From one of the most beloved authors of our time—more than six million copies of his books have been sold in this country alone - a fascinating excursion into the history behind the place we call home.
“Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”
Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a history of the world without leaving home.”
The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has figured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.
Bill Bryson has one of the liveliest, most inquisitive minds on the planet, and he is a master at turning the seemingly isolated or mundane fact into an occasion for the most diverting exposition imaginable. His wit and sheer prose fluency make At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.
©2010 Bill Bryson (P)2010 Random House Audio
"There are many guilty pleasures, from Bryson's droll prose - "What really turned the Victorians to bathing, however, was the realization that it could be gloriously punishing" - to the many tantalizing glimpses behind closed doors at aristocratic English country houses. In demonstrating how everything we take for granted, from comfortable furniture to smoke-free air, went from unimaginable luxury to humdrum routine, Bryson shows us how odd and improbable our own lives really are." (Publishers Weekly)
Another entertaining look at life and history from one of my favorite writers. Walking through the English parsonage he calls home, Bryson explores the history and uses of homes themselves, and many of the minutiae in them.
While parts of the bathroom and bedroom had a strong "ick" factor, his explorations of the 19th and early 20th century --explorers, inventors, thinkers, the Industrial Revolution --was fabulous, and invites the reader to read further about people or inventions of particular interest, with excellent bibliographic references.
Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction addict.
I am a big fan of Bill Bryson. His writing has caused me to laugh out loud in inappropriate situations time and time again. All his travel books are absolutely amazing and I recommend them to anyone. I also liked his short history of nearly everything, which provides an enjoyable introduction to science history, albeit not as funny as his travel books.
At Home sounded like it would be a book both funny and educational at the same time. In addition I feel that there is a bias in my historical knowledge towards war and despair and I hoped that this book might remedy that.
So maybe my disappointment with this book, in part, stems from my high expectations. While I did indeed learn quite a lot about things that you don't get from traditional history books, the book seemed rather disorganized, which was frustrating. In addition only rarely did Bryon flex his fantastic humor. Why Bill? It is like having Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio in a movie wearing Burkas...
Right at the start of the book Bill rightly points out that history generally ignores all the things we do most of the time such as eating, sleeping, socializing, having sex, etc. With this introduction, Bill goes on to tell the story of the Paxton's Crystal Palace and the great exhibition for which it was built. The great exhibition is a good starting point because so many new inventions, which changed our lives but rarely makes it to the history books, were shown there for the first time.
Bryson then takes us on a 700 page tour of a house, with each room leading to different histories. For instance, you will hear about the construction of the Eifel tower, a completely useless construction, which still was deemed a better project than another proposition - a 70m high guillotine. We learn about Magellan's voyage across the pacific where his crew (those few that survived) ate rat droppings and sawdust. We learn that burial grounds were lacking and that corpses were more or less piled on top of each other. The place where the national gallery stands, 70.000 bodies are estimated to have been buried.
Yet another fascinating story is the one about lighting and how people used to walk streets in complete darkness which was convenient for criminals but not for ordinary persons. Then came the time of the oil lamps which caused innumerable fires as well as wide spread whale deaths. At last electricity was discovered and the light bulb was invented, with one light bulb providing lighting equivalent to numerous candles. What fantastic progress! I think it is difficult to imagine what life must have been like before. Of course there were the all to common anti-progress people who said that electricity was dangerous and would spell our surmise, when Edison assistant accidentally electrocuted himself they became even surer of them selves. One does not have to look far to find comparative situations today.
Bryson will provide the reader with many more snippets of interesting information, which may come in handy at the next cocktail party, here are a few of my favorites…
• In the past chairs were always placed up against the wall (to avoid tripping over them in the dark) and therefore chair manufacturer did not paint the back of chairs.
• Peppercorn is actually a dried wine, which used to be an immensely valuable commodity.
• Mice can squeeze through 10mm cracks and are everywhere humans are
• Rats do enter houses via the toilet
• Before the invention of synthetic fertilizer, bird droppings were the favored product, and Peru’s export largely consisted of bird sh*t.
• George Washington determined the location of Washington DC – near his plantation
• Approximately 300.000 people in the UK are seriously injured from falling in the stairs each year.
• Selling corpses to anatomists used to be a lucrative business
• Smallpox used to kill 400.000 individuals each year before a vaccine was made
• Queen Anne was so fat she had to be lifted out of Windsor castle using a crane
This list could of course be much longer, and if you decide to read the book you will get a lot of this. However, as already hinted at I think that the book lack a structure or a thread which is easily followed. The connection between the room that a chapter is focused on and what Bill writes about is sometimes… elusive
One of the things I found a bit disappointing was that the book is very centered on the UK and US, which I suppose I should have expected, but I really would like to know more about the everyday life of people in different cultures.
All in all, while this book may be a hit for some people it is not one that I would recommend to my friend. Rather go for one of Bill Bryson’s other books, which are frequently unforgettable.
Really think Bill Bryson should have been a teacher. The kids would have absorbed everything because of the way he tells stories around history. Getting to know the inventors and the innovations by story telling helps remember them and keeps your interest. I love everything Bill writes. He is my number one author.
So now I know where "Barking Mad" comes from and why we "sleep tight". Mr. Bryson yet again digs deep and blends history, science, philosophy and psychology into this wonderful entertaining book on how we got to the point today on how we live. I am so glad that Bill reads how own book. His tone and articlulation provides the proper sense of irony when needed.
Although some parts did make me squeamish (19th century surgery), I think it provides an excellent view of where our roots of “Home” comes from.
Thanks for the research, and the story. My only regret is that I’ve finished it (and all his books) and will have to wait another few years for his next book.
Bill Bryson is as engaging as ever with clever observations, amusing anecdotes and a wry take on historical events. His discussion of the history of the home veers off into many paths, all of which are enlightening. I found myself being educated and entertained at the same time.
I am the stone that the builder refused
This book was exceptional overall. I never gave much thought on why some things in our homes are they way they are. A few chapters had a little too much background on architects but overall a very enjoyable listen.
I'm trying to wean myself and learn to function without earbuds for more than ten minutes at a time. It hasn't been easy. I lose balance...
Fantastic. Trivia with character and a good gob of anglophilia. I loved it. I just listened to two more of his books in a row. A good, informative time was had by all!
Another gem, written and narrated by this incredible entertainer. At Home is clearly an excuse for Bryson to share the most interesting and totally meaningless information with the listener. He does it in such an entertaining way, that I'll probably listen to the book a second time.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
Bryson uses his own family's Victorian parsonage to map out the history (mainly focused on the 18th - 20th Century) of the private life. His discussion of specific rooms ends up allowing Bryson to tangent off onto related topics as wide and varied as sex, family, sh!t, medicine, architecture, makeup, rope-making, etc.
This book is a movement through a house that allows Bryson to riff on people and ideas that are funny, iconic, and always peculiar. Bryson is amazing at flipping over a stone and telling three different stories about the stone, the flip, and the bugs hiding underneath the stone. He will also examine the shoe that flipped the stone and occasionally inserts his own experience with stones and shoes. This book follows his the model of his other expansive history: A Short History of Nearly Everything.
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