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The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

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'I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to'

And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set.

Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. Travelling around thirty-eight of the lower states - united only in their mind-numbingly dreary uniformity - he discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land.

The Lost Continent is a classic of travel literature - hilariously, stomach-achingly funny, yet tinged with heartache - and the book that first staked Bill Bryson's claim as the most beloved writer of his generation.

299 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 1989

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About the author

Bill Bryson

97 books18.9k followers
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, Bill Bryson's hilarious first travel book, he chronicled a trip in his mother's Chevy around small town America. It was followed by Neither Here Nor There, an account of his first trip around Europe. Other travel books include the massive bestseller Notes From a Small Island, which won the 2003 World Book Day National Poll to find the book which best represented modern England, followed by A Walk in the Woods (in which Stephen Katz, his travel companion from Neither Here Nor There, made a welcome reappearance), Notes From a Big Country and Down Under.

Bill Bryson has also written several highly praised books on the English language, including Mother Tongue and Made in America. In his last book, he turned his attention to science. A Short History of Nearly Everything was lauded with critical acclaim, and became a huge bestseller. It was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, before going on to win the Aventis Prize for Science Books and the Descartes Science Communication Prize. His next book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, is a memoir of growing up in 1950s America, featuring another appearance from his old friend Stephen Katz. October 8 sees the publication of A Really Short History of Nearly Everything.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,258 reviews
Profile Image for Leftbanker.
770 reviews279 followers
May 16, 2022
The Lost Continental: A Look at Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's travel books are mostly like this one, a constant whining about everything. His other non-travel books I love. It's not that I don't get the "humor" in this book, I just think that it isn't funny, not in the least. I should also say that I have lived a full one quarter of my life outside of the United States and I don’t care if someone makes fun of anything and everything American (I’ve done a bit of bashing myself).

A dyspeptic man in his middle thirties, whose constant bad mood seems more like someone in their mid seventies, drives around the U.S. and complains about absolutely everything he sees, smells, hears, and eats. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, read Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America (Abacus, 1990).

He constantly mocks small towns in America by referring to them by such names as Dog Water, Dunceville, Urinal, Spigot, and Hooterville—and this is in the first five pages. Don’t worry about the intrepid insulter running out of clever names for hick towns; Bryson has a million of them and he uses every single one.

The only things about which Bryon has a favorable view are natural wonders and the homes of rich people. He marvels at the obscenely-posh residences of ultra-wealthy, early 20th century industrialists on Mackinac Island which were built before income taxes and most labor laws. He would probably be thrilled with pre-revolutionary France or Czarist Russia. One of his very few favorable reviews of American cities was of the ski town of Stowe, Vermont, which caters almost exclusively to the rich.

When he is traveling through the southwest, he complains about the Mexican music on the radio. He seems more content to resort to bigotry than to come to some sort of understanding about the culture he is visiting. In my opinion, it’s always more interesting to praise something that you understand than to mock something that you don’t. I'd have taken the time to translate a few of the songs and tell readers what they are about. In fact, I've done this and Mexican ranchera music is all about stories of love, heartbreak, and often violence which describe the cowboy culture of Mexico’s northern territories. Bryson implies that the people who listen to this music are just too stupid to realize that it's only one tune played over and over.

He gripes about a weatherman on TV who seems rather gleeful at the prospect of a coming snow storm, yet Bryson seems to relish in the idea of not liking anything that he experiences in his journey. His entire trip is like a storm he passes through. Just once I wanted him to roll into some town that he liked and get into an interesting conversation with one of its residents.

Here are examples of the cheeriness with which Bryson opens a few of his chapters:

“I drove on and on across South Dakota. God, what a flat and empty state.”

“What is the difference between Nevada and a toilet? You can flush a toilet.”
(One reviewer called Bryson "witty.")

“I was headed for Nebraska. Now there’s a sentence you don’t want to have to say too often if you can possibly help it.”

“In 1958, my grandmother got cancer of the colon and came to our house to die.”
This last event must have brought untold joy to the young writer.

Tell us more, Bill. His narrative is more tiresome than any Kansas wheat field he may have passed on his road trip through hell. Most Americans seem to be either fat, or stupid, or both in the eyes of Bryson. I can only assume that Bryson himself is some sort of genius body builder (although in his photo on the book jacket he's a fat schlub). Just one time I wanted him to talk to a local resident over a beer or a cup of coffee. I wanted him to describe his partner in conversation as other than fat or stupid. Not even one time do we hear about a place from somebody who lives there. We could just as easily have read the guidebooks as Bryson did, and he could have stayed home and saved himself thousands of miles of misery.

Whenever someone starts to tell me about somewhere they've traveled, I ask them to describe their favorite thing about the trip, be it a special spot, food, the people, or whatever. If they start to complain about the place, I either change the subject or walk away if I can. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, not make it narrower.
Profile Image for Matt.
900 reviews28k followers
September 1, 2021
“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact without question and settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever, or you spend your adolescence moaning at length about what a dump it is and how you can’t wait to get out, and then you settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever…”
- Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent

Give me chance to explain.

I know that Bill Bryson is a hugely successful, internationally-bestselling author. I know his books are on the shelves of millions. Heck, even I own one, the entertaining, easily-digestible One Summer.

But The Lost Continent is not good. It is, in fact, an absolute bummer. I would not recommend it at any time, but especially not in these particular days of division, discord, and fear.

Part of my reaction, I see now, was shock. Shock that this super-popular writer could have produced something like this.

I stumbled across The Lost Continent quite by accident. It was on my wife’s personal bookshelf, which is to say, it was in a cardboard box under our bed, and I found it while looking for a shoe.

The premise – a thirty-eight state tour of America, purportedly focusing on small towns – seemed charming and sweet, a marvelous opportunity to hit the backroads and find beauty in simplicity. Sure, there’d probably be some light ribbing at the expense of rural folk, yet I was certain we’d ultimately end at a place of warmth and conciliation.

Well, turns out my assumptions were wrong.

This book is garbage. I hated it, with every fiber of my being. From the first page to the last. This is awful. It is spiteful, mean, heartless, uninspired, offensive, insulting, unfunny, uninterested, and dreary.

At its best, it is punching down. At its worst, it is close to hateful.


The Lost Continent is a book to take your mood, whatever it is, and drive it down, like a nail pounded into soft mud by a sledgehammer. In other words, not the best thing to be reading in 2020, while America falls apart. (In all honesty, this might have played a part in my reaction).

As noted above, Bryson has an incredibly lofty reputation. This was also his first book, so he was probably still working on his “voice.” But these pages – many of them filled with my furious annotations – feel like the work of an anti-intellectual knuckle-dragging mouth-breather.

The execution of The Lost Continent is cold, repetitive, and soul-wearying. Bryson goes to a place, spends five minutes there, declares it “boring,” and leaves in a cloud of gutter-level playground insults. He uses that descriptor – boring – so many times I stopped counting. Over and over again. It is the absolute height of obnoxiousness. My three-year-old says it’s boring, a lot. Bryson was thirty-six when he wrote this. I would never slap my kids. Bryson, on the other hand…never mind.

The only joke that works in The Lost Continent is a meta one. To wit: Bryson, despite all his sneering at the non-people he meets, comes off as the dumbest asshole in the realm. He adds nothing to any conversation. He does not make a single acute observation. He is a lackluster faux-adventurer who finds only one thing in each new place: a reason to despise it. Mostly, his reasons contradict themselves. The waitresses are either too friendly or not friendly enough. The hotels are either too small or too large. The small towns are either too dumpy or too perfect. In the midst of this mess of ill-considered thoughts, Bryson somehow avoids putting two ideas together, even by accident. There is not a single insight about America worth repeating.


I love road trips. Like, really, really love them. When I first got married, my wife and I blazed a path thousands of miles long through Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, and Oklahoma, sniffing out historic sites and accumulating rest-stop maps and collecting gas station sunglasses and having the best time of our lives. Every day we just woke up and drove, finding someplace new. Sometimes, when our four kids are simultaneously complaining about everything – in a Bryson-like manner – we think back to those days, when every road was an opportunity.

You almost can’t go wrong with a road trip.

With Bryson as your seatmate, though, I’d prefer Third-Class tickets on the Titanic. His gimmick is aging frat boy, a tired mélange of casual misogyny, occasional f-bombs, and an inability for self-reflection (the constant fat-shaming of women, for instance, is odd, since based on his cover photo, he's not exactly Brad Pitt from Thelma and Louise).

One has to question how, with the road before him, a map beside him, and all the time that he needed, Bryon went into this project with the mindset of a person on a death march.


I had fair warning, within the first few pages.

