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Notes from a Small Island (Notes From a Small Island #1)

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  62,373 Ratings  ·  2,793 Reviews

"Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain-which is to say, all of it."

After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson - bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. ("I had recently read," Bryson writes, "that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been a

Paperback, 324 pages
Published May 28th 1997 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1995)
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Aggie Sanders I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but the first one I read was The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and I loved it so much I bought copies for…moreI enjoyed this one quite a bit, but the first one I read was The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and I loved it so much I bought copies for everyone on my Christmas list that year.....that was a very good one to start with.(less)
Jolynn Sharon Owens is one of my favorite Irish authors; I have read "The Tea House On Mulberry Street" and "The Tavern on Maple Street" and enjoyed both. I…moreSharon Owens is one of my favorite Irish authors; I have read "The Tea House On Mulberry Street" and "The Tavern on Maple Street" and enjoyed both. I also like British author Elizabeth Buchan; of her offerings, I have read "Everything She Thought She Wanted", "Consider The Lily", and "Perfect Love." Hope this is helpful; I also love stories set in the UK and Ireland. Cheers, Jolynn(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 10, 2007 Alissa rated it it was ok
Bill Bryson likes hedgerows, yelling at people, the English language, complaining, pretending to be a hiker, the fifth Duke of Portland, W.J.C. Scott-Bentinck, and himself. He tries too hard to be clever, and although you're being introduced to some interesting mental pictures ("a mid-face snack dispenser" for instance), and it's positively obvious how much he loves the English language and the art of writing, the lengths to which he goes can be tiring. The long-winded, irritating tangents he go ...more
After 20 years in England, Bill Bryson decided to tour Britain in 1995 by public transport over ~6 weeks and write a book about it.


There are snippets of great humour and insight (“a young man with more on his mind than in it”; “carpet with the sort of pattern you get when you rub your eyes too hard”; in Liverpool, “They were having a festival of litter... citizens had taken time off from their busy schedules to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes and carrier bags to the otherwise blan
Lisa Vegan
Apr 08, 2009 Lisa Vegan rated it really liked it
It took me forever to read this because I was constantly picking it up and putting it down, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because it’s one of those books where it works to read it in this way, and I read so many other books during the times I took breaks from reading this book.

Sometimes I just don’t like Bill Bryson as a man. There’s a smattering of things he writes that are cruel, crass, and otherwise makes him unappealing to me, and he sure drinks a lot of beer, but the nasty material
This book combines several of my favorite things: travelogues, England, and the charm of Bill Bryson.

It is the book version of comfort food.

So you can understand why I instinctively reached for this audiobook on the the first day of my new job. I wanted something comforting. And humorous. And British.

I was instantly gratified. Bryson begins his book about touring England by describing how intensely Brits will argue about distance and driving routes:

"If you mention in the pub that you intend to d
Jan 26, 2008 Conal rated it liked it
I happened upon this book by chance and read it because I enjoy Bill Bryson's writing style. His witty observations are not absent from this travelogue from his adopted home of the UK. The funny text and clever wording, however, do little to mask the fact that Bryson does not actually do very much on his journey. In almost every town, he takes walks, goes out to eat, gets quietly drunk, and bemoans modern architecture - in that order. Style can cover up for substance for only so long before it g ...more
Mr Bryson has an entertaining line of patter, a nice, wry humour and he works very very hard to endear himself with the reader. Look, I'm a regular guy from Iowa who sometimes gets really narked at owners of undisciplined dogs and thinks hedgerows are A Good Thing and cars aren't. But that doesn't quite compensate for the fact that this is basically a catalogue of towns, hotel rooms and meals in restaurants - an amusing catalogue, but a catalogue all the same. Where BB gets right up my nose is w ...more
Aug 15, 2007 Anne rated it it was amazing
I studied for a summer in Bath, adore Wimbledon, and I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and most of literary canon which can be defined as British Lit, so I think I've always had a special place in my heart for the UK, particularly England.

Also, this was introduction to Bryson and I was enchanted with his witty and slightly snarky prose that teach and amuse simultaneously!

A favorite moment: hiking in a rainstorm and reaching the summit to find a cadre of Brits huddled together eating soggy sandwic
Ben Babcock
Since I moved to England this fall, I haven’t done too much travelling around the country. I’ve been to London a couple of times, neither of which I did much that could be described as a touristy; the same applies to my trips to Cambridge. I went up to Scotland during the half-term and had a good time there, but I’m looking forward to visiting a few other places around the UK. Until I do, travel writing like Notes from a Small Island will have to serve to whet my appetite.

Bill Bryson is a brilli
Jun 26, 2008 Stacy rated it it was ok
I only got about a third of the way through this book. I was giving Bill Bryson one more chance to impress me, but he didn't quite do it.

I would recommend this book for anyone who has lived in England, as many of the references in the book would escape someone who has not spent much time there. However, I was just never pulled in by his narrative.

I felt like Bryson writes with a perennial smirk on his face, laughing at his own cleverness as he pens various turns of the phrase. But a few funny
Easily my favourite Bryson book and one I happily recommend as a light hearted introduction to Britain.

