At Home with Bill Bryson

Never mind history, Bill Bryson is just plain cool. An expat living in England, he’s the author of A Walk in the Woods, the laugh-out-loud funniest book ever written about the Appalachian Trail, and he has the talent to pull off a book with the audacious title of A Short History of Nearly Everything. But it’s not the Short History that’s this week’s wicked cool history thing (though it might be at a later date), but his book At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which is neither short (at nearly 600 pages), nor entirely private, but is immensely entertaining and packed full with historical trivia. (Many thanks to my friend Patti for recommending this book!)

Taking his Victorian house in England as a starting point, he goes through the building room-by-room, using each room as a jumping-off point for a discourse on anything from the 1851 Crystal Palace to humans’ uncomfortable relationships with the vermin that occupy our beds, cellars, pantries, etc. (a word to the wise – you might want to avoid eating while reading the chapters on The Bathroom, The Bedroom, and The Study. Better yet, you might want to avoid eating entirely while reading this book, as you never know when Bryson will come up with some delightfully disgusting historical tidbit.)

He digresses often and at length, but that is, in fact, the whole point of the book, and what makes it so entertaining. You might start out in the study, but end up in a bat cave (no, not The Bat Cave, A bat cave), and somehow it all makes delightful sense, and hours of wicked cool reading. (Make sure you get the hardcover edition, as it’s chock-full of photos that the paperback lacks.)

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