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)
"At Home" is more informative than fun, but not at all in a bad way. It is at times a bit contrived, more like a loosely-held collection of dispatches about this and that - but it is never less than entertaining. I ran to it, drove to it, walked to it and it never failed to keep me tuned in. Five out of five, for sure.
Bryson's wry wit (and soft, deadpan delivery) make a for a great listen. Fascinating information culled from the most mundane topics.
Professional librarian type, amateur historian.
I rated it 5 stars because it is one of those books that I want to listen to again and also share with friends. Bryson's style seems to meander around time and the house but it's funny enough to forgive. Not belly laugh funny, more mild chuckle funny. I listened to this with my husband on our way back from our honeymoon, as history buffs we found it entertaining.
If you're a trivia fan, you'll love this. Not as much fun as his other books (lacks the humor of "A Walk in the Woods"), but full of great factoids. He wanders a bit and gets off track a lot, but always manages to tie it back together again. Sometimes a bit dry though.
I have long been a fan of Bryson's writing, so my problem isn't so much with his material as it is with his narration. I know that he grew up in Iowa but lived abroad for many years, so maybe that explains the somewhat odd accent he has, as well as the British pronunciations of certain words. But what really frustrated me was his inability to pronounce "ing" at the end of a word--burning became "burneen," building became "buildeen," etc. I didn't dislike the book--and I certainly won't give up on Bryson as a writer because he can be delightful--but I wish that I'd read this one in its print version because Bryson's narration really started to grate on me.
If you are looking for the combination of somber considration, excellent autobiographical story telling, and hilarious hijinks that you found in "A Walk in the Woods" and "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," look elsewhere. If you love to learn about the origins of everyday objects and processes, and you prefer to do it with a tongue-in-cheek guide, this is the book for you.
I should also note that this unabridged production is read by the author. Considering he has opted to read abridged versions of his longer books in the past, he (or one of the people he pays to think about such things) must have realized folks like me love his voice, his distinctive "anglo-Iowan twang," and the perfect timing and inflection he brings to his readings. I wouldn't have bought the audio book if it were read by anyone else.
I don't believe that this is Mr. Bryson's best work, but that doesn't mean it isn't better than any other book of the type I've ever read. I will be listening to it again.
I listen to books while I do the repetitive part of my job and while I do yard work. I can't use audiobooks that require strict attention.
The research was sloppy.
There are 2 places in this book where he states, "No one knows what this is" and "No one knows how this was done. But those statements aren't true. My mother told me the answer to one and I already knew the answer to the other. (The third shaker in a cruet set is for sugar and Victorian women wore drawers that no closing seam; they didn't have to "drop trou" in order to attend to necessary business. That's why the can-can was so outrageous. Not because of showing petticoats.}
Granted, in the beginning of the book Bryson states that he intended to write it in his slippers without leaving home. There appears to be no doubt that is what he did. But, a little internet searching should have answered those questions for him without a great deal of effort.
Having read a few other Bill Bryson books, I was expecting a bit more entertainment than this book provided. Bryson and his family live in a rectory in England that was built in the mid-1800s. In the book he uses the rooms of rectory as jumping off points to discuss the history of personal family dwellings to some extent, but winds up on long, often rambling histories of Victorian England for the most part. For example the nursery leads to a discussion of child rearing in general and how Victorians treated their children in particular. The bathroom eventually lead to discussion of cholera epidemics. The kitchen somehow leads to locust plagues which struck midwestern USA in the 1870s. Much of the book is interesting, but it sometimes gets a bit too loose for my taste. Add to that the fact that the book is read by Bill Bryson, who isn't all that exciting as a reader, and the book comes up as just average in my opinion.
I don't think so
The book was specific to England.
I was intrigued with the premise of the book but was disappointed with the result. While reading I was often reminded of the way drunk old men tell stories. I think a more suitable title would have been (A RANDOM AND RAMBLING HISTORY OF ENGLAND)
The author did a decent job of holding my interest with the content of the book. Be aware that the book is basically a collection of trivia, related (sometimes tenuously) to various rooms in the home. So if you like historical trivia you'll probably like this. For content, I would have probably gone to 4 stars but the author's narration didn't work that well for me. He read a little bit fast at times and does not always enunciate very clearly, so I suspect some people might have to rewind this one a lot. Also, his accent and voice are of the sort people are apt to either love or hate. So listen to the preview first.
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