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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  41,809 Ratings  ·  3,681 Reviews
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 1950s

Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one of the best and funni
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Broadway Books (first published 2006)
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Nov 22, 2014 Drew rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys humor and Americana
Shelves: favorites
I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson's writing, but this one was both uplifting and saddening at the same time. The premise of the book is how Bill learned to see a country be wooed by the siren song of prosperity through the guise of his own internal superhero persona, the Thunderbolt Kid. This is an engaging book which takes the reader back to simpler times, with plenty of Bryson's characteristic laugh-out-loud funny moments to go around. The Thunderbolt Kid persona is really a subtitle to the main id ...more
Jason Koivu
Jul 27, 2015 Jason Koivu rated it it was amazing
Bryson played my funnybones like a xylophone!

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is about growing up in the '50s. It's the sort of coming of age tale that educates along the way. God, I love this stuff!

It very much reminded me of the classic movie "A Christmas Story". Here on Goodreads, amongst all you worthy readers, I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read the short stories by Jean Shepherd that the movie is based upon. But if they're anything like the movie then they're filled with remembr
Welcome to Des Moines, Iowa and the 1950s! There are some things you should be afraid of (mainly Communism, teenagers, and comic books not approved by the Comics Code Authority ). But, no need to worry! The Thunderbolt Kid (aka Bill Bryson ) will be your trusty tour guide.
Approved by the Comics Code Authority
Ah, the 50s—a time when cigarettes made you healthy, your daily dose of amphetamines came in morning cereal, soda was the elixir of life, and prominent doctors defended a boy's right to be dirty.*
Cola Pep and Camels
In his telltale jocular b

Bill Bryson's travel writing is often hilarious and usually perceptive. In many ways this book – Bryson’s memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and 1960s - is also travel writing. In remembering and sharing his past, Bryson takes his readers to another place and time, both of which he vividly evokes in the narrative.

I laughed a lot while listening to Bryson read the audiobook version of his memoir. At times I laughed so much that there was a risk my bus commute would be embarra
Tom Carrico
Mar 29, 2008 Tom Carrico rated it it was amazing
Book Review

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
By Bill Bryson

Reviewed by Tom Carrico

I am not usually one to enjoy a memoir. There always seems to be a certain smugness that someone must possess to have the audacity to think that their story is better than, well, mine. This memoir, however, is different. Bill Bryson’s childhood ruminations could belong to anybody who grew up in the 1950s. Change Des Moines, Iowa to Arlington, Virginia and this story could even be mine. If you are under 40 yo
Nov 29, 2007 Erin added it
the bloody head-bashing-in-story.

that was the critical turning point in the novel-reading for me, personally. the moment i realized bill bryson is a comedic wonderchild. the moment i was simultaneously overjoyed to have discovered him as a writer and depressed i wasted so much time trying to pretend erma bombeck could truly capture the lasting effects of one's childhood experiences with sex ed. the moment i spit an unhealthy mixture of sprite and airline peanuts all over the back of a poor old l
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Dec 03, 2008 Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anybody with a funny bone!
I listened to this on CD, read by the author, so of course it was wonderful. I'll definitely be seeking it out in print at some point. Things go by so fast on audio that you can't go back and re-enjoy the really good parts.

Even if you don't give a rodent's posterior about Iowa, this book is thoroughly enjoyable. Bryson is hilarious while at the same time providing a lot of interesting historical things about the 1950s and 60s, both the good and the bad. He really tells a great story about his o
Aug 19, 2008 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
My son has been raving about Bill Bryson's for some time now, but I was not sure that they would appeal to me. After hearing others rave about his memoir: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, I thought this might be a fun audio book. I am sorry I waited so long to try Bryson's work.

This memoir was terrific. It leaves you with a feeling of appreciation for the simple things in life. Bill Bryson and I were born a year apart, and as baby boomers growing up in the 50's and 60's, I found this m
Jan 08, 2008 Rodger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is a must read for anyone who grew up in the fifties and sixties. He captures life in the fifties and early sixties through the lens of a pre-teen boy. Though he grew up in one of Iowa's larger cities and I grew up in a small New Mexico town, the experiences are very similiar.

Be ready to laugh out loud, but beware, he uses some language that I would have been given the old "Wash your mouth out with soap" treatment.

Sep 05, 2009 Kristen rated it did not like it
Please note: am at the mercy of book exchanges and personal swaps with fellow travelers. With that said, I made this trade against my better judgment because I was flirting with a 20 year old, another lapse in judgment, apparently.

Anyway, he championed this book as very funny and a very popular author in UK in general. This struck me as odd as he is American and we have a thirst as of late for the comedic essay or memoir.

