• At Home: A Short History of Private Life

  • By: Bill Bryson
  • Narrated by: Bill Bryson
  • Length: 16 hrs and 32 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (489 ratings)

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At Home: A Short History of Private Life

By: Bill Bryson
Narrated by: Bill Bryson
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Publisher's Summary

Here is Bill Bryson’s entertaining and illuminating book about the history of the way we live - complete, unabridged and read by the author.

Bill Bryson was struck one day by the thought that we devote more time to studying the battles and wars of history than to considering what history really consists of: centuries of people quietly going about their daily business. This inspired him to start a journey around his own house, an old rectory in Norfolk, considering how the ordinary things in life came to be. Along the way, he researched the history of anything and everything, from architecture to electricity, from food preservation to epidemics, from the spice trade to the Eiffel Tower, from crinolines to toilets. And he discovered that there is a huge amount of history, interest and excitement - and even a little danger - lurking in the corners of every home.

Where A Short History of Nearly Everything was a sweeping panorama of the world, the universe and everything, At Home peers at private life through a microscope. Bryson applies the same irrepressible curiosity, irresistible wit, stylish prose, and masterful storytelling that made A Short History of Nearly Everything one of the most lauded books of the last decade.

©2010 Bill Bryson (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about At Home: A Short History of Private Life

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New Speaker Needed acquire within!

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Bill Bryson is a terrific writer I have everything he has written to-date, however please use a professional reader on future books. Your voice is far too soft lacking in any emotional impact.

What could Bill Bryson have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Find a professional reader!

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Bill Bryson?

William Roberts was great narrating The History of Nearly Everything. Grover Gardner is another name that comes to mind.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?

No. The subject matter is too vast and spasmodic.

Any additional comments?

Keep the books coming Bill.

3 people found this helpful

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  • lo
  • 07-31-18

Interesting content but poor narration

I found the book's subject matter fascinating. However the experience was marred by the narration, which was less than ideal. Bill's enunciation was unclear and muffled, words are slurred, I had difficulty focusing and following along to his voice. It was also rather monotonous. This books needs a different reader.

2 people found this helpful

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Best use of a credit

I've listened to "a short history of nearly everything" before and I enjoyed "at home" just as much. It's great for listening to in short bursts as each chapter doesn't rely on the previous one, but is explained in such a way that listening for a longer period isn't overwhelming. I can see myself listening to this again as there is no way I will be able to remember all of it after one reading and I think it would be just as enjoyable a second time around. Bill Bryson is a fantastic reader, really drawing you into his superb writing. I couldn't recommend this more.

2 people found this helpful

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right up my alley

The trivial nature of this book wad right up my alley. If you like finding out about both the history of words and also where everyday objects came from this is the book for you. I am an unabashed Bryson fan, and he has used one of the techniques which makes him such a good travel writer (weaving 'trivial', but fascinating facts throughout a story) to create this book - it is really good.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Too bad Bill

I just love Bill Bryson's books, but not when he reads them himself. His reading-voice distracts my attention from the content. In this book, the multitude of s-sounds, vocal abbreviations and vocal slurs(that leaving you wondering what he just said) are so annoying, that's it's quite a challenge to keep listening to him read the book. Maybe it would be better if he read in his natural American dialect - more like how he reads "A walk in the woods".

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Informative

At Home is informative and educational in quirky sort of way, but doesn't deliver on the humour evident in some of Bryson's other works. Well researched, this book explodes the myths of the refined and gentile times of old. Bryson does a good job of narrating the book, although at times seemed lacking in expression, making the narration a little dull. If you've got a desire to learn all sorts of factiods of life in centuries gone by, then you'll probably enjoy At Home.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

At Home

A witty, wonderfully excursive wander around the home. Bryson has uncovered so many enthralling stories and apparently endless pieces of fascinating trivia that this audio book is positively addictive!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Beyond bricks and mortar

Hearing Bill read his book is briefly pure pleasure. He threads patterns, beads and narratives in telling story upon story, ancient and modern. How grateful I am to live now, and not then.The only thing I missed was being able to underline and note some of the aspects of private life.

1 person found this helpful

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A surprisingly deep dive into history from a parsonage

Bill Bryson’s ability to connect seemingly disparate topics via the simple device of a floor plan is a delight.

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hours of captivation for the curios mind

Mr Bryson will take you on a mind's journey through time and across the planet as he opens your eyes to the curious history behind not only the things in your home (and, indeed, the home itself), but the world supporting those innovations as they occurred. A brilliant listen, and practically compulsory if you've read or listened to his not-so-brief, but equally entertaining history of nearly everything else.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Stewart Webb
  • 06-06-10

More Fact Pact Bryson

I am a lifelong fan of Bill Bryson. His travel books are legendary. However since he has ceased travelling he now writes books such as this and many previously, basically packed with interesting facts and historical anecdotes.

He uses his house here to take us on a journey to each room, then onward to tell us for instance the story of archaeology or the life of the inventor Alexander Graham Bell or the origin of underwear.. see what I mean random, but it has to be said mostly fun.

My only two gripes (and why I did not give it 5 stars) are firstly it is read by the author. He is not a bad reader, but at times tends to drone, I do wish authors would leave reading there books to the people trained to do so. Many of his older books were read by Kerry Shale, and very good they are to.

Secondly he does have a tendency to repeat some items from his earlier books, not sure if this intentional or not, but it is a bit annoying, if like me, you have read all his output.

If this is your first foray into Bryson, I should start with an earlier book, but that is not to say this is a bad book by ant means, but he has done much better.

98 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-30-10

An absolute thrill...

I must also disagree with the first review. I found the harsh tones of Mr Shale reading '...Nearly Everything' quite annoying and the production meant I was forced to have the volume up louder than I would usually.

Not so with the lovely lilt of Bill Bryson. He bestows such facinating insight into the outwardly mundane subject matter of this book with wit and gentle enthusiasm and it is very difficult to 'put down'.

Highly recommended. If you are reading this, you must be thinking of getting it. My advice? You'll love it.

27 people found this helpful

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  • Mark H
  • 12-30-13

Quirky and Entertaining snipets of British History

I enjoy most of Bill Bryson's books and this is one of his best. Bryson is an American anglophile who has managed to distil an archetypal British perspective of life into his prose, whilst retaining an outsiders joy in discovering the stories behind many aspects of Britain (that most British simply take for granted). His eloquent, sometimes quaint, use of understated yet colourful language is a delight. In this book, he uses the various rooms of his old house as a device to follow historic threads that interest him. Often, he unearths the antecedents of common terms, or items, or features of the landscape or architecture and sets them into their original context, which is something that anyone could do; but where Bryson excels is in giving his own commentary about why they are so interesting to him. He has a gift of making things interesting and in this case it generally reflects very well on Britain and its history. If you want to hear a miscellany of entertainingly recounted snippets of British history told with subjective verve from someone who loves Britain then buy this book.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-23-10

A fascinating journey

Bill Bryson is a great writer and this is a spell-binding book, but I must agree with Stewart that this would have been very much easier on the ear if read by a professional. Mr Bryson's reading is hurried and his diction nasal and it would have put me off completely if the content hadn't been so wonderful. I kept thinking 'if only Stephen Fry were reading this'. On balance, though, the depth of research and Bryson's wit and compassion compensate.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Denise
  • 11-05-10

Excellent

A history book with a difference. A truly enthralling read, taking you on a trip through the history of 'home' plus a whole lot more thrown in for good measure. Loved it and would of happily read another 10 chapters. Brilliant Bryson as always.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Caro
  • 06-21-10

So enjoyable!

I'm only part-way through listening, but I'm absolutely hooked. I must disagree with a previous reviewer in that I find Bryson's narration much better than the reader of A Short History of Nearly Everything; I love his reading here. Like that book though, this will be one I anticipate returning to re-listen to several times. Wonderful!

13 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • John
  • 06-22-11

Sorry Bill - you're just not a narrator

BRYSON: So I want to do a follow up called "A short history of some other stuff too" - a potted history about lots of other odds and ends I find interesting.
PUBLISHER: No, no, no. You can't do that - you need a new title and a new theme.
BRYSON: Oh.
PUBLISHER: Here's a whacky idea. But it might just work. Call it "At home" and base each chapter on a room of your home and then just talk about whatever you like.
BRYSON: Really? And not have anything to do with the room I'm talking about?
PUBLISHER: Well there will be a few easy ones at the start, like the kitchen and the bedroom. You have enough material for those to make them very topical. But then you could start getting more and more tenous in other chapters, no one will notice.
BRYSON: ummm
PUBLISHER: Yeah it'd be hilarious - do a whole chapter called The Study - but instead talk about mice and rats, and don't even mention the study. By the end you can talk about whatever you want. The Attic can be about Darwin, you like Darwin don't you?
BRYSON: Erm - yeah
PUBLISHER: So what are you waiting for? Off you go.

So some chapters are specifically related to the room at hand, others amusingly bear not the most tenuous link. Not that that takes anything away from the content. It's a good book It's not quite the fantastic read that "A short history of nearly everything" is, but it's in the same vein.

