Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “At Home: A Short History of Private Life” as Want to Read:
At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  39,886 ratings  ·  4,107 reviews

“Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”

Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has
happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy t
...more
Hardcover, 497 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Doubleday (first published 2010)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Sonja
I came across a review that dismissed Bill Bryson's work as being entertaining fact collection that doesn't present anything new. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, if not the implication. There is nothing wrong with entertaining fact collection, and, in my mind, everything right with it. In this age of information overload, the kind of clear-minded research and fact-sorting he performs for his readers is manna sent from communication heaven. The ability (and the willingness) to collect, ...more
Anita
If Bill Bryson and Sarah Vowell wrote all the history texts, and Mary Roach wrote all the science texts, our society would be more educated and amused than anywhere on earth. I want to say that this book was a greatly informative text on the history of sanitation, architecture, anglo-saxon culture, farming, growth of cities, and society in general, but I'm afraid that would put you off.
This is the story of his house in England. He takes us through each room discussing the history, scientific br
...more
Erin
Let me preface this review by saying that, yes, I am a fan of Bill Bryson and I love history books.

At Home is not Bryson's best work. Its loosely-organized premise (a room-by-room history of everyday life and everyday objects) feels overly-contrived and, in practice, makes for a rather clumsy and wandering book.

I could only put up with a very little bit at a time. It took me a month to finish.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I read it. There are sundry interesting factoids to be had here, and you'll be a
...more
William Ramsay
This is a very hard book to categorize. Ostensibly, it's a description of the author's home in England, but that really doesn't cover it. All I could think of as I was reading it was a great conversation. If we went to his home - an English parsonage built in 1851 - for dinner we would, of course, talk about the house, but like all really great conversation the talk would ramble off in every direction with stories that had nothing to do with this particular house or houses in general for that ma ...more
Eric_W
Bryson brings us another fascinating tome filled with delightful trivia and anecdotes in this history of housing in Britain.

The “hall” as we know it today is a place to leave the muddy boots and hang coats. Originally, it *was* the whole house. With an open hearth in the middle and members of the family (this included slaves and servants since the one large room made everyone party of the unit) congregating around it, little was private and everyone shared in the heat (or lack thereof.) The inv
...more
Diane
I have a brain crush on Bill Bryson. I find his books entertaining, insightful and delightfully humorous. "At Home" did not disappoint, giving a fascinating, rambling, Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink view of world history.

The book is structured into chapters based on the different parts of a house, such as the kitchen, the drawing room, the cellar, the bedroom, etc. In the introduction, Bryson explains that he and his wife moved into a former church rectory in a village in eastern England, and s
...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Bill Bryson's curiosity is boundless, and he loves research. He seems to have a particular fondness for digging up bizarre, creepy, and freaky tidbits to share with his readers. If you don't mind skimming over the dull parts, At Home is worth reading for all the trivia and historical weirdness Bryson shares.

The book is essentially a history of domestic life in Britain and America--its comforts and discomforts, and the inventions along the way that made things easier and cleaner. I found both th
...more
Petra Xtra Crunchy
Tremendously interesting history book for people with ADD and butterfly minds. It's as if someone had taken an encyclopedia and very cleverly joined all the entries so it looked like a proper book. Oh, it was a proper book! Well then, very clever.
Trevor
There are quite a few people I know and respect that don’t really like Bill Bryson. I’ve never quite understood why not. I’m actually very fond of his writing and from this distance I even tend to think he has the perfect life. I mean, you would think that the word dilettante (or perhaps autodidact) had been created just for him. Wouldn’t you love to have the time to think to yourself, ‘gosh, I wonder how houses first came to be as they are’ – and then to spend, I don’t know, a year? two years? ...more
Andy
This book has lots of interesting factoids but these are buried under many pages-long avalanches of words about "unfairly neglected" minor personages of history that are actually fairly neglected. It sort of delivers on the promise of telling us something about the home we live in and what's inside it, but the cost of that information is a ton of tangential trivia I found extremely boring. Others surely find all the meandering anecdotes entertaining and that's fine, but then the book should be t ...more
Lena
When Bill Bryson moved into an old rectory in the English countryside, he became curious about the various features of his house and how they came into being. In At Home, he traces the development of human domestic living from its often unexpected origins to the taken-for-granted, gadget-filled dwellings we now live in.