After reading this book, I realize why he is only popular in the UK and no
Michael Endo
Mar 08, 2008 Michael Endo rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who like Bill Bryson and/or the 50's
Even though this is a memoir it is difficult not to think about it in the context of other superhero/childhood stories. Kavalier and Clay and Fortress of Solitude come to mind. Among these books the Thunderbold Kid falls flat.
The image Bryson paints of the fifties is truly magnificent. He really captures the excitement of the beginning of the space age. It is when he is elaborating on this time that I am captivated, but when he speaks specifically about his own life I get a little bored. His l
Janna Stam
Jul 18, 2013 Janna Stam rated it did not like it
Terrible. There is nothing quite as insipid as a childhood autobiography told through the rose-coloured glasses of 1950s nostalgia. I could not bear to read much further than the first couple of chapters because Bryson's reverence for 1950s America is simultaneously disturbing, sad, and incredibly naive. While I'm sure some Americans may have enjoyed the post-war wave of prosperity, Bryson fails to mention that more than half the population (women & non-whites) were still mired in the grim s ...more
Sep 15, 2015 Gearóid rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very easy and enjoyable to read.
Very funny and oddly made me nostalgic for the 1950's
even though I wasn't born then.
Books Ring Mah Bell
As I look back upon all the memoirs I have read, I realize most are horribly tragic in some way. People surviving genocide, child abuse, and/or rape. One lady lost the majority of her face to cancer. No wonder I'm so depressed!

Bryson's autobiography, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. Nothing tragic. In fact, his childhood is rather idyllic. In no way does that imply that it is boring or lacking in any way.

Bryson, a child of the 50's, captures all the excitement of growing up in post
Gary  the Bookworm
Jul 27, 2012 Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bill Bryson makes magic in this heartfelt memoir about his childhood in Iowa in the 1950's. His take on the forces which shaped American life mid-century, in the middle of the country, is spot-on hilarious. Exaggerating the ordinary and reveling in the extraordinary, he offers up an unforgettable depiction of the decade that shaped modern America. For all its innocence, the cultural landscape was shifting inexorably, driven by the explosion of television and the preponderance of the automobile. ...more
Jul 31, 2007 Alicia rated it liked it
Bill Bryson is best suited for travel writing, where his crotchety personality shines through and assures us that the act of traveling is not always as romantic as Kerouac would have you believe-in other words, its ok to go through hell before you start to have a good time. His memoirs are good because he is funny and disparaging and all that Bryson is supposed to be, but the preachiness regarding the decline of small-town middle America is a bit much. You can't quite avoid the feeling that he w ...more
Mikey B.
Apr 02, 2013 Mikey B. rated it really liked it
There are definitely laugh out loud portions of this book, particularly the sections on elementary school and cinema matinees.

Bryson captures with feeling the atmosphere of the 50’s. There were a ‘lot’ of kids in the 50’s and early sixties. Stores and downtowns were different. There is a kind of ‘Peanuts’ quality to this era. There was a security blanket which is now lost.

Bryson does extend the truth and it is difficult at times to know how stretched out the exaggerations are – kids building bom
*The Angry Reader*
God that was fun. Like real, actual, relaxing fun. The kind that I don't frequently find in a book. Movie-type fun.
Bill Bryson's memoir about growing up in the Midwest during the 1950s is entertaining, educational, sweet, poignant, sad and hysterical. A well-rounded, bigger-than-life, slice of Americana. I enjoyed every moment.
Definitely a book that can be read in one sitting. And a book that can be read by anyone. I loved the history - the personalization of big moments in time. As well the pe
Jul 25, 2015 Samantha rated it it was amazing
Billy Bryson is one of my all-time favorite authors, and he doesn't disappoint. His memoir was smart and funny and clever, and it's everything you want a memoir to be. I think everyone has a story to tell. In fact, I'm writing a memoir right now and I have lived a fairly normal, suburban life. My favorite books, actually (ie A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) are not my favorite because they tell stories of heroism or defeat, but because the characters are so, so human. I love reading about simple lives ...more
May 16, 2015 Trish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Bill Bryson admits that “this book is a book about not very much: about being small and getting larger slowly.” So, there aren’t any accounts of overcoming tragic circumstances in this memoir. What you will find in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is a laugh-out-loud look at growing up in 1950s Des Moines, Iowa.

Although aimed at baby boomers, anyone can appreciate Bryson’s wise-cracking observations and heart-warming nostalgia over more simple times. The way he interweaves references fr
May 17, 2010 Isabel rated it did not like it
Let me sum up this book for you.

