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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  37,384 ratings  ·  3,389 reviews
Bill Bryson's story was true, but the details and names were changed. He had a 'rich fantasy life as a superhero - The Thunderbolt Kid'.
Paperback, 268 pages
Published September 25th 2007 by Broadway Books (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Drew
Nov 22, 2014 Drew rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
...more
Mara
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
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Kim

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
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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
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Erin
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
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
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
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
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Diane
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
Rodger
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.

Kristen
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
Gary  the Bookworm
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
Alicia
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.
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
Trish
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
Isabel
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
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
ANDY
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
Jennifer
Apr 15, 2009 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars
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.
Samantha
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
Timothy Juhl
Jun 11, 2008 Timothy Juhl 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.
Victoria Miller
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
Kiwi
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.
Melora
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
J.
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
...more
Judy


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
Suzanne
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
Lisa
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 noticed....anyway...in one paragraph wh
...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
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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“It was an especially wonderful time to be a noisy moron.” 8 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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