Bryson is the perfect coffee and a doughnut writer. You can read him while concentrating on your coffee and it will pass your time pleasantly, maybe you won't gain anything from this exercise, no wisdom, no insight, no sudden new understanding but he won't cost you anything either. In a sense perhaps Notes from a Big Island is the epitome of his art - the collected, USA themed, journalism that
Jan 06, 2008 Dish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: expat Brits or those nostalgic for the 1990s
Shelves: comfort-re-reads
It was hardly surprising to discover that the first book I finished in 2008 was one of my comfort re-reads. For these are the books I treasure, in the absolute certainty that whenever I feel bored, depressed, tired, lonely, miserable, or just over-whelmed by daily life I can pull them out and indulge in the healing power of the written word.

And Bill Bryson's “Notes from a Small Island” must be recorded as the ultimate comfort re-read for an expat Brit; providing on every page diversions that ar
Bill Bryson, originally from Iowa, had lived in England for the last twenty years. When he and his wife decided to move their family back to the States, he took a last trip around Britain. Except for a few days, he took only public transportation and hiked for seven weeks. Bryson traveled to Dover, London, the southern coast, then headed north through England, Wales, and Scotland, then back to his home in North Yorkshire.

I especially enjoyed the beginning and the end of the book, but thought the
Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been to England, nor have I even met a great many English people in person. Yet like so many Americans, for my whole life I have been quietly enamored of British culture. Monty Python, The Beatles, John Milton, “English Breakfast Tea” (which I imagine is not what the English call it), Mr. Bean, Indian Pale Ale, the custom of tea and digestive biscuits (which I came to love during my time in Kenya), pronouncing schedule with a “sh” at the beginning—all of these ha ...more
Apr 15, 2012 Marti rated it did not like it
Ambling know-it-all wanders around the UK, complaining about architecture, getting drunk, finding delight in little, and generally having a hard time deciding where to eat (always Indian or Chinese in the end).
It paints a pretty depressing picture of the UK, when I think his intention was the opposite. Plus, I really liked his book about traveling through continental Europe, so I don’t know what happened here. Also thought the scene where he tells us how fat people eat was insulting, to, well,
Jun 23, 2009 Molly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Molly by: Eloise
Shelves: humor
My first exposure to Bill Bryson was "A Walk In The Woods" which is about his desire to leave modern America behind and go for a stroll along the Appalachian Trail. I love that book and found it to be hysterical and at other times very sensible in his commentary about the world around us.

"Notes From A Small Island" also reflects his desire to stroll through countrysides and insert some social commentary about the communities he encounters. But this time his location is Great Britain and it is a
Mar 06, 2014 Travelin rated it it was ok
Shelves: started
Predictably, practically useless as a metric for tourism in England. Bill is in such familiar territory that he unfurls his self-centred self in full, spending whole pages describing the organizational skills of his favorite hotel and insulting anonymous people who crossed him 20 years ago. Still exceptionally written, funny and accidentally informative at times.

Two examples of of great insightful humour:

1) He spends a paragraph describing how the English would make perfect communists, loving to
Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it really liked it
Quite an entertaining book. Bryson is at his best when presented with oddities and eccentricities he can describe to, what he seems to presume anyway, a foreign audience who will be all agog at such just how different the British are. Its quite amusing to have our foibles pointed out by an American anyway, so this British person at least, enjoyed the book.
Mar 17, 2016 Gary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Gary by: Natalie Gowers, among others
Shelves: biographical, travel
I had been meaning to read this book for years, as its reputation as an entertaining read had preceded it. Now I have read it and can wholeheartedly endorse this reputation: I loved it.

In case there is anyone out there who is totally unfamiliar with the subject of this book, I shall explain. Bill Bryson is an American from Des Moines, Iowa, who had, at the time of writing, lived in the beautiful county of Yorkshire (in northern England) for many years with his English wife and children.

Bill and
Sep 07, 2015 Negin rated it it was amazing
Reading this made me yearn to return to Britain and to even live there again. Bill Bryson has a true gift for humour and description. There were so many parts that had me laughing hilariously, and some that got me all nostalgic, such as visiting the small town where I attended beauty school so many years ago – a town that’s so infrequently visited, that when he got off the train, everyone had their heads to the window, looking at him in utter surprise, as in why, on God’s green earth, would anyo ...more
Nov 13, 2015 Trelawn rated it really liked it
A very funny account of Bryson's farewell tour of Britain before moving back to the US. His observations of British customs and pastimes and even mannerisms is charming and very witty. As usual I have added more places to my "to visit" list based on Bryson's descriptions. Looking forward to The Road to Little Dribbling.
Feb 27, 2014 Vasia rated it really liked it
Bill Bryson is on tour on Britain and funnier than ever. The way he describes the british people, towns and way of life as an outsider and insider(since he lived there at the time) is delightful, witty and very clever. great book !
Aug 08, 2015 Lizzie rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, own, 2015
So, about a month ago, I moved to England from the U.S., to London. (Recently enough that it still feels a little bit preposterous to say.) One of the things we had to do, in packing our suitcases, was select which books we'd carry with us for the next several weeks and which would travel the long way inside a shipping container. If my count is correct, we brought 16 books with us, and this was one of my picks.

