In At Home, Bill 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, and delivers one of the most entertaining and illuminating books ever written about the history of the way we live.
Bill Bryson was struck one day by the thought that we devote a lot 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 - eating, sleeping and merely endeavouring to get more comfortable. And that most of the key discoveries for humankind can be found in the very fabric of the houses in which we live.This inspired him to start a journey around his own house, an old rectory in Norfolk, wandering from room to room considering how the ordinary things in life came to be.
Along the way he did a prodigious amount of research on 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 on the brilliant, creative and often eccentric minds behind them. And he discovered that, although there may seem to be nothing as unremarkable as our domestic lives, there is a huge amount of history, interest and excitement - and even a little danger - lurking in the corners of every home.
Bryson (A Short History of Everything) takes readers on a tour of his house, a rural English parsonage, and finds it crammed with 10,000 years of fascinating historical bric-a-brac. Each room becomes a starting point for a free-ranging discussion of rarely noticed but foundational aspects of social life. A visit to the kitchen prompts disquisitions on food adulteration and gluttony; a peek into the bedroom reveals nutty sex nostrums and the horrors of premodern surgery; in the study we find rats and locusts; a stop in the scullery illuminates the put-upon lives of servants. Bryson follows his inquisitiveness wherever it goes, from Darwinian evolution to the invention of the lawnmower, while savoring eccentric characters and untoward events (like Queen Elizabeth I's pilfering of a subject's silverware). 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.
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Typical Bill Bryson book (in the mould of "A Short History of the World") - filled with facts linked by a very loose theme (in this instance a house) with a storyline that wanders all over the place.
However, despite the very evident shortcomings of a meandering theme, the book is nevertheless entertaining, informative and extremely well researched. It illuminates aspects of human history and human development and questions the accepted interpretations of causes and consequences that have become accepted as "fact" - especially in the era of google experts.
Highly recommended for those that:
a) didn't like the dull repetition of facts which passes for teaching of history at school but nevertheless still have a natural curiosity about how we got to where we are now
b) want some light reading that is vaguely educational
c) want something that is entertaining and easy to read but want a break from the standard spy or crime novel genre
After thoroughly enjoying 'Down Under' I was keen to read This book. I was not disappointed.
Now my wife is reading it with just as much pleasure.