It is often said that there is no pursuit more noble than that of imparting knowledge to others. If this is so, Bill Bryson should certainly be in line for a peerage of some sort, principally for his sterling work in producing A Short History of Nearly Everything. This august tome, which earned Bryson the 2005 Descartes Prize for science communication, covers paleontology, particle physics, astronomy and… well, just about anything, really. As Bryson states in the introduction, this is a book about “how it happened” – ‘it’ being almost all of the events from the birth of the universe to the first of earth’s civilisations. But the true intention of the book is to communicate concepts more often considered the territory of intellectuals in a manner which is not only highly readable, but also, in many places, comedic.

Bryson manages to turn what could have been the longest cross-subject textbook ever into a sparkling, witty, enjoyable read at precisely the required level of complexity.