If you are interested in learning about Iowa in the 1950s then this is your book. Detailed stories of movie theaters, diners, homelife, politcal news/history, social norms, etc.
If the thought of reading 300 pages about Iowa in the 50s does not appeal to you - this book is NOT for you.

AGAIN: WAKE UP GOODREADS (I would have given the book 1.5 stars if that was an option...I mean I did finish it. I didn't throw it out the window and call it trash...but I wouldn't go
Dec 07, 2007 ANDY rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
I really enjoyed this book. Not because it was a brilliant piece of writing, but because it did for me what any good book should do: made me feel something.

I felt good. I had a smile on my face. I really long for a simpler life and the picture Bryson painted of his childhood in Iowa had me feeling as if I was there with him and also helped me reminisce about some memories from my childhood I cherish.

Bryson’s writing style is at times all over the place, darting from one subject to the next, but
Dave Mevis
Just finished Ch 7, Boom. Amazing bits of history from the atomic 50's. Please go to your library and read this chapter even if you don't read the whole book. Wow.

This book is truly laugh out loud funny from cover to cover. Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1951. Thunderbolt Kid is a collection of hilarious stories on growing up in Des Moines in the 50's and 60's written as only Bryson can do. a quick, enjoyable summer read. Pick up a copy to take on vacation or to the beach with you. You w
Apr 15, 2009 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: my Dad
I really enjoyed this book quite a bit. It was fun to read about life in the 50's for Bill and make parallels to my own childhood in a small town in the midwest. I laughed out loud many times and nodded my head a bunch of times.

One of my favorite parts is when Bill's mom convinces him to go to school in his sister's pants - lime green capri pants! She told him they were pirate pants. Very funny.

This was a very enjoyable read and I look forward to reading his other books.
Feb 27, 2016 Judy rated it it was amazing
I love this book. I love Bryson's writings. This was the second time to read this book. It was a gift several years ago and it is this month's book club selection. I didn't grow up in Iowa, but I did grow up in the 1950's and this was a trip down my memory lane as well as his. I laughed many times at his recollections of his childhood and grew a little teary over the shared memory of those dreadful drills for an atom bomb attack. His story of his trip to Disneyland and the family trip to Harlem ...more
Timothy Juhl
Feb 02, 2016 Timothy Juhl rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Iowans of a certain age.
Shelves: memoir
This is the first book I've read by Bryson and I do intend to read a couple more.

The Thunderbolt Kid is wildly funny, a simple memoir of Bryson's childhood in Des Moines in the 1950s. Oddly enough, change comes slowly to Iowa and I could relate to much of his experience and sentiment having spent my own Iowa childhood in the 1960s.
Victoria Miller
Dec 28, 2014 Victoria Miller rated it it was amazing
Popular writer Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in the 1950s and 60s in the heartland is a heart warmer. The fact that his parents were newspaper writers adds a lot of the charm of this book. His accounts of the difficult life of a paperboy are hilarious, and prior to that, there was, of course, a treehouse of sorts. Boys will be boys, so as a female reader, there were quite a few "Oh, good grief," utterances. And, interspersed with the innocence are a few chapters of expose of historic events ...more
This book is a very funny memoir of growing up in Iowa during the 50s.
My personal favourite episodes are Mr Milton failed swan dive and a young Bill collecting paper money from Mrs Vandermeister, which, in my view, are examples of pure comic genius.
It was my first Bill Bryson book but it will not be the last.
May 09, 2015 Melora rated it it was amazing
This was great! I laughed a lot. Actually, I think I started it once, years ago, and quit after reading one of the "gross" passages -- Bryson occasionally describes bodily discharges in gaggingly graphic detail -- but I seem to have become less sensitive and just plowed on through those bits. The "kid world" thing got a little tired as well (reminded me of Shepherd's A Christmas Story), but, minor quibbles aside, this was loads of fun! I particularly enjoyed the stories from Bryson's teenage yea ...more
This childhood memoir was published in 2006. Little Billy Bryson admired the supernatural powers of the comic superheroes of the day and after finding a sweater with a thunder bolt in the basement dubbed himself "The Thunderbolt kid" and bestowed x-ray vision and lazer vision (the ability to vaporize objects) onto himself.

Bill enlivens the Midwest in the 1950's. He provides the context ; the political landscape the accouterments or the time, culture, alongside personal anecdotes. The 'Thunderbo
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Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to New Hampshire in America for a few years, but they have now returned to live in the UK.

In The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson's hilarious first t
More about Bill Bryson...

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“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” 18 likes
“It was an especially wonderful time to be a noisy moron.” 9 likes
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