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Publisher's Summary

Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century, 1951, in the middle of the United States, Des Moines, Iowa, in the middle of the largest generation in American history, the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, his is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood in an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons) in his head as "The Thunderbolt Kid".

Using this persona as a springboard, Bryson recreates the life of his family and his native city in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality, at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, and full of his inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is as wondrous an audiobook as Bill Bryson has ever recorded. It will enchant anyone who has ever been young.

©2006 Bill Bryson (P)2006 Random House, inc. Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This affectionate portrait wistfully recalls the bygone days of Burns and Allen and downtown department stores, but with a good-natured elbow poke to the ribs." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Marci
  • portland, OR, United States
  • 05-21-13

Can't speak highly enough of this book

I've listened to this book now four times and I'll listen to it again. It is by far my most highly recommended book. AND, it's even better in audio then it is reading it because Bryson is the narrator. It is heartwarming and funny and real and perfect. There is not high enough praise for this book.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fun, but not for squeamish

Off and on while listening to "The Thunderbolt Kid" you realize that no one's memory of childhood could be that good, and that Bryson has invented and embroidered throughout. But it doesn't matter: his Midwest 1950s is recreated in such careful detail that you're more reliving his story than listening to it. This is somewhat less than wonderful when he is describing with gusto, about once every five minutes, various encounters with boogers, dog poo, partially masticated food, and--but you get the idea. (On the other hand, if you're a conoisseur of the gross you'll be delighted.)

Bryson has a huge audience and most of his readers are not Americans of his generation, so he's justified in his historical excursions into the sociology and highly problematic American political culture of the 1950s. His boyhood in Des Moines was lived in a sort of happy bubble, something he's acutely aware of as an adult.

His reading doesn't have the range or verve of some professional readers, but it's clear and careful and has a quiet intimacy that grew on me as the reading went on.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Queenoid
  • Greenwood Village, CO USA
  • 11-08-06

Another winner

I have enjoyed every Bill Bryson book I have read, and I have read nearly all of them. This is no exception. Engaging, interesting, with laugh-out-loud moments. Plus, it was interesting to hear his voice after all these years.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ted
  • Mystic, CT
  • 11-24-06

Funny -- with a couple points

I like the variety of Bryson's work and his sense of humor shines in this visit to childhood in the 1950s. Much easier listening than his previous "The History of Nearly Everything". I still have "A Walk in the Woods" at the top of my list. I did like that he pointed out a few nasty things that occurred in the 50s -- to keep us from getting too nostalgic for the good old days. Bryson's views on chain stores and chain restaurants are interesting, he really dislikes that they make everywhere the same. I enjoyed hearing him read his own work.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mark
  • leverett, MA, USA
  • 10-27-06


whether you grew up then , or just want a taste of a special time in America ,this book ,read to perfection by the author , will give you a snapshot of this country when everything was possible and we were all innocent childeren

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Adan
  • Fullerton, CA, United States
  • 11-29-07

A Travel Writer at Core

Bill Bryson is at his core a travel writer. From his family treks to the downtown of his childhood, and visits to his relatives in other Iowa towns, to his standing at the gates of Disneyland for the first time - it's his story in motion. What makes the Thunderbolt Kid so pleasant to listen to is that one is reminded of the sense of wonder we experience when we see new things growing up and the mischief we may have been tempted to with new freedoms. It's just like traveling when we grow up. Many of Bryson's recollections are funny as in his other works. I chuckled plenty while listening.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Well balanced, hilarious, thought provoking

I love Bill Bryson. He does a wonderful job narrating his own memoir, which is about growing up in a small city in America in the fifties. Although he uses his own experiences, his book will resonate with everyone's memories of childhood. He has admirable recall of those details that remind us of our own. At times the material is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and at others, when he speaks seriously about civil rights and nuclear armament, his observations are stunning. We were happy, he says, when our needs were few and we knew what was really important, when towns were different from all other towns, when progress was not our most important product.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

They were the best of times

Bryson touched a place in both my heart and my soul by allowing me to re-live a most wonderful time in my life. The 50's and 60's were certainly the best of times. If you are now reaching your "golden years," this book will help you live again in both the author's memories and your own. A must read in these turbulent times.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruth
  • Smyrna, GA, United States
  • 06-23-09

Bryson at his best

The only thing better than reading Bill Bryson is listening to Bill Bryson read. His blend of Midwestern and English accent is soothing on the ears and his humor is irreverent and delightful.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • MENLO PARK, CA, United States
  • 08-11-08


I listen while driving. I drive a convertible. There aren't many books that have me literally laughing out loud every 15 minutes or so as I drive. The people around me on the freeway must really be wondering what I'm up to.
Thank you Mr. Bryson. A VERY funny book. I enjoyed it immensely.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful