Adrian's Reviews > At Home: A Short History of Private Life

At Home by Bill Bryson
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's review
Jan 30, 12

bookshelves: non-fiction, history
Read in January, 2012

At Home is a fantastic romp through the history of everyday things, outlining the oddities of people, cultures, and materials that combined to bring us all the things we have in and about our house.

In many ways, it is a perfect companion to Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants, showing how these things have evolved out of the pressures of the times. He takes a slow journey through a house he lived in in England, and examines the room itself and some of the contents therein, covering everything from wigs to bedbugs, architecture to wine. Most of the action of the book takes place during and in the lead up to the Industrial Revolution in England, but starts way back in prehistory (a word that comes up at some point as being an invention in and of itself) and ends in the current day.

Any given chapter, one might wander through the same periods of history, find some of the same characters, then wander off into completely new territory -- every side trip a pleasurable one.

One might criticize it on a couple points: one that it is almost too much to take in - any chapter one could see being a book in an of itself. The second, more serious criticism, is that it is decidedly Europe-centric, if not even going a step further English and American centric. He certainly does not ignore the fact of the source of so many ideas and foods coming from elsewhere, but the majority of the anecdotes, stats, and people are of European extract. As he is describing the evolution of his own home in England, this is perhaps not surprising, but there were one or two times, I wish the slant had been noted. But going back to criticism one, my head might have otherwise exploded trying to take it all in.

All in all, I highly recommend a read.

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