Things start off badly, and get worse. Bryson begins by claiming his birthright as a Midwesterner. Specifically, he is from Des Moines, Iowa. This opening gambit is a transparent pose. For some reason, people believe that claiming membership of a group gives them an open-season license to fire at will. Here, Bryson thinks he can be as “outrageous” as he wants, since he’s ostensibly just another small-towner, no different from the people he’s slagging.

But that’s not true. Bryson was born in Iowa, but he’s lived the majority of his life in London, and he wastes no time establishing his superiority and Anglophilia.

You see that in the way he talks about Des Moines, a description that is just at odds with reality. Yes, Des Moines is in Iowa. No, despite Bryson’s allegations, it is not comprised solely of overweight women at the Merle Hay Mall. Rather, it is the state capital of Iowa (with a cool capitol building), a college town (Drake University, founded in 1881), and host to a unique, internationally-known event (the Drake Relays). It is a modern city. But to hear Bryson describe it, everyone is still going potty in an outhouse, while looking upwards in abject horror whenever a flying machine passes overhead.


Bryson is clearly a brainy guy. Yet, oddly, The Lost Continent presents very little by way of factoids or trivia, in contrast to One Summer, which was constructed entirely of factoids. Here, though, Bryson is absolutely un-curious and unquestioning. Take the Merle Hay Mall. It’s not just a gathering place for the overweight. It’s named for Merle Hay, reputed to be the first American soldier killed in World War I. Why do I know that? Because I used to drive through Des Moines on a bimonthly basis. I saw the name, thought it was interesting, and I went home and looked it up. In all the thousands of miles that Bryson traveled, I don’t think he once wrote something down and said, I should look that up. In short: He. Does. Not. Care.


The Lost Continent is roughly divided into two parts: East and West. In both, the setup is the same. Bryson – who has been overseas for twenty years – hops in his mom’s Chevette and starts driving. It’s a simple, excellent idea, and it jumpstarted a long and lucrative career, in which he has morphed into a beloved literary figure.

That’s quite a turn, because The Lost Continent is mostly about Bryson badmouthing all that he surveys.

Unsurprisingly, Iowa gets slammed. Surprisingly, Bryson slams it by comparing it to the Sorrentine Coast, which is in Italy, and is also a place where the land meets the ocean. Is it really fair – no, strike that. Is it really coherent to compare a landlocked state to an ocean coast? No, it’s not. That doesn’t matter to Bryson, because he has only three tools in his toolbox: Fat Women Jokes; Corn Jokes; and Euro-elitism.

That’s not entirely accurate. He also finds time for some sub-Seinfeld riffs on the commercials he watches in his hotel room. You haven’t been introduced to Not-Funny until you’ve seen Bryson crack wise about Preparation H. Honestly, you’d be better off sniffing a ton of modeling glue, rather than exposing yourself to this.

The list of places that Bryson goes is long and merges together into one endless complaint. He doesn’t like Hannibal, Missouri, or Mark Twain’s home. He doesn’t like the Mississippi River (“dull”) or Gettysburg (“boring”) or the Smokey Mountains (beautiful, but too many fat tourists). Because he wants to spread his unamusing misanthropy as far as possible, he even goes to big cities – Las Vegas, New York City – so he can complain about them too.

Nothing can possibly please him.

The incident that really stands out is when Bryson goes to Yosemite National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. Of course, he concludes it is nothing but a massive disappointment. Why, you might ask? Because it is busy (that is, filled with tourists who are – you guessed it! – “fat”), and because he got lost.

Two quick points. The first: of course it’s busy, it’s Yosemite National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s not some dank chippy in Lambeth where you can just sit all day by yourself in a dark corner, sipping Carling and despising everything.

The second: Bryson getting lost is his own stinking fault. I went to Yosemite with friends some years ago. Since it was packed (being one of the most beautiful, etc., etc.), we drove directly to the Ranger Station, and simply asked the Ranger where we could go to get away from the crowds. The Ranger answered our question, and we hiked for five days. With the exception of the day we went up Half Dome, we didn’t see another soul. The point, of course, is that Yosemite is massive. You can get lost in it – and not on the roads, like Bryson, but in the miles and miles and miles of backcountry paths. Bryson, though, goes to this place of incredible wonder and beauty, and is just disgusted, because there are others around him. Then he leaves and goes to a crappy hotel room to drink beer and watch television, like he does every night. If he had put forth the minutest effort, instead of whinging about every damn thing, he might have experienced something. That’s not his way, though. He prefers to take drive-by potshots at the world (which he clearly believes is meant for him alone), without ever getting out of his Chevette and interacting with his environment.