In fact despise lots of amusing historical stories, and word origins, and top notch trivia, I didn't enjoy this book half as much as some of his others, and hardly laughed at all. Unusual for reading Bryson.

Pretty sure I can put it all down to buying the audiobook even though I knew better after having major doubts while listening to a sample. Someone told me I'd get used to it. He was wrong. Bryson just doesn't have the delivery to read an audiobook and amazingly makes his own words sound far less interesting by merely reading them out loud. So I imagine it's a much better book on paper.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Lindsay Kay Caddy
  • 06-06-11

Good but not the best Bryson book

I enjoyed this book, although it isn't the best he's written. Its factual, well referenced and interesting. Its also value for money/credit as it is a decent length. I found the narrator a bit annoying and after huffing and puffing about it for a bit I checked who narrated it only to find out it was Bill Bryson himself! Although I normally love it when the author narrates their own book, in this case I have heard his books read better. He does tend to slur his words, get a bit tongue tied in parts and doesn't speak as energetically as I'd hoped for. William Roberts who narrated a Short History of Nearly Everything (another Bryson book) would have been an improvement. Definately worth getting if you're a Bryson fan.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • William
  • 08-26-10

Interesting Book

This book is an interesting look at our houses and how the things inside it came to be. It may not be everyone's taste but I enjoyed it. If you have a curious mind about history this book is for you.

10 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Mr. R. P. Andrews
  • 03-25-17

A long bombardment of incoherent trivia. Why?

If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

There are an incredible amount of positive reviews for this but it really did go completely over my head, so much so that I had to return it. It seems that many diehard Bryson fans have loved it but it definitely wasn't for me.

What will your next listen be?

Made in America by Bill Bryson!

How could the performance have been better?

The material to work with comes over as a long, long list of quiz book answers so I guess the performance couldn't have been any better due to the drivel that had to be read out.

What character would you cut from At Home: A Short History of Private Life?

Any, none?

Any additional comments?

Trivial fact follows interminable trivial fact. What was the point of this?

9 people found this helpful

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  • Rachel
  • 07-29-15

Best use of a credit

I've listened to "a short history of nearly everything" before and I enjoyed "at home" just as much. It's great for listening to in short bursts as each chapter doesn't rely on the previous one, but is explained in such a way that listening for a longer period isn't overwhelming. I can see myself listening to this again as there is no way I will be able to remember all of it after one reading and I think it would be just as enjoyable a second time around. Bill Bryson is a fantastic reader, really drawing you into his superb writing. I couldn't recommend this more.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Claire Wallace
  • 06-19-18

Great interesting book

I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in ages! It’s packed full of really interesting info and the story is told with much humour. I learned a lot which was great. Highly recommended. The narrator was good too.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Roderic
  • 12-11-15

Excellent! Informative, entertaining & passionate

Another excellent work by Bryson, made better by the fact that he narrates it himself. My appreciation is weighed equally between the humour, which never fails to entertain me, and the fascinating and well-researched explication of history.

3 people found this helpful

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  • NickCrawley
  • 03-16-15

interesting read.

Slow to start but overall a good read. learnt lots reading this. other BB are worth reading first.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Diana
  • 10-07-14

Fascinating and detailed.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely. Bill Bryson's enthusiasm for the details and human stories behind each invention / building / etc. is obvious and makes everything so much more interesting.

What was one of the most memorable moments of At Home: A Short History of Private Life?

Mice, rats and vermin are discussed in one section of the book. I retained very clear images of a pyramid of rats eating meat off a ceiling hook, and a description of a plague in Victoria, Australia in the early 1900s where rats covered every flat surface. Horrifying and fascinating.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Sy
  • 10-08-19

Brilliant as usual

There's something great when the author reads his own work. Wonderful and informative work as is usual for Bryson.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-17-19

interesting, well researched and amusing as always

always enjoy books by this author, full of interesting facts , crafted into an interesting narrative, with amusing irony

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kathryn Townley
  • 02-23-19

Interesting and amusing read

Insightful historical look at the home with interesting digressions and Bryson's charming and amusing anecdotes

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Toni
  • 09-08-14

Almost interesting

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

I found very little content about how the ideas and practices of our private lives developed and more about 18th century architecture then I would have liked.

What about Bill Bryson’s performance did you like?

It was well done but lacked crispness of sound

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Not really

Any additional comments?

Thoroughly researched but not all that interesting especially when compared to A short history of nearly everything, which I enjoyed more.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-12-22

Ramble

Excellent random ramble. More "A Short History of Everything" than his book of that name.

1 person found this helpful