This is my first book of Bryson's, but I will definitely be reading more. He has a clear, engaging style that has a way of making everything he talks about deeply interesting. Whi
...more
Jenne
Ooh, yes please. This is juuust the kind of thing I like. It reminds me of trying to organize a closet, where one thing leads to something else, and something else, and something else until you find yourself in the middle of re-installing a light fixture and you look over and the closet is in a mess all over the floor...anyway where was I?

Yeah, anyway, it's actually much better organized than I make it sound, and somehow manages to be organized chronologically AND spatially AND at the same time
...more
Carl Williams
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Barbara Bryant
I am still reading At Home, but it was an instant hit with me. I like Bill Bryson, for the most part, and he seems to be a family favorite around here. This is essentially a sampling of English history, told through the rooms of the parsonage in which Bryson lives in England. Basically, he wanders into the kitchen, say, and spins the history of how people once lived in one-room houses with a side kitchen, tells what they ate, what their hygiene was like and how classes were or were not separated ...more
Kathy
This is pretty fascinating and I generally like Bill Bryson, but the book is heavily concentrated on the fascinating discoveries/inventions/accomplishments of men. Women are only mentioned for the silly things they did as the wives of these men or for writing silly books Bryson describes as "unreadable then and probably unreadable now." Apparently in all his exhaustive research on the history of private life, Bryson found no significant contributions by women.
Darwin8u
Bryson uses his own family's Victorian parsonage to map out the history (mainly focused on the 18th - 20th Century) of the private life. His discussion of specific rooms ends up allowing Bryson to tangent off onto related topics as wide and varied as sex, family, shit, medicine, architecture, makeup, rope-making, etc.

This book is a movement through a house that allows Bryson to riff on people and ideas that are funny, iconic, and always peculiar. Bryson is amazing at flipping over a stone and t
...more
Jennifer
Whenever I'm asked about my favorite authors, Bill Bryson always makes the list. Not only has he written a string of humorous yet informative travel narratives, he's also penned a memoir about his 1950s childhood and a variety of non-fiction books on topics as diverse as the English language, Shakespeare and a rather grand attempt at a book called A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson is able to make whatever he is writing about amazingly interesting while also being gently humorous. I've ...more
The Book Maven
If ever you wanted to get a degree in British history, save yourself a few thousand in college tuition and indulge in a couple of Bryson’s tomes—specifically At Home. Reading it might take the same time as it would to get your degree, but it will almost certainly be more entertaining. Bryson essentially relates the history of Britain, mainly from the Early Modern period, through the domestic lens of the home, examining the ways in which major shifts and events in politics, economy, nature, cultu ...more
Jennifer
This is Bill Bryson so you know what to expect: smooth, lightly flowing prose punctuated by the droll anecdote. Since I've been reading a lot of material culture/decorative arts/landscape history books ever since college, there was nothing new for me here. I also was surprised that a book about the evolution of the house and concept of the home would have so little about women. O.K., men were identified as the architects, engineers, and tinkerers for much of history, but women were the prime inh ...more
Vasia
Bill Bryson has a talent to take literally anything and turn it into an amazing, informative and clever book. This time, he writes an amazing historical book about the evolution of society and the evolution of simple everyday things like lighting, and still write an extraordinary funny and insightful book. You would think that the boiler is a rather dull object, but combined with anecdotes about wacky scients and personal jokes Bill Bryson manages to turn it into a wonder.
Kandice
This is one of the most fascinating, yet boring books I’ve ever read. If I were Bill Bryson’s editor, I would have changed the title to At Home: A Million Tangents Of Private Life. My husband downloaded the audiobook and has listened to it twice already (he’s a huge Bryson fan!). While driving, I’d hear pieces here and there and I thought to myself, “I’ve got to read this book.” While I read it, I discussed it with my husband. He didn’t agree with me when I said that I thought Bryson was often p ...more
Bill
This fascinating book takes the reader through many centuries of domestic evolution - and has been well researched, judging from the 25 pages of bibliography. While the narrative is heavy going at times, which some may consider involves excessive detail, it nevertheless paints a harrowing picture of life in previous centuries, particularly the 18th and 19th, where the growth of towns and the later industrial revolution involved unthinkable crowding, squalor, disease and suffering.

