What a book!

September 27, 2010

Bill Bryson: “At Home”

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 4:02 pm
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Intrepid explorer and magnificent wordsmith, Bill Bryson takes us on a journey through his home this time.

That’s a little bit misleading really… I should say he takes us through the history of home life using his own pile of bricks as a sort of jumping off place.

Now, I am a Bryson devotee. I have yet to read a book of his I didn’t love and cherish. But even for me, the subject matter sounded, well, a little bit dull. And this is no small tome either. I wondered how he would go on and on about the rooms of a house for hundreds of pages and keep my interest. To me, it seemed like a bit of a risk for Bryson.

I should never have doubted him. Bryson weaves history, astonishing facts (Thomas Jefferson invented the french fry. Who knew?!), current information, and authoritative references brilliantly and with his usual gentle humour.

Bryson’s old rectory in Norfolk, England forms the basis of the book as we explore his hall, kitchen, parlours, servants’ stairs, bedrooms, and even the fuse box. What fascinates me is that the chapter about the fuse box is filled with the sorts of things you just never think about or take for granted. Things like how dangerous it was to wander about after dark before electricity became widespread. How taking a midnight stroll meant you took your life in your hands and subjected yourself to thieves and murderers because the streets were so dark. Or how Britain was forced into total blackness in 1939 by order of the government for fear of the Luftwaffe. One could be fined for lighting so much as a cigarette on a street corner.

You see? It’s more than just, “And now we enter the hallway which contains some end tables and a lovely rug.” It’s more like, “The hallway of a home used to be THE place for congregating  and indeed the inclusion of separate rooms in medieval times was considered an odd notion.”

It’s rich, exciting, fascinating glimpse into the past that I guarantee will make you look at your own home a bit differently when you’re through.



  1. Ah, you beat me to it. I’m looking forward to reading this. Two of my favorite Bryson pieces are the cricket match from ‘In A Sunburned Country’ and when he orders food in a fancy restaurant (can’t remember which book that was in off the top of my head).

    Comment by mpetrucelli — October 6, 2010 @ 5:53 am | Reply

  2. How wonderful to find a book on a subject that with humility reaches for the stars and still touches each of us so deeply. The concept of home is one that marries the spirit, mind, body and emotions, uniting each individual with generations of ancestors and their gifts. Be it in sports, spiritual practices, high technology or high tea the call of home. Thank you Bill Bryson for this gift of pure love.

    Comment by Laura Steiman Shofley — October 24, 2010 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

    • Correction to comment as posted:
      Be it in sports, spiritual practices, high technology or high tea the call of home beckons. Thank you Bill Bryson for thsi gift of pure love.

      Comment by Laura Steiman Shofley — October 24, 2010 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

  3. Like reading Bill Bryson at any time but there are a few glaring errors in this book eg he describes Pepys diaries as being held in the Bodlean Library in Oxford whereas the famous Pepys Library, built to house his collection, is at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where Pepys himself was a student. I would have thought that Bill would be very familiar with this as he lives not so far away from Cambridge.

    Comment by P Brosnan — November 19, 2010 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

    • I am a fan of Bill’s books, but noticed an error when he states “Shellac is a hard resinous secretion from the Indian Lac Beetle” pg. 156 of “At Home” This is not a beetle but a scale insect, something quite different. I would think this error would have been pointed out prior to publishing.

      Comment by D Helmreich — December 20, 2010 @ 12:43 am | Reply

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