BookBrowse Reviews The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

A Memoir

by Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson X
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2006, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 224 pages

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

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.

I found The Life and Times fascinating, even though I wasn't alive in the 50s and didn't grow up in the USA. In fact, perhaps I found it particularly fascinating because of these two factors. Whether you grew up in the 50s and are looking to re-live times past, or are interested in a fun social history that will elucidate a generation, this book has much to enjoy.

Did you know?
(according to The Life and Times)

  • Up until Pearl Harbor, 48 states had laws making it illegal to employ a married woman.
  • When the war ended there were about 30 million cars in America (about the same as in the 1920s). Over the next 4 decades, the country paved 42,798 miles of Interstate highway and bought 300 million cars (69,000 in 1945; 7.5 million in 1954).
  • More than 99% of the cars bought in 1954 were USA made.
  • Eisenhower spent three-quarters of his federal transportation budget on highways, and less than 1% on mass transit.
  • Between 1946-1962 the USA detonated over 1,000 nuclear warheads, including 300 in the open air. As many as 4 detonations a month were conducted in Nevada during the peak years with the mushroom clouds clearly visible from Las Vegas.
  • In 1958 the average child's body contained 10 times more strontium 90 (the chief radioactive product of fallout) than it had the previous year.
  • Defense spending in the fifties ranged between $40-53 billion per year - more than total government spending at the dawn of the decade. In the eight years Eisenhower was President the USA spent $350 billion on defense. More than 90% of foreign aid was for military expenditure.
  • Most people still considered cigarette smoking good for you (or at least not harmful); the Journal of the American Medical Association happily accepted cigarette ads until the 1960s.


Coming Soon: Shakespeare: The World's A Stage by Bill Bryson (November 2007).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2006, and has been updated for the October 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  The 1950s

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