The incomparable Bill Bryson travels through time and space to show us the world, the universe and everything.
Bill Bryson describes himself as a reluctant traveller: but even when he stays safely in his own study at home he can't contain his curiosity about the world around him. This book is his quest to understand everything that has happened from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization.
This is how he describes it:
"This is a book about how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and some of what happened since.
How did we end up with a sun in the middle of our planet and how do they know how hot it is? And if it is there burning away, why isn't the ground under our feet hot. Why isn't the rest of the interior melting, or is it?
How do they know what goes on inside an atom. And how, come to that - or perhaps above all - can scientists so often seem to know nearly everything but then still can't predict an earthquake or even tell us whether we should take an umbrella with us to the races next Wednesday?"
Bill started out with little more in the way of base knowledge than the average dad and, as he says, much of the work depended on his finding saintly experts to answer these and other, as he puts it, outstandingly dumb questions to see if it isn't possible to understand - or even marvel - at the wonders of science.
Professor Robert Winston, Chair of the 2004 General Prize judging panel: "This ambitious book will communicate science to the widest possible audience in an intelligent and highly accessible way."