Summary and book reviews of In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In A Sunburned Country

UK Title: Down Under

by Bill Bryson

In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2000, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2001, 304 pages

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Book Summary

A deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiosity.

Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion up, down, and over the Appalachian Trail (well, most of it) resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the Woods. Now he has traveled across the world and all the way Down Under to Australia, a shockingly under-discovered country with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather, and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on the planet.

In a Sunburned Country is his report on what he found there--a deliciously funny, fact-filled, and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder, and unflagging curiosity.

Australia is a country that exists on a vast scale. It is the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country. Despite being the most desiccated, infertile, and climatically aggressive of all inhabited continents, it teems with life. In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else: sharks, crocodiles, the ten most deadly poisonous snakes on the planet, fluffy yet toxic caterpillars, seashells that actually attack you, and the unbelievable box jellyfish (don't ask). The dangerous riptides of the sea and the sun-baked wastes of the outback both lie in wait for the unwary. It's one tough country.

Bill Bryson adores it, of course, and he takes his readers on a rollicking ride far beyond the beaten tourist path. Here is a place where interesting things happen all the time, from a Prime Minister lost--yes, lost--while swimming at sea to Japanese cult members who may have set off an atomic bomb (sic) entirely unnoticed on their 500,000-acre property in the great western desert.

Wherever he goes (and Bryson goes just about everywhere) he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted, and unfailingly obliging--the beaming products of a land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine. On occasion the Aborigines, a remote and mysterious race with a tragic history, make a haunting appearance in this book. But by and large Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide.

Published just in time for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, In a Sunburned Country offers the best of all possible introductions to what may well be the best of all possible nations. Even with those jellyfish.

Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is. I am forever doing this with the Australian prime minister--committing the name to memory, forgetting it (generally more or less instantly), then feeling terribly guilty. My thinking is that there ought to be one person outside Australia who knows.

But then Australia is such a difficult country to keep track of. On my first visit, some years ago, I passed the time on the long flight reading a history of Australian politics in the twentieth century, wherein I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 the prime minister, Harold Holt, was strolling along a beach in Victoria when he plunged into the surf and vanished. No trace of the poor man was ever seen again. This seemed doubly astounding to me--first that Australia could just lose a prime minister (I mean, come on) and second that news of this had never reached me.

The fact is, of course, we pay shamefully scant attention to...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Chicago Tribune

This outrageous Baedecker is so laugh-out-loud funny...I made the mistake of taking the book along on a trip to Starbuck's–and left in disgrace after inadvertently spraying several patrons with cappuccino while reading Bryson's visit to a shop selling pet supplies and pornography...This is a man who understands that digression is the better part of valor–and the better part of Australia.

The Wall Street Journal

Bryson is unparalleled in his ability to cut a culture off at the knees in a way that is so humorous and so affectionate that those being ridiculed are laughing too hard to take offense.

The Times (UK)

The funniest travel writer alive.

Daily Telegraph (UK)

Here is a man who suffers so his readers can laugh.

Reader Reviews

Joan Hicks

In A Sunburned Country
I cannot remember when I have read a more enthralling book.! Be it novel, fiction or non-fiction.! Maybe because I am a transplanted Aussie, I enjoyed it so much. It took me "home".! I laughed, I cried, and I remembered some of my younger days ...   Read More

Zac from Queensland Australia

This book is a hilarious travel companion and should be made essential if you plan to travel to A ustralia. Its full of facts that many Australians (including myself) didn't know and is presented in a witty and hilarious way. A marvellous read.


Gillian

A brilliant book that makes you want to go see it all for yourself! Funny and full of intresting facts. Once you start you just can't stop.

Greg Duff

A very accurate and extremely funny-snapshot of this country and its people.

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