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BOOK REVIEW FROM THE EDGE OF THE PLANET: ‎Bill Bryson's A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY ‎EVERYTHING ‎

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One of the great things about staying on a small island separated from the mainland for over a week (as I was on the Gilis of Northwest Lombok in the Indonesian archipelago this past month) is that one has time to admire God's creation at a slow place. Remember no motorized vehicles were allowed on Gili Meno and its neighboring isles! I was able to to enjoy nature like never before while working my brain muscles, too, reading through Bill Bryson's A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING (Black Swain Books, 2003).

Long prior to reading through the 600 pages of this "rough guide to science" (as John Waller of The Guardian calls the book), I had taken an advanced physics class with Karl Helrich at my first alma mater, Bethel College in Kansas. Bill Bryson does a tremendous job of rehashing the material covered in that course focusing on the history of physics from Newton to the present day. As I read through Bryson's book with little difficulty, I came to feel prouder of the fact that I had studied at a liberal arts school where one is required to know a little bit about most of the humanities and sciences.

In short because of my background in history and science, I enjoyed a lot of my time on Gili Meno Island sitting by the sea and reading cover-to-cover this non-fiction work of Brysons. I was told by someone who has left the book by Bryson on their book shelf untouched for years that I may be one of the few people on the planet who has actually read from cover-to-cover Bryson's narration of the physics of our solar system and molecules--as well as his geological, anthropological, natural & narrative history of our planet. I doubt that. Bryson's book is a good read and to the curious: enlightening and refreshing in its narration of science.


AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD: GILI MENO

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I got up one morning on Gili Meno and went scuba diving with large loggerhead sea turtles that weighed twice as much as I do. Later the same day, I was able to visit the hatchery for those tiny baby rascal turtles who would grow to such mammoth proportions, i.e. larger than me, in about a decade. Next, I would go to my regular beachside café under palm fronds and look out towards the neighboring islands beyond the harbor on Gili Meno isle.

All and all, I was very proud of the people Of how the natives of Meno Gili Island were taking such care to protect hundreds of baby turtles. Other inhabitants also were working to both protect and raise new coral through a nurturing process using frames and electricity just east of the harbor under sea. While snorkeling or diving, one could easily encounter the progress of these endeavors to raise coral just off the coast.

Naturally, also, while diving near the Gili Wall on the west side of the isle, one could see literally millions of fish. There were fish with vertical stripes. There were fish with horizontal stripes. There were large fish, small fish, blue fish, red fish, silver fish, green fish, turquoise fish, metallic-colored fish, long nose darters, etc.

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In other words, swarming around the Gili islands were hundreds of different schools of fish and animal-plant life. As in any functioning eco-system, these life forms were living off and on one another. While I was praising the Lord for the blessing of seeing his creations, my guide captured and killed an octopus to take back and feed to the baby turtles back on the mainland. In short, life and death are connected quite obviously in the seas-where most people get their protein and other substance in that part of Indonesia. (I particularly liked the taste of both the white and red snappers in garlic sauce.)

Back on the mainland, I could walk around the island in about 2 hours or across it in about 25 to 35 minutes. On the way, I could see a small salt lake where large birds enjoyed living. There in the water are even a handful of Gili Meno Komodo dragons-a variety of this species found nowhere else on the planet.


MAN &TAKING CARE OF THE PLANET

In the final chapter of his book, Bill Bryson talks about man and his role in being at the top of the food chain and life-cycle, i.e. as caretaker of Planet Earth. Bryson states that placing man in charge of all the creatures on earth has not always appeared to be a very good or logical idea. Basically, similar to those type of people who are blind supporters of the NRA in America, a lot of man's efforts in the history living species on planet earth have involved killing off of other species. This has gone on in the name of progress or in the name of man's prerogative for many millennia.

Bryson starts off that final chapter by talking about the killing off of the dodo, "the famously flightless bird whose dim but trusting nature and lack of leggy zip made it a rather irresistible target for bored tars on shore leave." [p. 563] The last bird was killed about the time that Newton wrote his PRINCIPIA in the 1680s and transformed man's understanding of the universe. In making this connection of extinguishing life and creating a better view of our planet, Bryson is pointing out that man is like a star that can shine or that can be star that is burns out and leaves a solar system in the dark.

As an example of outright neglect and ill-thinking, Bryson notes that the "indignities to the poor dodo" didn't end in the 1680s. "In 1755, some seventy years after the last dodo's death, the director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford decided that the institution's stuffed dodo was becoming unpleasantly musty and ordered it be tossed into a bonfire." [p. 564] This was the last specimen left in existence. Luckily, some worker at the same institution observed the folly and managed to save some parts of the skeleton and the head of the creature. In short, lack of common sense has been a problem with man since the beginning of the ages.

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According ot Bryson, it is hard to state exactly how many man-related extinctions have occurred over the millennia. Estimates run from one every four years to 120,000 times that. On the one hand, a lot of extinction have not been as cruel as with the dodo-which was apparently killed for fun by sailors off Madagascar. Most extinctions are just accidents carried out with the help of man as when a lighthouse was built on Stephens Island off New Zealand about 100 years ago. The cats, brought to the island to chase vermin, killed off the dozens of the only-known flightless wren still in existence.

On the other hand, there was tremendous amounts of intentional killing-of f of species caused by collectors and other hunters from Europe and the Americas in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These maniacal collectors included Lionel Walter Rothschild-the second Baron Rothschild-who lived between 1868 and 1937. Rothschild was especially fond Hawaiian species-of which 8800 unique species had existed originally in the Hawaiian archipelago at the end of the 19th century. Rothschild's ace collector, a man named Harry Palmer, shot or took the last of several of these species. Bryson writes that many men showed enjoyment at being the last one to have killed off a particular species and took it home for stuffing as a memento of the moment.

Even governments got involved in such killing off of whole species. Right up till their extinction in the early 20th century, New York, West Virginia and other eastern states paid substantial sums for the killing of mountain lions and other creatures known as pests.

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)
 

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