“A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson is the kind of book everyone who is even remotely interested in science, or even slightly intrigued by it, should read.
Like most of us, he was also intrigued as a kid by the claims of scientists and was curious to know how they could have figured out all these things. Unlike most of us however, he did not let this curiosity die out and eventually set out to discover for himself how scientists could determine so many interesting things about the world around us. He shows us how scientists are just like normal people and how science is also affected by ego, political machinations, greed and other vices that are a part of human nature. He also shows us how so many of the discoveries are credited to the wrong person for one reason or the other and how even now our textbooks merrily perpetuate such errors. Above all else, he manages to put the fun back into science. The book is backed by a lot of research and meetings in person with some of the scientists. There are many notes backing every chapter at the end of the book and an extensive bibliography of books and papers to refer to should you get curious about something in the book and want to know more about it.
The book seems to devote an unusual amount of space to geology and palaeontology. I found some of the transitions between chapters a bit weird. Even with almost 700 pages, I feel a lot of things have been left out, though that is probably just greed on my part. The ancient Greek, Chinese and Indian scientists barely get a mention for some reason. All that aside, this is a great book that I would heartily recommend. I am grateful to Bill Bryson who has put in the immense effort that is required to put together a book like this and who has presented all the material in such a manner that is accessible to everyone.