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The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  29,639 ratings  ·  1,570 reviews
'I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to'

And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instea
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Paperback, 299 pages
Published August 28th 1990 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1989)
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A Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertInto the Wild by Jon KrakauerInto Thin Air by Jon KrakauerIn a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Favourite Travel Books
16th out of 1,098 books — 2,140 voters
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann ShafferInto the Wild by Jon KrakauerChocolat by Joanne Harris
Best Traveling Vicariously
23rd out of 918 books — 928 voters


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Community Reviews

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Leftbanker
The Lost Continental: A Look at Bill Bryson

I must preface this essay by saying that if everyone didn’t like this Bill Bryson book as much as I didn’t (at least the person he is in this book), he would be about the wealthiest author on the planet. At least I bought it. I have several of his books and have read all of them. Bill Bryson can be assured that with detractors like me, he doesn’t need fans. I should also say that I have lived a full one fifth of my life outside of the United States and
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Gary
It's funny how so many Americans begin their reviews of 'The Lost Continent' with statements such as "I loved Bryson's other books but this one is terrible!", all because he treats America the same way as he treats everywhere and everyone else.

So while many Americans think it's acceptable - hilarious, even - for Bryson to make disparaging-but-witty comments about non-Americans and the places they call home, it is an utter outrage for him to be anything other than completely worshipful with regar
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Tommy
Dec 06, 2007 Tommy rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: snobs
Well, ain't it somethin for dat rascally Mr. Bryson wit all o dat funny Northern talk to make his way down here to Dixie and spend some time wid us! We sure do 'ppreciate you takin us into your rich and well-knowed book, Mr. Bryson. And yer gosh-darn-right, God save all those poor folk who done shopped at K-Mart! They should've spent their nickels at Crate & Barrel had they knowed what to do wid demselves.....
Ciara
Mar 13, 2008 Ciara rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Hateful, bigoted, fat white men and racists
Recommended to Ciara by: Salvation Army
Shelves: don-t-read-these
This is the worst book ever. Bryson is a fat, cynical white guy traveling around the country, proclaiming in the subtitle: "Travels in Small Town America." But like most fat white guys, Bryson is scared of small town America. He hates every small town he comes to- whether they're on Indian reservations, small farming communities in Nebraska, southern towns full of African Americans where the author is too scared to even stop the car, or small mining communities in West Virginia, also where the a ...more
Greg
I was excited to read this book. I've owned it for a few years now, and it's one of those books that I would see on my shelf and I'd think, this is going to be good, I better save it for another day when I guess I deserve to read something good rather than now when I should read something I'm not looking forward to. Or whatever it is that my thought process is about delaying gratification of books that I actually want to read versus a good deal of the books that I end up reading.

This should have
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Zuberino
Bryson does two things very well in this book, besides his trademark humour which is happily a constant in this and every other book he's ever written. He captures the spirit of the land at a very specific time in its recent history: 1987, the high water mark of the Reaganite project. Time and again, he is left demoralized by the mindless affluenza that was the hallmark of American society during the latter half of the 1980s.

More broadly, Bryson leaves a depressingly accurate description of the
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Claire
Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who's noticed the fact that Bill Bryson is a smug bastard who casts a pall of depressing sarcasm over everything he writes about. I mean, I'm all for sarcasm in most cases, but it's as though all of his subjects are cheapened and made despicable by his prose. In The Lost Continent, he turns every small-town inhabitant into an ignorant, obnoxious caricature. The book has virtually nothing to offer, unless you, too, are hell-bent on whining about the const ...more
Karen
When reading this book, American readers may very well feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation not intended for their ears. This is because Bill Bryson obviously intended this book to be read by a British audience.

There are lots of laughs in this book. His depictions of Iowa made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. For example, his explanation for why so many farmers are missing fingers:

"Yet, there is scarcely a farmer in the Midwest over the age of twenty who has not at some time
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Michael
While in the Frankfurt airport killing time, I decided I needed something to read while waiting in the airport and on the long flight back. During my vacation, I had already read Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of Freedom, Judith Butler's Excitable Speech, and Yves Simon's Freedom and Community, as well as most of two issues of CCC and an issue of Hypatia. I was a bit tired of academic voices and theory (though I had enjoyed everything I read, except perhaps Simon, whose Thomistic perspective irked me a ...more
Andrea
Dec 31, 2008 Andrea rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No one I care about. Go read something else - life's too short.
I was really excited to read this book, as I love observational memoir-style writing - especially when it deals with travel and cultural habits people keep with food. And at first I thought his observations were snarky, spot-on, and funny. But as the book wore on (like, about 25 pages or so in), I started to become appalled at how really shallow and mean he started to sound: everyone he encountered was disgusting, stupid, or fat - or all three - and the places he visited never measured up to the ...more
Adam
Mar 30, 2009 Adam rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Americans, Midwesterners, People coming to America and those that want to 'get outta here'
Ha, oh America!

