Summary and book reviews of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

A Memoir

By Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2006,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2007,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the middle of the United States in the middle of the last century. A book that delivers on the promise that it is “laugh-out-loud funny.”

Some say that the first hints that Bill Bryson was not of Planet Earth came from his discovery, at the age of six, of a woollen jersey of rare fineness. Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people’s hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman.

Bill Bryson’s first travel book opened with the immortal line, “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” In this hilarious new memoir, he travels back to explore the kid he once was and the weird and wonderful world of 1950s America. He modestly claims that this is a book about not very much: about being small and getting much larger slowly. But for the rest of us, it is a laugh-out-loud book that will speak volumes – especially to anyone who has ever been young.

Burns Unit

The only downside of my mother’s working was that it put a little pressure on her with regard to running the home and particularly with regard to dinner, which frankly was not her strong suit anyway. My mother always ran late and was dangerously forgetful into the bargain. You soon learned to stand aside about ten to six every evening, for it was then that she would fly in the back door, throw something in the oven, and disappear into some other quarter of the house to embark on the thousand other household tasks that greeted her each evening. In consequence she nearly always forgot about dinner until a point slightly beyond way too late.  As a rule you knew it was time to eat when you could hear baked potatoes exploding in the oven.

We didn’t call it the kitchen in our house. We called it the Burns Unit.  

“It’s a bit burned,” my mother would say apologetically at every meal, presenting you with a piece of meat that ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Part memoir, part social history, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is a hoot. Bryson describes his idyllic childhood growing up in the middle of the USA, in the middle of the last century, in the middle of the baby boom years - a time of unprecedented prosperity for the country as a whole, quite different to the depression-era experiences of the previous generation; but it's not all rose-tinted glasses - the threat of nuclear war, Joe McCarthy, and America flexing its muscles overseas all come into the picture.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (976 words).

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

The book is held together by sheer force of personality-but when you've got a personality as big as Bryson's, sometimes that's enough.

School Library Journal

Students of the decade's popular culture will marvel at the insular innocence described, even as the world moved toward nuclear weapons and civil unrest. ....His reminiscences will entertain a wide audience.

Kirkus Reviews

A great, fun read, especially for Baby Boomers nostalgic for the good old days.

Booklist - Laura Tillotson

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.

Library Journal

The larger world of 1950s America emerges through the lens of "Billy's" world, including the dark underbelly of racism, the fight against communism, and the advent of the nuclear age.

Reader Reviews
Riley Moyer

Souped-Up Childhood Memoir
Bill Bryson's novel offers great insight into the reality of growing up in the 50's. It combines the story of the imaginary figure, the Thunderbolt Kid and the story of the real figure, Bryson into a souped-up childhood memoir. During the postwar ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Elsewhere in the 1950s.

While many in the USA experienced an unprecedented economic boom in the 1950s, what was happening elsewhere?

Europe: The division of Europe into West and East persisted. The foundations for the European Community were laid. Rationing continued in some Western countries (e.g. in Britain up until 1953), but post-war reconstruction was booming, due to the Marshall Plan (a four year plan instigated in 1947 during which about $13 billion of economic and technical assistance was given by the USA to certain European countries. At the end of the four years, the economies of every participating country except Germany had exceeded their pre-war levels.

The Middle East: The increasing importance of oil...

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