Picks and Pans Review: The Browser's Book of Beginnings

updated 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Charles Panati

This imaginative reference book is subtitled Origins of Everything Under, and Including, the Sun. We are told that Earth's sun began 4.6 billion years ago when "one ball of gases, mainly hydrogen and helium, contracted to form a new, medium-sized star." The Chinese were the first to brew liquor (in 800 B.C.). Newspapers (handwritten and posted in public) began in Rome in 59 B.C.; the first was called Acta Diurna (Daily Events). The first bridge was laid across the Euphrates River in 700 B.C. at Babylon. The typewriter was invented in the U.S. by a man named Christopher Latham Sholes in 1867; the electric typewriter came along in 1920. Did James Naismith invent basketball at the Springfield, Mass. YMCA school in 1891, or was it first played in Mexico as a 16th-century Aztec game? Aspirin was discovered in 1893 in Germany. The first English novel was Samuel Richardson's Pamela in 1740, but the first book, or bound text, was produced in Egypt in 2800 B.C. This volume offers hundreds of nicely written paragraphs about the origin of everything from the abacus (6th century B.C., China) to the YWCA (London, 1855). The author has written six other books, including The Silent Intruder: Surviving the Radiation Age. (Houghton Mifflin, $17.95)

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