As much as I hesitated to read a travelogue about America while living abroad (I mean, shouldn't I be reading about my host country), my diminishing pile of books from home lead me to this humorous Bryson tale.

I've now had a couple of encounters with Bryson's writing and each time, seem to grow more and more fond of his haphazard style of not only traveling but writing as well. How many other authors dare pay tribute to their deceased housmaid in the middle of a book or drop in ra
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Rachel
Jun 26, 2008 Rachel added it
Perennial (an imprint of HarperCollins) would like to convince you that Bill Bryson "serves up a colorful tale of boredom... that takes us straight into the heart and soul of America" and that he does so with "razor wit and a kind heart."

Falsely post-racist "humour", and the sarcastic inner monologue of an unhappy, isolated man don't serve up a "touching", "truthful", "observant", "intelligent", "witty", "genuinely funny", "hilarious" travel memoir. Much less a "dazzlingly good [book]... sensiti
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Lorenzo Pilla
Jan 11, 2009 Lorenzo Pilla rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Cynics who dislike the US
Bad. Bad. Bad. While Bryson can be funny at times, I quickly grew tired of him and eventually he just annoyed me with this one. I would have stopped in the middle, but for my book club's sake, I plodded through, skimming some sections toward the end. This isn't real travel writing. Bryson was a longtime expat in England who returned to the US apparently so he could cynically criticize just about everyone and everything he saw here. I got the feeling that he had pitched the book idea to his publi ...more
Hayes
Nov 11, 2012 Hayes marked it as could-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes he's so funny, and spot on. And then he goes off the deep end. The snark and the southern bashing and the racist comments just got to me. Can't finish this.

page 44: [somewhere in downstate Illinois]
Afterwards I retired with a six-pack to my motel, where I discovered that the bed, judging by its fragrance and shape, had only recently been vacated by a horse. It had a sag in it so severe that I could only see the TV at its foot by splaying my legs to their widest extremity. It was like l
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Heather
I started this book while I was sitting in the jury pool waiting room. The first chapter made me laugh out loud. I was sitting in the most uncomfortable, boring, and annoying place in the universe and it still made me laugh out loud. People looked at me. However, after the first few chapters I noticed a steady decline. I stopped reading about halfway through the book because I had read the word fat about 3,000 times. I get it. You don't like fat people. Noted. (But, by the look of the jacket pho ...more
RandomAnthony
Ok, if you had a slightly cynical and funny uncle who doesn't want to say too much in front of your parents because he doesn't want to get in trouble about corrupting you and using curse words in your presence but as soon as your parents walk out of the room he tells you what he really thinks of Las Vegas, well, Bill Bryson could be that uncle. Now, I must admit to a fist-pumping appreciation of midwestern courtesy, which Bryson admires and misses as he travels across the country, so my bias is ...more
Benjamin Duffy
As an experiment, if you ever decide you might like to read this book, first pick it up and simply read the opening sentence of each chapter. If I had done so, I probably wouldn't have bothered with the rest, and I would have been just as well off.

The Lost Continent and I got off on the wrong foot. I knew something was amiss when the first chapter consisted of nothing more than Bill Bryson taking an enormous steaming dump on his home state of Iowa. Not a cutesy, ironic dump; nor even a sardonic-
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J.
I'm reading this in tandem with 'I'm a stranger here myself'. In this book Bryson covers ten of the lower 48 states, driving 13,978 miles. This is a whistle stop tour of small town America in the same way Paul Theroux glides through countries on the train. Even as an outsider I found this book to be particularly snarky, you couldn't accuse Bill of being sycophantic in the slightest about the old U S of A which has left some American reviewers feeling a bit miffed.There's not much dewy eyed stari ...more
Erin
Aug 14, 2007 Erin rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: cynical people who ride the metro
This was a good metro book, but it didn't live up to my expectations. This is the first Bill Bryson I've ever read, and I love travelogues, so I assumed I would love his writing. But, really, he's kind of an ass, and sometimes he's just mean . . . and not in a good way. It got better as it went along, but there were a lot of points when I just wanted to say, "well if Britain is so great, why don't you move back there and just shut up!?"

