A warm, interesting, and occasionally misguided general science book that I wish had been published 15 years later. The topics vary widely; the author basically went to 200 scientists and asked each of them to talk about the most interesting facts and historical anecdotes in their field. It works well. You learn about Hubble's track and field dominance, about a savant who could look at 1000-star fields and instantly spot the new star created by a super nova, and about a conniving and villainous 18th century dissectionist who started a nice museum in his retirement. There was some new scientific information in here for me too. I didn't realize how completely enclosed the earth was during its greatest ice ages (very, even oceans completely frozen over), and I hadn't followed the theories on why the Cambrian Explosion happened (probably wasn't an actual explosion, probably a result that creatures need to be a certain size to be fossilized, and creatures started reaching that size. So not necessarily more varied creatures, rather just larger creatures that would actually show up in the fossil record), and how the various pre-humans spread out of Africa (not so much in eliminationist waves, more likely from inter-breeding and inter-region breeding). The general guiding theme of the chapters is to cover all the bits of info and history and chance needed for humans to occur on earth, from the astronomical, to the atomical, to the geological, to the biological, climatological, etical, etical.
There are some minor annoyances with the book, e.g. he will write things like a million million million rather than E18. Also he starts the book off with the view of "how neatly the pothole fits us, the puddle!", rather than "the puddle fits the pothole, because the pothole created the puddle". That quibble made me a bit slow to get into the book, but he drops it after the introductory chapters. And then one final issue/ask was that I wish the book was more recent, so that I could be positive I was not making a fool of myself when I mention his info at cocktail parties. Overall this is a very readable general science book with a nice theme and easily digestible, ~30 page chapters.
Ok, and a few more bits:
Horses nearly went extinct! We came that close to never having ponies.
It's mildly surprising how many scientists only changed their minds by dying.
It took a really, really long time for bacteria to oxygenate the atmosphere. And now you're wasting it. :P :D