Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Short History of Nearly Everything

I’ve started reading Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything. I got to thinking about what Bill Bryson’s brief could have been for this book. Most probably it was (surprise surprise) “Write a short history of nearly everything”. However, I wanted to consider an alternative way of stating a brief for the book: how I could re-represent the brief in a single succinct way that would both summarise the purpose of the book and form a simple kernel that would suggest further areas to be researched and discussed (in a kind of snowballing effect).

I considered that one possible re-representation of the brief would lead to the consideration that the book, essentially, is about the multiple beginnings and endings of a person. The assumption I would’ve made is that there is one beginning for a person and one end (birth and death). Considering the multiple beginnings and endings of a person seems to work:


The first beginning for the person is birth. Before that is conception. Then we have the birth of all his ancestors. We have the formation of his home – planet earth. The formation of the elements. The formation of the compounds. The formation of the solar system. The first beginning is the big bang (although that is obviously open to some debate).


The first ending is death. We have the decay of the body and body parts. The breakdown of the body parts into constituent parts – DNA, cells, etc. The breakdown of those parts into molecules. The dissipation of the molecules and atoms. The eventual destruction of the molecules. The ultimate ending is the end of the world and later the universe.

The key point is that each of these focuses above can lead to the generation of more focuses for consideration and discussion. The writer could take any one of these subjects and apply the multiple beginnings and endings approach once again. From a simple brief – the multiple beginnings and endings of a person - the writer could experience an explosion of possibilities.

I will consider how the multiple beginnings and endings approach can be used to re-represent other challenges.

Any thoughts?

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