It is striking how few people Bryson actually speaks with in the course of 299 interminable pages. Unlike Tony Horwitz in Confederates in the Attic (which is how you do a travel-memoir), Bryson can’t engage in any meaningful interactions. This is not terribly shocking, since he comes off as a gaseous prick.

Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning, as it is symptomatic of Bryson’s extremely dark view of humanity. To him, the people in these small towns are not people at all. They are creatures. They are lower lifeforms without thoughts, dreams, loves, interests, ambitions. The way he writes about them is almost a literary cleansing, a condescension so vast and powerful that it denies men and women their basic humanity. The funny thing is, the joke is on Bryson. Published in 1989, we are now in the midst of a full-fledged culture war pitting urban Americans against rural Americans. The Lost Continent was not the cause, of course. But it was a harbinger. It turns out that a lot of Americans knew exactly what smug elites like Bryson were saying all along. It alienated them, and that alienation has turned to anger.


Somewhere along the line, Bryson must have changed. At the very least, his persona must have changed. I’m making this assumption because I get Bryson recommendations all the time. Almost everyone I know has A Walk in the Woods on their shelves. This includes people who would not be okay with the way that Bryson talks about poverty and poor people (including snide remarks to beggars about having “no dignity”) or the way he refers to Truman Capote as “a mincing little f-g.”

(Aside: Bryson’s views on poverty are both thoughtless, heartless, and fact-less. Indeed, there are times this feels like a high-school kid's unfortunate Twitter feed – the kind you eventually erase, hoping no one saw it – rather than the work of a middle-age man who should know better).

I have not looked into the matter, but I wonder if Bryson realized that childhood and nostalgia would work better – and sell more books – than this toxic stew. I wonder if he did the calculations and changed his style accordingly. If he did, only he can say if the change was more than skin deep.


To be fair – though I shouldn’t have to be fair; Bryson isn’t – the final third of The Lost Continent is more palatable. This covers the time heading west, rather than east, and he lightens up a bit, acknowledges some of his own shortcomings, and also manages a glimmer of…well, it’s not happiness, per se, but it’s a step above his usual griping. The final page is beautifully written, and if the book had used that tone – rather than being the exact opposite of that tone – this might have been a great book, rather than one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. It also would’ve helped if there had been more of Bryson’s dad, a figure who appears far too infrequently, and seems a much better traveling companion. Bryson’s dad was excited to go places, excited to meet people, excited to be on the road.


The final thing I have to say – I promise – is that travel is an incredible privilege. Aside from being extremely fun, it is also among the finest ways that exist in our universe to make connections and create empathy across the lines (national, cultural, racial, economic, religious) that separate us. It is an absolute shame that Bryson took this gift – this gift of opportunity, of time, of ability – to make his journey a parade of nastiness. In all his miles, he never found any common ground; he found only chasms. In all his miles, he never shared an awesome sight; he felt only bitterness that sights had to be shared. In all his miles, he never once seemed truly happy.

As a result, The Lost Continent is awfully sad, on top of everything else.
1 review
October 2, 2011
It's funny how so many Americans begin their reviews of 'The Lost Continent' with statements such as "I loved Bryson's other books but this one is terrible!", all because he treats America the same way as he treats everywhere and everyone else.

So while many Americans think it's acceptable - hilarious, even - for Bryson to make disparaging-but-witty comments about non-Americans and the places they call home, it is an utter outrage for him to be anything other than completely worshipful with regard to America and Americans.

The unavoidable, undeniable fact of the matter is that Bill Bryson's 'The Lost Continent' is not only one of his finest works, but one of the best books ever written by anyone in recent times about the USA and Americans.

It is as funny as anything you'll ever read, as well as being touching, poignant and fascinating. It is the first book I've read since 'Neither Here Nor There' (also by Bryson) that has caused me to think of calling my travel agent.

America has never been half as interesting as it is in 'The Lost Continent' and Americans ought to be supremely grateful it was written and published.

Five stars and highly recommended.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
547 reviews4,475 followers
September 4, 2022
The most mean-spirited book I've ever read. How this could have ever been published, let alone reissued twelve years later, I don't understand. I may be done with Bill Bryson. I get he has name recognition in the nonfiction world, but there are a lot of other prolific writers out there who deserve to be more widely read who don't go on road trips for the express purpose of making fun of every person they meet when they sit down to write their book. This is utterly useless on top of being nasty.

