Quick-take: The people making the science.
I should read titles better. I originally thought I was getting a science book, but this turned out to be a history book. It covers the history behind certain science breakthroughs. The tricky part is giving us enough information about the particular breakthrough so we understand its significance.
I found this book had a decent balance. Far too often history is told in terms of politicians, monarchs, and wars. Not as much attention is given to scientists running experiments and pouring over facts and figures into the late hours. The book argues the actual scientific effort can be just as interesting, and it does make a good attempt at it.
One minor complaint: The book is pushing 20 years old and is showing its age. Main example: It talked about how Pluto became a planet. However, it failed to mention that the designation was revoked in 2006, a few years after this book was published. It talked about important scientific efforts, such as the human genome project, but it fails to mention that it was completed in 2003.
The book could really use a 20th anniversary update. However, despite that, there are plenty of fundamentals that are very relevant. The book covers the cosmos, calculating the size of the Earth, Newtonian physics, progress in medicine, and the origins and evolution of humans. All fascinating. The book ends on a complete downer though: Extinction of species.
Probably the most poignant piece to me was how doomed we all are. At any given moment, an asteroid, a super volcano, or simply an oversized flare from the sun, could very easily wipe us out, and there is nothing we can do about it. Also, if you inspect the history of the earth through geology, one may find that it has happened before. The relative extended calm we currently enjoy is actually an abnormal phase.
Score: 5/5. This was a very interesting survey of the science landscape.