I like Bill Bryson and I figured this would be fun to read as a new resident of Englan
Julia Batalla
Apr 29, 2016 Julia Batalla rated it it was ok
I've had this on my to-read list for years and had always assumed that when I got around to reading it, I would love it. How could I not love a travelogue written by a self-proclaimed Anglophile?

A few sentences did make me chuckle, and I will say that Bryson is a pretty good writer. But overall, this book was a big disappointment. From the other reviews I've read on GR, it seems like I'm not the only one with these specific gripes:

1. Constant whingeing: it seemed fitting to use that word for a
Alex Ristea
It's confirmed: Bill Bryson is officially the funniest author I have ever read.

In a Sunburned Country, his book about his Australian travels, was a riot—but I didn't want to make my proclamation yet since I was on a flight to Australia when I read it. Bias and all that, you know how it is.

But after reading this book about the UK? Yup. A must have for anyone interested in travel, (mis)adventure, hilarity.

This is not a guide book. It's a recollection of the author's six-week trip around the Isles
May 11, 2012 Mitch rated it it was ok
Shelves: travel, biographical
Let's all take a moment and be thankful that, whenever someone decides to move back to their home country, they don't decide to take a final whirlwind tour and write a book about it.

That's what Bill did here. It's once around England and then back to America!

Don't get me wrong: Bill Bryson can be very funny at times. Absolutely.

I just think he needed a better situation to employ his wit. The humor comes through, but not often enough to make this book notable. I actually want to forget it quickly
Nov 14, 2008 Eric_W rated it it was amazing
Shelves: humor
Before returning to his native United States after a sojourn of some twenty years in England, Bryson decided to take a trip around that "small island." The hysterical comments in this book are the result. The British loved it so much it was a best-seller for months, and they turned it into a TV series. The book even includes a glossary of English terms. For example, do you know the difference between a village and a hamlet? One is a small town where people live, the other a play by Shakespeare!

Karen Hanson
This book started out well enough and I really had high hopes for it, but it pretty much tanked for me after that. Bryson claims that he loves Britain and thinks it’s amazing, but all I heard was a bunch of whining and complaining about it. Every building that wasn’t the original “Georgian” style he deemed as an ugly renovation done by idiotic architects. It seemed every town he traveled to was a dump. He doesn’t really do much but travel around by bus or train (of which he also complains), and ...more
Check: 10 places I want to see after reading this book

I am done with Bryson's books. The main reason is that I don't like him. He is funny sometimes but most of the time he is rude, mean, makes fun of other people, does things that I don't quite like.

This was my second book and even this failed to give me much information. I picked this book up since England is on the top of my "must-visit" places from a long time. I have been imagining about this country ever since I picked my first Enid Blyton
James Murphy
Jan 17, 2012 James Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bill Bryson knows that absurdity is present in everybody and can be found in almost every situation if you try to find it. He also knows absurdity is mostly lovable. And so Notes from a Small Island chronicles Bryson's tour of Britain from Dover to Glasgow, traveling generally north and almost always by public transport, not in search of the absurd but certainly quick to point it out. There's plenty to draw the reader's attention to, though what he sees as absurd he likes and is more than willin ...more
Nov 18, 2015 Cecilia rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anglophiles
Shelves: favorites
This is Bryson’s swan song to his adopted home of England, where he lived for over 10 years. Bryson decided, after he and his wife were leaving the UK to return to the States, to take one final trek around this “small island” and write about these farewell experiences. This was the first one of Bryson’s books that I read (I had heard of his bestselling books A Walk in the Woods and In A Sunburned Country about Appalachia and Australia respectively) and I chose this one to start with because of m ...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
More about Bill Bryson...

Other Books in the Series

Notes From a Small Island (2 books)
  • The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

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“I know this goes without saying, but Stonehenge really was the most incredible accomplishment. It took five hundred men just to pull each sarsen, plus a hundred more to dash around positioning the rollers. Just think about it for a minute. Can you imagine trying to talk six hundred people into helping you drag a fifty-ton stone eighteen miles across the countryside and muscle it into an upright position, and then saying, 'Right, lads! Another twenty like that, plus some lintels and maybe a couple of dozen nice bluestones from Wales, and we can party!' Whoever was the person behind Stonehenge was one dickens of a motivator, I'll tell you that.” 140 likes
“Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but', people apologizing to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it.

What a wondrous place this was - crazy as fuck, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start? Who else would think it not the least odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, compel the Speaker of the House of Commons to sit on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy? ('Please Hardy, full on the lips, with just a bit of tongue.') What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardners' Question Time and the chocolate digestive biscuit? None, of course.

How easily we lose sight of all this. What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century. Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far-seeing welfare state - in short, did nearly everything right - and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure. The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things - to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.

All of this came to me in the space of a lingering moment. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like it here. I like it more than I can tell you.”
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