Click here to hear me rant about this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive.

Profile Image for Tommy.
234 reviews29 followers
December 7, 2007
Well, ain't it somethin for dat rascally Mr. Bryson wit all o dat funny Northern talk to make his way down here to Dixie and spend some time wid us! We sure do 'ppreciate you takin us into your rich and well-knowed book, Mr. Bryson. And yer gosh-darn-right, God save all those poor folk who done shopped at K-Mart! They should've spent their nickels at Crate & Barrel had they knowed what to do wid demselves.....
Profile Image for Jeff .
912 reviews674 followers
February 22, 2018

In which a bilious Bryson, returning to the U.S. after living in England, borrows his mom’s car (with her permission) and sets out to find the perfect American small town.

Bryson kind of loses focus of his main task along the way, but that doesn’t prevent him from slinging his jibes at 38 of the lower U.S. states.

This one’s almost as funny as the other Bryson books I’ve read, but he seems to have a stick up his behind for most of it and the sometimes nasty barbs at middle Americans lose steam fairly quickly.

A nice quota of belly laughs are found herein, but you’ll be shaking your head and saying, “What the Hell, Bill?” more often than not.

Profile Image for Howard.
318 reviews224 followers
December 14, 2021
I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact without question and settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever, or you spend your adolescence moaning at length about what a dump it is and how you can’t wait to get out, and then you settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever.

So begins Bill Bryson’s book about returning to his childhood home after living in England for a decade. The above isn’t that much different from what many people would write about the place where they grew up and from which they left at the first opportunity.

But there’s more. He goes on to write that “[h]ardly anyone ever leaves. This is because Des Moines is the most powerful hypnotic known to man.” Okay. I can see how a young man, especially one who has traded Iowa for England, might have the same reaction to the place he left.

But he’s not through.

When I was growing up I used to think that the best thing about coming from Des Moines was that it meant you didn’t come from anywhere else in Iowa. By Iowa standards, Des Moines is a mecca of cosmopolitanism…. During the annual state high-school basketball tournament, when the hayseeds from out in the state would flood into the city for a week, we used to accost them downtown and snidely offer to show them how to ride an escalator or negotiate a revolving door.

And you know what; I was beginning to believe that the condescending little smart aleck probably did just that (smart aleck being a euphemism for another euphemism).

There’s more:

“Iowa women are almost sensationally overweight....”

I bet they loved reading this book in Iowa – especially the women.


Above all, Iowans are friendly. You go into a strange diner in the South and everything goes quiet, and you realize all the other customers are looking at you as if they are sizing up the risk involved in murdering you for your wallet and leaving your body in a shallow grave somewhere out in the swamps.

I bet they loved reading this book in the South.

All of this is the beginning of Bryson’s first travel book which was published in 1989 when he was thirty-six years old, and still just as susceptible to boredom as he was as a child whining in the backseat of the car when the family took road trip vacations to places that he didn’t like. And the reason he didn’t like them was because he lacked the imagination that would have allowed him to see beyond the monotonous scenery of certain areas that could have made him appreciate the area’s history and uniqueness.

I know the above to be true because the same tendencies were apparent in the thirty-six year old man who wrote a book.

He spent a fall and a spring traveling in two huge loops— one in the east and one in the west – almost 14,000 miles, touching (barely in many cases) thirty-eight states -- and found most of those miles and those states to be boring. His idea of humor was to make fun at the expense of the people he encountered, rarely ever engaging them in conversation.

Here is the lengthiest conversation with a local that he recorded in the book:

I was headed for Cairo [Illinois], which is pronounced ‘Kay-ro.’ I don’t know why…. At Cairo I stopped for gas and in fact did ask the old guy who doddered out to fill my tank why they pronounced Cairo as they did.

‘Because that’s its name,’ he explained as if I were kind of stupid.

‘But the one in Egypt is pronounced ‘Ki-Ro.’

‘So, I’ve heard,’ agreed the man.

‘And most people, when they see the name, think ‘Ki-ro, don’t they?’

‘Not in Kay-ro they don’t,’ he said a little hotly.

There didn’t seem to be much to be gained by pursuing the point, so I let it rest there, and I still don’t know why the people call it “Kay-ro.” Nor do I know why any citizen of a free country would choose to live in such a dump, however you pronounce it.

