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At Home: A Short History of Private Life

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  56,357 Ratings  ·  5,019 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 this,
Hardcover, 497 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Doubleday (first published 2010)
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Tony Marshall I'm certainly not struggling, although BB does tend to get side-tracked and meanders all over the place historically, which is perhaps why I'm really…moreI'm certainly not struggling, although BB does tend to get side-tracked and meanders all over the place historically, which is perhaps why I'm really enjoying reading and learning. It had never occurred to me that everything, literally everything, has a history. If only I can remember half of what I've learnt, I could be a source of anecdotes for years to come.(less)
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Jan 17, 2011 Sonja rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 18, 2011 Anita rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction-read
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
Feb 05, 2011 Erin rated it liked it
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
William Ramsay
Dec 21, 2010 William Ramsay rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 29, 2012 Eric_W rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jason Koivu
Feb 25, 2016 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Well that wasn't very "at home" at all, quite frankly! But hey, it was still good!

In At Home: A Short History of Private Life Bill Bryson, that transient American-Brit, is in England for this look at the house, that thing humans use to keep the rain off their heads. If you've ever gone out for a drive you've probably seen one.

Using the house he bought in the Norfolk area of England (northeast of London), Bryson takes us for a lengthy and meandering tour of each room of the standard home from th
A fun and mind expanding tour of Anglo-American cultural history structured loosely around the rooms of his Victorian rector’s house in village in Norfolk, England. If you have experienced the pleasures of some of his travel books, you will recognize his method of using an experience in the present as a launching pad for circles of digression down many fascinating paths before returning with amazing insights into the curious behaviors and marvelous accomplishments of human creativity. It all ...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
Jun 20, 2011 Trevor rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
May 29, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
“It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life


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,
Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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.
Roy Lotz
Reading this book is rather like having a trivia buff give you a sixteen-hour, cocaine-fueled tour of his house. It is exhilarating, exhausting, and often alarming.
Mar 03, 2016 Andy rated it it was ok
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. 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 titled something like "shooting the ...more
Read by His Nibs himself.

Description: “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 this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a histor
Feb 01, 2011 Jenne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
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
Feb 12, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
I really love Bill Bryson...entertaining, enlightening, and an all around good read. I'm now driving my wife crazy by bringing up little "tid-bit" facts that I learned from this book. Full review shortly but I wanted to at least move this off my "reading" to the "done" state.
Dec 20, 2010 Lena rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Carl Williams
Nov 29, 2013 Carl Williams rated it did not like it
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Sep 18, 2016 Bandit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was awesome. Absolutely awesome. For anyone with even a passing interest in history, interior design, sociology, anthropology, cultural evolution...this is an absolute must. Took a while to get through, but so worth it. In fact, this is the first book I ever took notes for, it was simply too dense, too resplendent with facts and information...although notably unlike a textbook. Writing wise this is Bryson at his best, witty, funny, erudite, droll, expansive. Not a grumpy old man so much as ...more
Sep 30, 2011 Melki rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Mar 24, 2011 Kathy rated it it was ok
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.
Mar 25, 2016 Cher rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, nonfiction
3 stars - It was good.

Instead of reading this one from cover to cover, I think it would have been a more enjoyable experience if read one chapter at a time, intermittently, while reading other books. It was a bit more dry and straight forward than A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, but Bryson still made it light and funny with his delightfully witty sense of humor.

Favorite Quote: Columbus's real achievement was managing
Apr 05, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Barbara Bryant
Apr 23, 2011 Barbara Bryant rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 21, 2014 Kandice rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: domestic-bliss
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
Dec 26, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Jul 20, 2016 Brandon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016
Resident information sponge Bill Bryson goes through his home, room-by-room, to present the history of private life and how many of the items we see and interact with on a daily basis came to find their way into our everyday lives.

At Home feels like a handbook for making small talk at social gatherings. Let’s look at a few talking points:

Next time your friend tells you about her trip to Paris, you could mention that when the city had opened submissions for a monument that would eventually become
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
Jul 13, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS

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 Con
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“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.” 20 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.” 18 likes
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