While not dispu
...more
Ellen Booraem
Bill Bryson is the enemy of silent reading. I defy anyone to get through more than five pages of AT HOME: A SHORT HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE without feeling compelled to read some paragraph aloud to whoever else is in the room. For example:

∙ Country churches in England look like they’re sinking, but really the graveyards are rising. A typical churchyard has accumulated some twenty thousand corpses, one buried on top of another.

∙ When Thomas Edison first wired a section of Manhattan in 1881-82, “hor
...more
Kristin
Perhaps it's because I've been waiting for so long and so enthusiastically for Bryson's newest, but I was a tad disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I still liked it. It's impossible NOT to like Bryson's work. I just had one major complaint.

He divides his history of private life into chapters named for rooms of the house, the proceeds to either give a related history (as in the bathroom) or stretches the connection in order to discuss a mostly or entirely unrelated subject while still keeping his c
...more
E
Houses are where history ends up. Could there be a better premise for such a book? Bryson is impressively adept at planting seeds of interest in the lay reader.

Yet I seem to be the only one who wishes he would prune away the mini-biographies that bloom and overshadow the ideas at the root of his projects. He's a hopeless storyteller and often a great one, but I had to roll my eyes and then send them skimming when a brilliant concept like the essence of stairs devolved into yet another anecdote a
...more
Jamie
Book Review: At Home

The full title here is At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and in it historian/humorist/homeowner Bill Bryson aims to explore the history of domiciles through a tour of his own aged home in pastoral England. Bryson structures the book by dedicating a chapter to each room or area in the house and delving into historical topics associated with that location. For example, Chapter 6, "The Fuse Box" lets him discuss Thomas Edison's contributions to in-home electricity and li
...more
Tony
Bryson, Bill. AT HOME: A SHORT HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE. (2010). ****. I really enjoy Bryson’s books, and this was no exception. He is a consumate researcher and always manages to share his findings with the reader in a pleasing and provocative way. As always, this book is a source of factoids that will supply your average yearly requirement. I constantly managed to keep interrupting my wife (who was trying to read her book) with, “Did you know...?” or, “Listen to this!” She would always smile. B ...more
Melki
It took me a while to warm up to this one. All the other Bill Bryson books I've read have been about, well...Bill Bryson. HIS trip to Australia - In a Sunburned Country, HIS hike on the Appalachian Trail - A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, HIS childhood in Iowa - The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. This book seemed mostly like a list of facts.

Then around chapter five, The Scullery and Larder, while I was learning about servants and the running of massive
...more
Sarah
Years ago I visited a bookstore that had once been a home. The proprietors had a sense of whimsy that resulted in certain types of books being in certain rooms. The cookbook section had once been the kitchen, the humor section was in the bathroom, and I think the children's books and romance section were situated in the appropriate bedrooms.

Bill Bryson has taken a similar approach to this book. He walks the reader through the former Church of England rectory in which his family lives. In each ro
...more
JG (The Introverted Reader)
We take so much in our daily lives for granted. Bill Bryson looked around his house one day, realized how little he knew about the everyday objects surrounding him, and, being Bill Bryson, decided to research and write a book about them.

I read this slowly as my before-bed book, and I'm not sure that was always a good idea. Reading about how ingenious rats are as I hear the pitter-pat of little rodent feet in my attic space is not necessarily a good idea. But at least now I know who invented the
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Aspiring Poly...: At Home 3 47 Sep 07, 2012 01:29AM  
  • The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History
  • Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories
  • Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant
  • Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England
  • Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
  • If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home
  • Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
  • A History of the Wife
  • The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World
  • The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
  • The Victorian Internet
  • The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language
  • The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind
  • An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge
  • Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
  • The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
  • London: The Biography
7
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 I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away

Share This Book

“I refer of course to the soaring wonder of the age known as the Eiffel Tower. Never in history has a structure been more technologically advanced, materially obsolescent, and gloriously pointless all at the same time.” 13 likes
“For anyone of a rational disposition, fashion is often nearly impossible to fathom. Throughout many periods of history – perhaps most – it can seem as if the whole impulse of fashion has been to look maximally ridiculous. If one could be maximally uncomfortable as well, the triumph was all the greater.” 11 likes
More quotes…