The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  29,517 ratings  ·  3,001 reviews
Bill Bryson's hilarious memoir of growing up in middle America in the Fifties, complete, unabridged, and read by the author.

Born in 1951 in the middle of the United States, Des Moines, Iowa, Bill Bryson is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24 carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generation, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich...more
Paperback, 404 pages
Published 2007 by Black Swan (first published 2006)
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Apr 19, 2007 Drew rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys humor and Americana
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

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...more
Tom Carrico
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...more
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...more
Jeanette (Most of My Favorite Authors Are Dead)
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...more
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.

Aug 19, 2008 Diane rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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
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...more
Michael Endo
Mar 08, 2008 Michael Endo rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition 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...more
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...more
Janna Stam
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
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...more
Gary aka Grasshopper
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
Dec 07, 2007 ANDY rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition 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...more
Jun 11, 2008 Joey rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Iowans of a certain age.
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.
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...more

I read Bryson's memoir of growing up in the 1950s as research for my own memoir. As he did in A Walk in the Woods, he had me laughing out loud, long and hard. But the biggest revelation for me was the huge disparity between life as a boy child and life as a girl child during that decade.

At least from his point of view, boys had much more freedom to roam, they were encouraged to be physical (sports, getting into fights, etc) and daring (trying cigarettes and booze, ditching school.) Emulating su...more
Charles Cornell
There is a caveat to this review of The Thunderbolt Kid. And that is, that I think this book will have the greatest impact to readers, like me, who are from Bill Bryson's generation. Anyone who lived as a child through the late 50's and early 60's can easily identify with his account of growing up in small town America. Bryson brings his usual wit and wisdom to every page and in some cases, the hilarity will bring you to tears. It may be my most favorite Bryson book ever, although they are all g...more
They say you can't go home again. They're wrong. Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of Thunderbolt Kid brought me home to Plainview which was planted over toxic potato fields in the 1950's. The neighborhood, school, movie theaters, childhood freedom, parental naivete, the boogers, the ingenius boys who blew things up, and even the guidance counselor, who, in my case didn't see the need for me to take chemistry and pushed for stenography, rang so true. I also remember the excitement of the first We...more
To celebrate a weekend that was generally quite un-pleasurable, today I finished 'The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid', which I had picked up at the airport (I know). It did do nothing much to humour me.
Really, I give Bryson that his father was a very good sports writer, even the short paragraphs of his work that the book features show that (I keep repeating to myself 'the lordly Yankees') , but Bryson himself? 'Laugh-out-loud'? Not that I would have one paragraph wh...more
Bill Bryson is always fun, and his switch from travel memoirs to autobiography isn't really much of a switch at all - this book is a natural for him. But it will never be my favorite of his works.

That said, the book is good. Bryson's work is all about the narrative voice, and he's right at the peak of his ability here; he's honed and developed his voice and his style, but he hasn't reached what we might call the Dave Barry point, the place where a writer's current work becomes a caricature of h...more
I love it. Mr Bill brought out his memory as a kid growing up in Des Moines, a peaceful city in Iowa, on 50's. Beside his own memory I believe he used many archives as his references so he could describe that era and the place so detailed.
50's in America is the age of dream. It's so funny, as Mr Bill said, "Never have people looked so ridiculous and so happy at the same time."
I like Mr Bill's parent. His mom was wonderful, very forgetful but very lovable as well. His dad, he was a brilliant jour...more
I’ve never read Bill Bryson before but decided to take a chance on this memoir, since I like books about happy childhoods. It was a great decision - told in a light, breezy style, this often had me laughing out loud and rattled along at a cracking pace. In addition to charting his life (it’s a comic memoir, sometimes it strays from the path of truth), it details America (and the rest of the world) through the 50s and whilst some of these sections are funny, a lot are either poignant or disturbin...more
Mikey B.
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...more
Bill Bryson is hilarious. This, his latest work and his memoirs of his formative years in Iowa, is just as good as any of his travel writing. I learned a lot about what life must've been like for my parents, who are of his generation and who also grew up in the midwest. I was especially fascinated with Bryson's nostalgic-but-not-too-nostalgic take on the social and cultural trends of the time, and I learned a lot about how cavalier the US was about atomic testing back then. o.O So yeah. Great re...more
Apr 15, 2009 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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.
A memoir of the humor and travel writer’s childhood and adolescence in Des Moines, Iowa in the ‘50s, which he characterizes as an era of material comfort, production, consumption, happiness, endearing naïveté, embrace of changes the future would bring, and a general carefree attitude. (The title comes from a super-hero fantasy he indulged in as a child.) Lingering with affectionate nostalgia over the baseball parks, unique mom and pop shops and department stores, childhood games, and newspaper r...more
My father was born in 1948 in Edmonton (although he was loth to admit it), and he spent his childhood in a number of small towns in southern Alberta and British Columbia. I didn't ask him nearly enough about his childhood before he passed away, and I hold on to those few reminiscences of his that I remember as emblematic of a childhood spent raucously and well: putting on cardboard armor and shooting BB guns at his friends; his class spontaneously standing in two long lines in the schoolyard, th...more
Catherine Adde
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

In the 1990’s, my father in law would faithfully clip out and post to us a column from the Daily Mail (UK) written by Bill Bryson. An American living in England, Mr. Bryson would gently poke fun at all things British; his musings were hilarious. These articles appear in his bestselling book: Notes from a Small Island; and we eagerly read every book he wrote after that. His comedic talent, evident during an appearance at Vroman’s bookstore,...more
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Literazzi: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid 5 9 Apr 12, 2012 04:45PM  
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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
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“It was an especially wonderful time to be a noisy moron.” 6 likes
“It’s a bit burned,” my mother would say apologetically at every meal, presenting you with a piece of meat that looked like something — a much-loved pet perhaps — salvaged from a tragic house fire. “But I think I scraped off most of the burned part,” she would add, overlooking that this included every bit of it that had once been flesh.

Happily, all this suited my father. His palate only responded to two tastes - burned and ice cream — so everything suited him so long as it was sufficiently dark and not too startlingly flavorful. Theirs truly was a marriage made in heaven, for no one could burn food like my mother or eat it like my dad.”
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