AShort History ofNearly Everything

Copyright 2003 by Bill BrysonAll rights reserved under Internationaland Pan-American Copyright Conventions.Published in the United States of America byandom House Large Print in association withBroadway Books, New York and simultaneouslyin Canada by Random House ofCanada Limited, Toronto.Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.The Library of Congress has established aCataloging-in-Publication record for this title.0-375-43200-0

ACKNOWLEDGMENTSAs I sit here, in early 2003, I have before me several pages of manuscript bearing majesticallyencouraging and tactful notes from Ian Tattersal of the American Museum of Natural Historypointing out, inter alia, that Perigueux is not a wineproducing region, that it is inventive but atouch unorthodox of me to italicize taxonomic divisions above the level of genus and species,that I have persistently misspelled Olorgesaille, a place that I recently visited, and so on insimilar vein through two chapters of text covering his area of expertise, early humans.Goodness knows how many other inky embarrassments may lurk in these pages yet, but itis thanks to Dr. Tattersall and all of those whom I am about to mention that there aren't manyhundreds more. I cannot begin to thank adequately those who helped me in the preparation ofthis book. I am especially indebted to the following, who were uniformly generous and kindlyand showed the most heroic reserves of patience in answering one simple, endlessly repeatedquestion: "I'm sorry, but can you explain that again?"In the United States: Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in NewYork; John Thorstensen, Mary K. Hudson, and David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College inHanover, New Hampshire; Dr. William Abdu and Dr. Bryan Marsh of Dartmouth-HitchcockMedical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire; Ray Anderson and Brian Witzke of the IowaDepartment of Natural Resources, Iowa city; Mike Voorhies of the University of Nebraskaand Ashfall Fossil Beds State Park near Orchard, Nebraska; Chuck Offenburger of BuenaVista University, Storm Lake, Iowa; Ken Rancourt, director of research, Mount WashingtonObservatory, Gorham, New Hampshire; Paul Doss, geologist of Yellowstone National Park,and his wife, Heidi, also of the National Park; Frank Asara of the University of California atBerkeley; Oliver Payne and Lynn Addison of the National Geographic Society; James O.Farlow, IndianaPurdue University; Roger L. Larson, professor of marine geophysics,University of Rhode Island; Jeff Guinn of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper; Jerry Kasten of Dallas, Texas; and the staff of the Iowa Historical Society in DesMoines.In England: David Caplin of Imperial College, London; Richard Fortey, Les Ellis, and KathyWay of the Natural History Museum; Martin Raff of University College, London; RosalindHarding of the Institute of Biological Anthropology in Oxford; Dr. Laurence Smaje, formerlyof the Wellcome Institute; and Keith Blackmore of The Times.In Australia: the Reverend Robert Evans of Hazelbrook, New South Wales; Alan Thorneand Victoria Bennett of the Australian National University in Canberra; Louise Burke andJohn Hawley of Canberra; Anne Milne of the Sydney Morning Herald; Ian Nowak, formerlyof the Geological Society of Western Australia; Thomas H. Rich of Museum Victoria; TimFlannery, director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide; and the very helpful staff ofthe State Library of New South Wales in Sydney.And elsewhere: Sue Superville, information center manager at the Museum of New Zealandin Wellington, and Dr. Emma Mbua, Dr. Koen Maes, and Jillani Ngalla of the Kenya NationalMuseum in Nairobi.I am also deeply and variously indebted to Patrick Janson-Smith, Gerald Howard, MarianneVelmans, Alison Tulett, Larry Finlay, Steve Rubin, Jed Mattes, Carol Heaton, Charles Elliott,

David Bryson, Felicity Bryson, Dan McLean, Nick Southern, Patrick Gallagher, LarryAshmead, and the staff of the peerless and ever-cheery Howe Library in Hanover, NewHampshire.Above all, and as always, my profoundest thanks to my dear wife, Cynthia.

CONTENTSACKNOWLEDGMENTSINTRODUCTIONPART I123LOST IN THE COSMOSHow to Build a UniverseWelcome to the Solar SystemThe Reverend Evans's UniversePART II4567THE SIZE OF THE EARTHThe Measure of ThingsThe Stone-BreakersScience Red in Tooth and ClawElemental MattersPART III89101112ANEW AGE DAWNSEinstein's UniverseThe Mighty AtomGetting the Lead OutMuster Mark's QuarksThe Earth MovesPART IV131415DANGEROUS PLANETBang!The Fire BelowDangerous BeautyPART V1617181920212223242526LIFE ITSELFLonely PlanetInto the TroposphereThe Bounding MainThe Rise of LifeSmall WorldLife Goes OnGood-bye to All ThatThe Richness of BeingCellsDarwin's Singular NotionThe Stuff of Life

PART VITHE ROAD TO US27Ice Time28The Mysterious Biped29The Restless Ape30Good-byeNOTESBIBLIOGRAPHYINDEX

The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethethat he was thinking of keeping a diary: "I don't intend to publish. Iam merely going to record the facts for the information of God.""Don't you think God knows the facts?" Bethe asked."Yes," said Szilard."He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts."-Hans Christian von Baeyer,Taming the Atom

INTRODUCTIONWelcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn'teasy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemblein an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement sospecialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. Forthe next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all thebillions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience thesupremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience atthe atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don't actually care about youindeed, don't even know that you are there. They don't even know that they are there. They aremindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. (It is a slightly arresting notionthat if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce amound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once beenyou.) Yet somehow for the period of your existence they will answer to a single overarchingimpulse: to keep you you.The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting-fleeting indeed.Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modestmilestone flashes past, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atomswill shut you down, silently disassemble, and go off to be other things. And that's it for you.Still, you may rejoice that it happens at all. Generally speaking in the universe it doesn't, sofar as we can tell. This is decidedly odd because the atoms that so liberally and congeniallyflock together to form living things on Earth are exactly the same atoms that decline to do itelsewhere. Whatever else it may be, at the level of chemistry life is curiously mundane:carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, a little calcium, a dash of sulfur, a light dusting ofother very ordinary elements-nothing you wouldn't find in any ordinary drugstore-and that'sall you need. The only thing special about the atoms that make you is that they make you.That is of course the miracle of life.Whether or not atoms make life in other corners of the universe, they make plenty else;indeed, they make everything else. Without them there would be no water or air or rocks, nostars and planets, no distant gassy clouds or swirling nebulae or any of the other things thatmake the universe so usefully material. Atoms are so numerous and necessary that we easilyoverlook that they needn't actually exist at all. There is no law that requires the universe to fillitself with small particles of matter or to produce light and gravity and the other physicalproperties on which our existence hinges. There needn't actually be a universe at all. For thelongest time there wasn't. There were no atoms and no universe for them to float about in.There was nothing-nothing at all anywhere.So thank goodness for atoms. But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble insuch a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the twentyfirst century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of anextraordinary string of biological good fortune. Survival on Earth is a surprisingly trickybusiness. Of the billions and billions of species of living thing that have existed since thedawn of time, most-99.99 percent-are no longer around. Life on Earth, you see, is not only

brief but dismayingly tenuous. It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from aplanet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.The average species on Earth lasts for only about four million years, so if you wish to bearound for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must beprepared to change everything about yourself-shape, size, color, species affiliation,everything-and to do so repeatedly. That's much easier said than done, because the process ofchange is random. To get from "protoplasmal primordial atomic globule" (as the Gilbert andSullivan song put it) to sentient upright modern human has required you to mutate new traitsover and over in a precisely timely manner for an exceedingly long while. So at variousperiods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grownfins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek,been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse,and a million things more. The tiniest deviation from any of these evolutionary shifts, and youmight now be licking algae from cave walls or lolling walrus-like on some stony shore ordisgorging air through a blowhole in the top of your head before diving sixty feet for amouthful of delicious sandworms.Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favoredevolutionary line, but you have also been extremely-make that miraculously-fortunate in yourpersonal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than theEarth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has beenattractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fateand circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors wassquashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwisedeflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the rightpartner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditarycombinations that could result-eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly-in you.This is a book about how it happened-in particular how we went from there being nothing atall to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and alsosome of what happened in between and since. That's a great deal to cover, of course, which iswhy the book is called A Short History of Nearly Everything, even though it isn't really. Itcouldn't be. But with luck by the time we finish it will feel as if it is.My own starting point, for what it's worth, was an illustrated science book that I had as aclassroom text when I was in fourth or fifth grade. The book was a standard-issue 1950sschoolbookbattered, unloved, grimly hefty-but near the front it had an illustration that justcaptivated me: a cutaway diagram showing the Earth's interior as it would look if you cut intothe planet with a large knife and carefully withdrew a wedge representing about a quarter ofits bulk.It's hard to believe that there was ever a time when I had not seen such an illustrationbefore, but evidently I had not for I clearly remember being transfixed. I suspect, in honesty,my initial interest was based on a private image of streams of unsuspecting eastboundmotorists in the American plains states plunging over the edge of a sudden 4,000-mile-highcliff running between Central America and the North Pole, but gradually my attention did turnin a more scholarly manner to the scientific import of the drawing and the realization that theEarth consisted of discrete layers, ending in the center with a glowing sphere of iron andnickel, which was as hot as the surface of the Sun, according to the caption, and I rememberthinking with real wonder: "How do they know that?"I didn't doubt the correctness of the information for an instant-I still tend to trust thepronouncements of scientists in the way I trust those of surgeons, plumbers, and otherpossessors of arcane and privileged information-but I couldn't for the life of me conceive how

any human mind could work out what spaces thousands of miles below us, that no eye hadever seen and no X ray could penetrate, could look like and be made of. To me that was just amiracle. That has been my position with science ever since.Excited, I took the book home that night and opened it before dinner-an action that I expectprompted my mother to feel my forehead and ask if I was all right-and, starting with the firstpage, I read.And here's the thing. It wasn't exciting at all. It wasn't actually altogether comprehensible.Above all, it didn't answer any of the questions that the illustration stirred up in a normalinquiring mind: How did we end up with a Sun in the middle of our planet? And if it isburning away down t

8 Einstein's Universe 9 The Mighty Atom 10 Getting the Lead Out 11 Muster Mark's Quarks 12 The Earth Moves PART IV DANGEROUS PLANET 13 Bang! 14 The Fire Below 15 Dangerous Beauty PART V LIFE ITSELF 16 Lonely Planet 17 Into the Troposphere 18 The Bounding Main 19 The Rise of Life 20 Small World 21 Life Goes On 22 Good-bye to All That 23 The Richness of Being 24 Cells 25 Darwin's