I just finished a fantastic book by Bill Bryson that was written a couple of years ago. (What can I say, I am a little behind on my reading list.)
In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson takes on the enormous task of explaining the entire universe and our attempts at understanding it in an entertaining and easily accessible manner. Remarkably he succeeds.
This book is fascinating and hysterical at the same time. Bryson uses nickel and dime words to explain complex scientific observations and theories. He touches on a vast range of scientific topics from the beginning of the universe, to biology, geography, and black holes.
Some of the most engrossing and comical aspects of the book are descriptions of the scientists and their centuries long quest to uncover the mysteries of nature. The drama, eccentricities, stolen ideas, and feuds are simply unbelievable.
It struck me while reading this how little we really know and how recently we uncovered what we do know. The book was written in 2004 and already some of the items discussed have been turned on their heads.
The scope of this book is too broad to get terribly deep or completely accurate about any one topic, but that is not why one reads this book. This book is a written by a layman for laymen and it is a great place to get an extraordinarily entertaining overview of nearly everything.