At Home: Book summary and reviews of At Home by Bill Bryson

At Home

A Short History of Private Life

by Bill Bryson

At Home

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Book Summary

"Houses aren't refuges from history. They are where history ends up."
 
Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to "write a history of the world without leaving home."

The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has fig­ured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.

Bill Bryson has one of the liveliest, most inquisitive minds on the planet, and he is a master at turning the seemingly isolated or mundane fact into an occasion for the most diverting exposi­tion imaginable. His wit and sheer prose fluency make At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review...a delightful stroll through the history of domestic life. Now living in a 19th-century church rectory in Norfolk, England, the author decided to learn about the ordinary things of life by exploring each room in his house.... In a sense, Bryson's book is a history of 'getting comfortable slowly'.... Informative, readable and great fun." - Kirkus

"Starred Review. In demonstrating how everything we take for granted... went from unimaginable luxury to humdrum routine, Bryson shows us how odd and improbable our own lives really are." - Publishers Weekly

"Its eclectic, ambulatory arrangement will delight many but baffle others. Bryson fans will want to read it." - Library Journal

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

Another excellent Bryson offering.
“…centuries and centuries of people quietly going about their daily business - eating, sleeping, having sex, endeavouring to be amused – ant it occurred to me….that that’s really what history is: masses of people doing ordinary things”

At Home: a short history of private life is the fifteenth book by American author, Bill Bryson. With his uniquely individual style, Bryson takes the reader around his house, an 1851 Norfolk rectory, and he explores the history of activities that are (sometimes very loosely) associated with each room’s designation. Thus he touches on a vast array of topics and presents all sorts of noteworthy, sometimes surprising and occasionally hilarious facts.

At over six hundred pages of content, this is quite a brick, but is, as with many Bryson books, easy to read and thoroughly fascinating. Bryson has a talent for making the most ordinary, everyday subject interesting, and in this book he also explains the origin of many terms in common usage that we seldom think about, along with their meanings. Another excellent Bryson offering.

avid

history, not home improvement
I found this book in my local bookstore's home improvement section, obviously placed there by someone who hasn't read it. As a fan of history, I absolutely loved "At Home". Bryson's voice is the best I've found for conveying historical information, and the home is used in this effort as an organizational tool for all the historical data he has packed in his head. Like many, I've loved Bryson since "A Walk in the Woods", and have read many of his travel essays, but "At Home" is a departure from the hilarious romps he's taken us on in previous books. Not as dry as "A Short History...", but a serious research effort told in a light, enjoyable voice. Fascinating read.

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Author Information

Bill Bryson Author Biography

Photo © Bath & North East Somerset Council

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. He moved to England, where he worked for The Times and The Independent, and wrote for many major British and American publications.

Bill Bryson's bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, Notes From a Small Island, In a Sunburned Country, Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, A Short of History of Nearly Everything, which earned him the 2004 Aventis Prize, and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.

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