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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  52,686 ratings  ·  4,475 reviews
From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s

Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one of the best and
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Broadway Books (first published 2006)
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Adele I agree with Carrie. In fact, I just read it today (as an audio book for a 9-hr car ride), and it really is for baby boomers. It's funny and…moreI agree with Carrie. In fact, I just read it today (as an audio book for a 9-hr car ride), and it really is for baby boomers. It's funny and interesting and thought-provoking, but the language and other references (sex, drugs, alcohol, and other misbehavin' types of things) are not for 11 & 12 year olds. It's enough that that age group dreams up enough trouble on their own. They don't need any help.(less)

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Drew
Mar 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jason Koivu
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
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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
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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
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Chrissie
Sep 18, 2016 rated it liked it
My first Bryson book. I will be reading more by the author. I enjoy the humor. I spot-checked the validity of the historical details thrown in and found them to be correct. This pleased me. Pseudonyms are used for the characters, except for his agent Jed Mattes. This seems perfectly reasonable.

So what kind of book is this? What is it really about? I think the best way to describe it is as a book of snapshots of a kid's life in the fifties in Mid-America, rather than either a biography of Bryson
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Miranda Reads
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Young Bill Bryson always pictured himself as a superhero and in this novel, he is one.

The Thunderbolt Kid is a somewhat fictionalized retelling of Bryson's childhood. Interspersing key events (such as the ever-present threat of nuclear war and humorous portrayals of his family) with the heroic efforts of the Thunderbolt Kill.

Fun, charming and a bit precocious.

Audiobook Comments
Read by Bill Bryson - so cool when an author reads their own book!

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Snapchat
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James
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was the start of a definite return to form after a positive dip in the standard of Bill Bryson's books.

What Bryson gives us here is all about growing up in 1950's America - largely autobiographical, although with Bryson's usually interesting and entertaining digressions, it's a strong book and a must for all fans of the world and works of Bill Bryson.
Tom Carrico
Mar 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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Martin
America, the 1950s, and the golden age of plenty.
Welcome to the world of Bill Bryson - the original Thunderbolt Kid.


News paper clipping...
SPRINGFIELD, ILL. (AP)—The State Senate of Illinois yesterday disbanded its Committee on Efficiency and Economy “for reasons of efficiency and economy.”
—Des Moines Tribune, February 6, 1955

Bill recalls life from a child's viewpoint as America expanded into the world.
I CAN’T IMAGINE there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America
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J.K. Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bio-memoir
This was a hilarious memoir from Bill Bryson. I grew up in Iowa too, so it made the book even a little better. Highly recommended!
Erin
Nov 29, 2007 added it
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
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Dec 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anybody with a funny bone!
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
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David Sarkies
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Baby Boomers Go to School
20 September 2016

I wasn't really sure about this book because while Bryson's story about his trek around the continental United States was very entertaining, and quite informative, the idea about reading about somebody's childhood didn't really appeal to me – I've never been a big fan of autobiographies (or biographies in general). However I never really thought much of travelogues either before I read The Lost Continent, but then I guess it had a lot to do with
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Diane
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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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
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Kristen
Sep 05, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
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Philip
Often laugh-out-loud funny and infinitely nostalgic, this is a charming read (and great gift) for anyone born in the early 1950's. Yes, some of Bryson's observations are already cliches - old people are slow, pre-teen boys are horny - but these are grossly outweighed by his insights into the stupid toys we played with, the terrible candies we ate, the dumb movies we sat through...

For a college dropout, Bryson is a remarkably smart guy. He's not only written numerous travel books, both
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Diane
Aug 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: midwest, memoirs, humorous
Like every other Bill Bryson book I've read, this one is utterly delightful, hilarious, endearing and charming. I'm sure my husband grew tired of hearing me laugh out loud when I would stay up late reading, but I couldn't help it -- Bryson's stories are too funny to hold in the giggles.

There's also a good bit of U.S. history in the book to ground the chapters, but Bryson even manages to make the Cuban missile crisis and the threat of nuclear annihilation seem humorous.

This book would make a
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Rodger
Jan 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Gary  the Bookworm
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Elyse
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Bill Bryson was a bit of a juvenile delinquent. This surprised me. His friend Stephen Katz of "A Walk in the Woods" fame was one too, but worse. Which doesn't surprise me. Since I'm only a few years younger than the author I was able to enjoy his description of life in the 1950's. To someone of a much younger age this book might not be so enjoyable. I recommend it to nostaligic Americans who have reached their early "Golden Years".
Timothy Juhl
May 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Iowans of a certain age.
This is an addendum to my previous review.

I had to read this for my book club this month and as it was an enjoyable trip down a nostalgic lane for this Iowa boy, I found something oddly revealing in Bryson's glowing adoration for the 1950s. I couldn't help but think of Bryson and other's his age, or those slightly older who were teens in the 50s and witnessed the single largest economic boom in our history. Everything was for the taking. America was great (read into that what you must, because
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Michael Endo
Mar 01, 2008 rated it liked it
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
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Brad Lyerla
Feb 24, 2017 rated it liked it
The Gallup Poll people apparently have established that 1957 was the happiest year for people living in America. (I think we can assume that Gallup means middle class white people.) THUNDERBOLT KID is Bill Bryson's remembrance of his childhood in those happy times.

Bryson grew up in Des Moines IA, in the bucolic 1950s. His childhood was largely unremarkable, but he is such a talented story teller that reading him recount episodes of childhood is unfailingly entertaining and, often, laugh out loud
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Mikey B.
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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Dana Stabenow
Oct 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hpl-s-15-in-16
Very funny, and if you're looking for it (and even if you aren't) really smart. Funny? The Willoughby brothers and their poor father, among many, many anecdotes. Smart? Bryson ends his experience of the Cuban missile crisis with "I haven't trusted grown-ups for a single moment since." There, in a sentence, the 60's explained.
Trelawn
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-challenge
An interesting and quirky snapshot of Des Moines in the 1950s told from the perspective of a young, would-be superhero. Typically Bryson with some seriously laugh out loud moments (the tv clothing range in particular got me). This was a quick, fun read.
Ensiform
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A memoir of the humor and travel writer’s childhood and adolescence in Des Moines, Iowa in the ‘50s, which he characterizes as an era of material comfort, production, consumption, happiness, endearing naïveté, embrace of changes the future would bring, and a general carefree attitude. (The title comes from a super-hero fantasy he indulged in as a child.) Lingering with affectionate nostalgia over the baseball parks, unique mom and pop shops and department stores, childhood games, and newspaper ...more
Judy
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir


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
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Alicia
Jul 10, 2007 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS 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,
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“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” 30 likes
“It was an especially wonderful time to be a noisy moron.” 13 likes
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