The shame is that if Ian Frazier, the author of Great Plains, had wondered about the name and why people lived in such a town, he would have found out and he would have let the reader know. And so would have Rinker Buck, who traveled the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon from St. Joseph, Missouri all the way to Oregon, and wrote about it in The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey.

Much of Buck’s journey was along the Platte River in Nebraska, a state that Bryson barely nicked in the southeast corner of the state, proclaiming that “Nebraska must be the most unexciting of all the states.” It isn’t, but even if it was he didn’t know enough about the state to make that judgment.

This was my second reading of Bryson’s book. I remembered that when I read it in the early 90s that there was some humor that made me chuckle, but there was also much more that was so obnoxious that it made me cringe; a little of that went a long way. My reread doesn’t change that assessment.

What it did do was cause me to read Great Plains for the third time and The Oregon Trail for the first time. They sit side-by-side on my “favorites” shelf. I recommend them both.

As for Bryson, he mellowed somewhat in the many books that followed. I have no way of knowing, but perhaps he received some blowback about the harshness of the humor that he resorted to at other peoples' expense. I have read nearly everything that he later wrote down through the years and the humor is still prevalent, but it has lost some of the bitter edge that characterized this book. And that’s a good thing.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
459 reviews281 followers
May 26, 2018
I do like my arm chair travelling with a hint of cynicism and much like Australians who are expert at taking the Mickey out of ourselves it was refreshing to see an American being able to take the piss.

He may not be politically correct but who hasn’t had a variation of the same thoughts going through their head about other tourists when travelling through touristy hot spots. I can’t express how much I enjoyed hearing about boring god awful places as much as I did during the reading of this book. When people regale me with their travel stories I usually glaze over but I was strangely riveted and the more dismal a place he visited the more fun I seemed to have!

I’m officially a Bill Bryson fan I really don’t know why it took me so long to read him but now I just want more more more! On to the next adventure!
Profile Image for Ciara.
72 reviews4 followers
March 13, 2008
This is the worst book ever. Bryson is a fat, cynical white guy traveling around the country, proclaiming in the subtitle: "Travels in Small Town America." But like most fat white guys, Bryson is scared of small town America. He hates every small town he comes to- whether they're on Indian reservations, small farming communities in Nebraska, southern towns full of African Americans where the author is too scared to even stop the car, or small mining communities in West Virginia, also where the author is too scared to stop. How can you write a book about small town America when you're too scared to stop in any small towns??? His favorite towns? Pittsburg and Charlotte. (Definitely "small" in my world.)

Driving through the north woods, crossing the border from Maine to New Hampshire: "The skies were still flat and low, the weather cold, but at least I was out of the montony of the Maine woods."

In Littleton, on the Vermont border: "People on the sidewalk smiled at me as I passed. This was beginning to worry me. Nobody, even in America, is that friendly. What did they want from me?"

At a cemetery in Vermont: "I stood there in the mile October sunshine, feeling so sorry for all these lukles speople and their lost lives, reflecting bleakly on mortality and my own dear, cherished family so far away in England, and I thought, 'Well, fuck this,' and walked back down the hill to the car."

At least he freely refers to himself as a "flinty-hearted jerk-off."

Maybe Mr. Bryson should get off his lazy ass, stop whining about England, and actually stop the car once in a while. This book spouts so much hateful white guy racism that I can't even bring myself to give it away. While I am 100% against burning or destroying any kind of book, I simply cannot let this one leave my hands. It will probably just find someone who agrees with it's horrible twisted and pessimistic point of view! I haven't decided if I'm going to just bury it in my storage space (which may mean when I leave my apartment someone else might pick it up), or "accidentally" drop it in a snowbank outside. At least in spring the pages would all be glued together, and no one would be able to read it ever again.

Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,238 reviews2,208 followers
July 10, 2018
I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.

Thus begins Bill Bryson his travelogue, setting the tone for what is going to follow: he is a smart-aleck, and he is going to be at his sarcastic best in taking down small-town America through which he is going to travel.

Des Moines in Iowa is a typical small town in America where nothing ever happens and nobody ever leaves, because that is the only life they have known and they are happy with it. But not so young Bill – he watched one TV show on Europe when he was ten and was consumed with a desire to become European. After a steady diet of National Geographics during his adolescence, Bryson left for England and settled there. However, during his middle age, he was filled with a sense of nostalgia for small-town America, and the journeys he had across them with his family as a child.

