  • 30-09-08

A short history of nearly everything

Very interestingly written and captures / sustains your attention much of the time. On occasion the digrassions can be a little distracting but, these are rare occurances. It provides historical context to the development of the subject matter and is very enlightening on the many personalities whose individual efforts contributed to the whole.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Stewert
  • 04-04-06


Every human being should listen to this book. Not only will it make you appreciate just how far we have come as a species, and how lucky we are to be here (so many other species failed to survive). It will also make you realise that there is so far we have yet to go and just how wrong we can be, and occasionally, right.

An amazing insight into "the only planet you will ever know".

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Z
  • 10-08-05

My favourite audio book so far

This is my favourite audio book from audible so far. At first the narrator was slightly irritating, he sounds like the kind of "crazy professor" types they get to host pop science shows for kids, but after a while he grew on me, and in the end I think it was very well narrated.

The actual content is far too wide ranging to cover specifically in a short review. But it follows a coherent path about all those little tidbits of the history of our planet, our species and our universe, that everyone should know, but most of us never bothered to investigate.

Even though this is probably one of the longest audio books on this site, you'll still be wanting more when it's over. If you're interested in the general topics I mentioned, and just want a nice, "for the average person with an interest in science" presentation of this material, you'll thoroughly enjoy this audio book.

It rarely strays into the extremely technical or detailed, but still conveys the main thrust of the ideas. I highly rate this book, the writing is good, and there were times I laughed out loud, at the authors humour which kind of sneaks up on you.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • dj
  • 08-02-05

Torn on this one...

I will first admit that I really like Bill Bryson and own all of his books - even "Palace Under the Alps". With that in mind, it won't be a surpise when I tell you "A Short History" is something pretty magical - it's helped to open my eyes to much in the world around me.

So why am I torn? Normally I detest Abridged books - I like books I can get deeply involved in and enjoy over a period of time. However, as with his other books, Bryson himself reads only the Abridged version of "A Short History" - and if you haven't heard him read his own material - well you really should. His droll, dry wit is best delivered by his own tounge.

So, my solution was to acquire both versions of "A Short History" and I've enjoyed both - but I leave the Bryson read Abridged version in my car and listen to it from time to time - I don't see myself doing the same with the Unabridged version.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Jackie
  • 10-01-13

Bill Bryson as always is excellent

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Although I enjoyed the book, I'm not sure that I got the unabridged version. It was supposed to be 19 hours and I only got 6 hours. What did I miss?

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Philip
  • 12-08-05

Good Read

What a great introduction to science. Bryson's great skill is to make a complicated subject enjoyable and easy to understand. Some of the most memorable moments in the book come from the stories of the various scientests detailed. A great read (listen!)

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Simon
  • 14-06-05

A fascinating insight into (almost) everything...

A great listen and read well by William Roberts. Every chapter was packed full of amazing facts that made me just want to listen on. There were very few dull moments and the highlights more than easily out-weighed these. So much of the book has interested me and made me want to learn more on the many subjects covered in the book. You don't necessarily need any prior knowledge on the subjects and is spoken on a intermidiate level. The unabridged version is great, only I wish it went on for longer! I am anticipating another listen later this year - it's that good.

1 person found this helpful