I've heard that this isn't one of Bryson's best (I think it
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Carol Hislop
This book has given me a lot of suggestions of places to visit in the US. Top of my list is the Henry Ford museum in Illinois. Apparently it contains things like Abraham Lincoln's chair, George Washington's desk and the JFK's car. This book is a bit like the collections in that museum-totally varied and you never know what is coming next. On my to visit list now are the little Dutch town, Pella, in Iowa, Mackinac Island in Wisconsin, and Wyoming-anywhere in that state sounds good. Las Vegas, Pro ...more
Petra Xtra Crunchy
Nothing to write home about, not even if you are from small-town America. The author, in this book, is caught up in himself and his wit rather than the subject, the small towns of America.
Troy Blackford
What a great look at what America is like on a micro-level. Having grown up in small towns in the Midwest, I really identified with the places (unfortunately, for the most part) that Bryson visited in his journey. I loved how Bryson, a Des Moines native, moved away to the UK for 20 years and thus explores the country as a knowing outsider. The tone of the book is almost explaining the US to the British, so it was great to get a fresh perspective on things. Bryson's curmudgeonly displeasure at th ...more
Jill Furedy
Huh. My dad liked Bryson's memoir, a friend liked his new one: At Home, and at work we sell lots of Short History. I like road trips, tourist traps and the rest so this seemed like a good place to start. Blurbs said it was funny. Don't think I laughed once. As it turns out, this was a fairly unwelcome journey on my part and I traveled it as begrudgingly as Bryson seems to have undertaken his trip. He's miserable the whole time...he hates tourist traps at some points, loves them at others, hates ...more
Courtney Lindwall
Jul 04, 2012 Courtney Lindwall rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People in Need of a Laugh
Bill Bryson will always be really, really, really fucking hilarious. When he's writing about boring suburbs and boring monuments, he's still super funny. When he's writing about walking through the woods for a good 1000-something miles, he's still super funny. That's pretty much why this book got 3 stars; I was laughing out loud almost continuously.

But why it was 3 stars and not 4? Because I think Bryson did a shitty job representing small-town America. He notices how ugly the suburbs are, how
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D.A. Cairns
This is the first Bill Bryson book I have read and it's not hard to see why he has become so popular. Written in a mostly conversational style, as though he were relating the highs and lows of his travel experiences to his friends over dinner just after he returned, it is filled with very poignant, evocative language. Bryson's descriptions make you feel as though you can see what he can sees. I really enjoyed The Lost Continent for this reason alone.

However, The Lost Continent is almost more of
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Tara
How can a man think he's seen America if he refuses to get out of his car? Bill Bryson perfectly embodies what Wendell Berry would describe as a "failure to encounter": Bryson doesn't encounter America. He doesn't find it. He treats it like a disposable tissue, with as little interest in where it came from and in where it's going. Our nation does have a problem in rampant, mindless consumption, but along with our (possibly fatal) flaws are millions of fascinating people, good hearts, heartbreaki ...more
Fiona Hurley
"I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to." This is the memorable first line of Bill Bryson's first travelogue. Unfortunately, it's the best line in the book, and it's downhill from there.
According to Bryson, the American people are stupid and fat, the towns are ugly, the countryside is boring, and everything is overpriced. He even fails to be impressed by Yosemite and Yellowstone, which takes some doing. If I were American, I might be offended. As an Irish person who has visited America several
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Coyle
Bill Bryson is an excellent writer; this book reads quickly; I enjoyed the process of reading it, the general narrative, and the humor therein.
That said, either Bill Bryson is a huge jerk and America is a great place, or America is awful and Bill Bryson is just a decent guy being honest. Seriously, the book runs something like this:

1) I don't like this town, it's all shoddy motels and neon signs and fast food. I want a quaint little town.
2) I don't like this quaint little town, all it does is us
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Wendy
**Mid-book review** Here's a rare combination - love the writing but the writer comes off as a first-class a**hole. Is it because I'm getting older? I loved Bryson about ten years ago. In this book anyway, Bryson writes awful, snotty comments about people who aren't just like him. Once in a while he will admit as much - which is the reason I'm sticking with the book.

**Now I've finished the book - Bryson mellows a bit toward the end and seems a bit less awful. Perhaps he made up a bit of the snot
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Erinn
Oct 08, 2008 Erinn rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoyed many family road trips as a child.
The best parts about this book are the moments when I felt as if I could hear my own voice as a child stuck in the back seat of a red Chevette as my dad drove us all over tarnation. Bryson's accounts of childhood roadtrips are hilariously intertwined with his journey down memory lane on a cross country trek of disappoinment and glee. The sad undertones to some of his accounts really hit home to a near 30-year-old who realizes places and events of childhood just aren't quite as big, quite as pret ...more
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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
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More about Bill Bryson...
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail A Short History of Nearly Everything Notes from a Small Island In a Sunburned Country At Home: A Short History of Private Life

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“As my father always used to tell me, 'You see, son, there's always someone in the world worse off than you.' And I always used to think, 'So?” 423 likes
“I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored.” 213 likes
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