Bryson’s father was an inveterate traveller who compulsively took his family on vacations every year. These would have been extremely enjoyable except for two issues – Senior Mr. Bryson’s penchant for getting lost as well as his unbearable thrift (as Bill says, “[h]e was a child of the Depression and where capital outlays were involved he always wore the haunted look of a fugitive who has just heard blood hounds in the distance”) which made him avoid good restaurants and forced them to stay almost always in rundown motels.

But as happens to most of us, the onset of age made Bryson view these journeys more and more favourably through the rose-tinted glasses of fond memory; until one day he came back to the home of his youth and set across the country of his birth in an ageing Chevrolet Chevette. He made two sweeps in all, one circle to the East in autumn and another to the West in spring. His experiences during these two journeys are set forth in this hilarious and compulsively readable book.
If one is familiar with Bryson, one knows what to expect from his books – sarcastic humour, bordering on the cruel; enthralling snippets about history and geography; and really expressive descriptions of the places he visited. All these trademarks are in evidence here. By the time I finished this book, I found that I possessed a surprisingly large amount of information about America, what landmarks to visit, and what famous personalities lived where. Bryson writes with great feel and the place comes alive for you. His predilection for staying in small towns and seedy motels (the latter actually not by choice – many of the towns he ended up in the night did not have any other type of accommodation) shows up a facet of America the tourist is unlikely to see.

But it’s when he writes about people that Bryson gives free rein to his biting wit. The Illinois barmaid with ‘Ready for Sex’ written all over her face; the Mississippi policeman who asks “Hah doo lack Miss Hippy?” (“How do you like Mississippi?”); the Indian gentleman who would not stop questioning a hungover Bryson about the possibility of smoking inside a bus (who ultimately had to be shouted down); the geriatric pump attendant spraying petrol all over the place, with a burning cigarette butt stuck in his mouth... I can go on and on. Even though these people were used as the butts of jokes, I ended up loving them – they were so human.

And of course, one can’t forget Bryson’s signature comments about America.
The whole of the global economy is based on supplying the cravings of two per cent of the world's population. If Americans suddenly stopped indulging themselves, or ran out of closet space, the world would fall apart.
When you grow up in America you are inculcated from the earliest age with the belief - no, the understanding - that America is the richest and most powerful nation on earth because God likes us best. It has the most perfect form of government, the most exciting sporting events, the tastiest food and amplest portions, the largest cars, the cheapest gasoline, the most abundant natural resources, the most productive farms, the most devastating nuclear arsenal and the friendliest, most decent and most patriotic folks on earth. Countries just don't come any better. So why anyone would want to live anywhere else is practically incomprehensible. In a foreigner it is puzzling; in a native it is seditious.

And this hilarious quip about ONE PARTICULAR AMERICAN...
On Fifth Avenue I went into the Trump Tower, a new skyscraper. A guy named Donald Trump, a developer, is slowly taking over New York, building skyscrapers all over town with his name on them, so I went in and had a look around. The building had the most tasteless lobby I had ever seen - all brass and chrome and blotchy red and white marble that looked like the sort of thing that you would walk around if you saw it on the sidewalk. Here it was everywhere - on the floors, up the walls, on the ceiling. It was like being in somebody's stomach after he'd eaten pizza.

One may ask, whether after the journey, was Bryson satisfied? Well, maybe not fully:
...there are three things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.

This is something which all of us must have felt one time or the other: the landscapes of our youth can be visited only through memory.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
854 reviews99 followers
August 15, 2022
What a pain in the butt!

Julie and I used to take day trips north of Berkeley, and whenever we drove into a town and saw buildings that we didn’t like, we would get out our finger zap guns and make the buildings disappear. By the time we had left a town, it was beautiful. We hated strip malls, gas stations, fast food restaurants, some architecture, and telephone poles. A near perfect townt that I once saw was Etna, CA, just west of Mt. Shasta. It was not fancy, but they had no telephone poles, and they had cowboys. {It was not Etna.)

Bill Bryson begins with his own town of Des Moines, Iowa, slamming it as a piece of junk, ugly, and then slamming its women as being all fat. He thought this humorous; I did not. I have never been to Des Moines, but when I hear the name I think of how my grandmother once lived there. She was 19 at the time. I have an air brushed photo of her, and on the back of it is says 1920, Des Moines, Iowa, Nudii Photography. Yes, Nudii. The photo had fake scenery for she was standing on a clump of grass with flowers. Naked. She had once posed for Maxfield Parrish and for Native American calendars.

