To try to condense everything about planet earth is an ambitious job, but Bill Bryson has done exactly that in his book A Short History of Nearly Everything. It is a racy book about the planet we live in, written in typical Bryson style of wit and unbelievable but true anecdotes.
Bryson peppers the book with interesting trivia about scientists - Issac Newton believed as much in alchemy as in gravitation; Lord Cavendish had practically discovered Ohm's law, Dalton's law of practical pressures, Charles law of gases and a few more, but kept his notes hidden so that these were known only a century after his death; Charles Darwin's book on horticulture sold more than his Origin of Species and he did not coin the phrase 'Survival of the fittest'; Einstein wrote a foreword to a book that was against the tectonic plate theory. With these interesting notes, Bryson takes you through the formation of the universe, rise of life and where we are headed. It is a racy read, and was better than any Dan Brown thriller, atleast for me.
Wherever there is a mention of earthquake or volcanic explosions, invariable Indonesia creeps into picture. Indonesia has really been a tinder box of the world, as the recent Tsunami shows.
Two points made in the book were startling to me. Atoms are indestructible and after a person dies, the atoms in him disperse and form some other life. As Bryson drily notes may be you are made of part Shakespear and part Gengiz Khan. So, extrapolating a little, may be the rebirth theories propounded in Hinduism is true. Another is the fact that half the DNA in your body is junk (not as in junk food), without any purpose. So there is a theory stating that may be human beings are nothing but carriers of DNA. Sex may be the motivation that DNA provides humans to multiply itself. Scary thought that is.
The book covers a lot of ground and covers at least briefly, every major theory propounded about the planet. I have been re reading parts of it, it is truly a rough guide to science as the burb claims.
This book is the best book I read in 2004. Highly recommended.