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Review: At Home by Bill Bryson

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

At Home
4 Stars

We take so much in our daily lives for granted. Bill Bryson looked around his house one day, realized how little he knew about the everyday objects surrounding him, and, being Bill Bryson, decided to research and write a book about them.

I read this slowly as my before-bed book, and I'm not sure that was always a good idea. Reading about how ingenious rats are as I hear the pitter-pat of little rodent feet in my attic space is not necessarily a good idea. But at least now I know who invented the traps my husband set out!

This book is hard to describe. It's roughly arranged by room, but my gosh, it travels around on some tangents. I'm not complaining. It all flowed together naturally and I only questioned how I had gotten to one subject if I really stopped to think about a particular chapter title. "The nursery" goes from childbirth to child labor to poor house conditions to the repression of wealthy children to conditions at boarding schools. But I promise you it all flows together, and it's all interesting in the way that only Bill Bryson can pull off.

I am not a huge fan of non-fiction, so I don't know that I could really have enjoyed this as much if I had read it straight through with no breaks, but as an in-between book, I really enjoyed it. I'm now full of trivia about all kinds of things that could even remotely be considered to have anything to do with private life.

They always say that truth is stranger than fiction. Bryson proves it. I read some of the more outrageous tidbits to my husband, who pretty much refuses to believe that they're true. But I don't question Bryson's research, so I believe him when he says that an Australian town was literally overrun with mice and collected over 1500 tons of dead mice before the outbreak was over. It gets crazier from there.

If you're a fan of Bryson, you'll enjoy this latest book as well. This isn't my favorite of his work, but it was surprisingly entertaining for a subject that sounds so dry.

Thanks to Random House for sending me a copy for review via Shelf Awareness.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Bill Bryson on his website and Facebook.

Buy At Home: A Short History of Private Life on



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8 comments:

  1. I have not read a Bill Bryson yet (ashamed), and I've read mixed reviews on this one, like yours. I'll try one of his others first.

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  2. I haven't read anything by Bill Bryson yet, but I love nonfiction–particularly nonfiction with tons of interesting facts. Definitely adding this one to my TBR list!

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  3. Bryson is a bit of a writing god to me. I saw him speak at Boston's book festival in the fall and bought this book so that I could meet him while he signed it. He is very much the quirky person that is presented in all of his books. I still haven't read this one yet, but it is sitting "at home" waiting patiently for me. I think I will use it as a filler to pass the time in the gaps between heavier stuff - good suggestion!

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  4. Loved his Made in America and Mother Tongue and am reading slowly his A Short History of Everything. He's a great writer and am looking forward to reading his other works as well. Great review! Can't wait.

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  5. I love Bryson (among many other travel writers!) but I still have a ton of his books to read. I'll probably read his others first before I read this one but it does sound interesting! I love random, quirky non-fiction!

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  6. I have tried to read this a few times and just couldn't get into it. Perhaps I should try it your way, as in bit by bit.

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  7. I love this book and I read it pretty much straight through. But you're right - it would totally work as a drips and drabs in-between book. If you love his random facts, then you should try his others.

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  8. I have the book on my shelf but haven't read it yet. I think I will love it. I'm funny about Bryson's books. I usually like the first parts and then not so much as the book goes on. Over the years I've thought of a little theory about this. It feels to me that in his travels he gets tired of being gone, and his writing becomes a bit grouchy. My favorite of all is the Australia book. If you haven't read it, I bet your husband would love the stats in it. Snakes, spiders, sharks. Whoa!

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