I knew what I was getting into when I picked up this book for I had read reviews. I had to see for myself, but I also hoped to hear some good travel stories. There were none. While I can understand Bill Bryson not liking many things about a towns, after because America gave up planning them or never had, he is wrong that any town is totally ugly. So, I am sure that even Des Moines has redeeming qualities.

Bryson admired only wealth. For example, he admired Beaufort, South Carolina, a city that I imagine was built on the backs of slaves. One where the wealthy got to live in nice mansions, and the slaves got whatever wood was left over at the job site. When I was younger, I loved going through those mansions, even seeing the slave quarters, even though I cringed, I had to see them. They were history. When we drove to South Carolina a few years ago, it wasn’t to see the mansions; it was to visit the Gullah island of St. Helena across the bridge from Beaufort. I wrote about it in my review of “The Secret of Gumbo Grove.” I much preferred seeing the island and having breakfast in a restaurant where the black cook had made the best biscuits and gravy that we had ever tasted. And I never thought once to zap anything on that island. Yet, it was not fancy.

Moving along. Bryson missed Key West. Maybe he was afraid of bridges over rough waters. I know that I was. Well, I love Key West, just not its tourists, its traffic, or the loud music in some of its restaurants. I love how they painted the town in Caribbean colors of yellow, pink, blue, green, and even some white. But what is best about Key West is its chickens. They roam everywhere. You have not been to Key West unless a chicken has landed on your breakfast table and pooped. Nor have you been there unless you shared your table with a cat.

And so, I know, I felt that I had to rewrite Bryson’s book for him, because he left Key West out, but I will not continue to do this as I do not have the time. I would also like to edit his book so I can delete his nasty comments about people, like I had done when I was a moderator on some forums, even my own. I once jokingly referied to myself as “The Deletest.”

Next, Bryson went through the Smokey Mountains and claims it to be most beautiful place in the U.S., except for its poor and ignorant people. They may be poor, but they have wisdom and know how to survive. But how does he think that it retained its beauty? Does he think that the wealthy could improve upon it by building resorts and mansions? The reason it is beautiful is because the wealthy have not been able to buy up the land. I need an aspirin.
6 reviews1 follower
December 19, 2008
Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who's noticed the fact that Bill Bryson is a smug bastard who casts a pall of depressing sarcasm over everything he writes about. I mean, I'm all for sarcasm in most cases, but it's as though all of his subjects are cheapened and made despicable by his prose. In The Lost Continent, he turns every small-town inhabitant into an ignorant, obnoxious caricature. The book has virtually nothing to offer, unless you, too, are hell-bent on whining about the constant ennui of middle-American travel. If you'd like a travelogue with value and interest, try Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon, who actually has some respect for his fellow human beings.
Profile Image for Zuberino.
362 reviews64 followers
June 28, 2015
Bryson does two things very well in this book, besides his trademark humour which is happily a constant in this and every other book he's ever written. He captures the spirit of the land at a very specific time in its recent history: 1987, the high water mark of the Reaganite project. Time and again, he is left demoralized by the mindless affluenza that was the hallmark of American society during the latter half of the 1980s.

More broadly, Bryson leaves a depressingly accurate description of the tawdriness and vulgarity of America's built environment - a cement desert of motels, burger joints, gas stations, strip malls, freeways and parking lots repeated ad nauseam throughout the Lower 48 - that is painfully recognizable even 25 years later. If you have ever wondered at the wanton debasement that has been visited on the land by its greedy natives, if you have ever been saddened by the pitiless ugliness that surrounds you in America's cities, towns and suburbs, then surely this book is for you.

Afterwards, read Edward Abbey and Philip Connors to cleanse your soul and to give thanks for the national parks and wildernesses that still do a stalwart job of protecting nature's beauty and grandeur against a hostile population.

PS This was Bryson's first book. The opening lines - "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to." - must constitute one of the great introductions by any writer in contemporary literature.
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
August 19, 2020
This was Bill Bryson's first travelogue,the journey was undertaken in 1987-88.Bryson himself came from a small town in America,Des Moines,Iowa.

He left and settled down in England.After ten years away,he returned to attend his father's funeral.It also brought back memories of his childhood road trips,and he decided to explore small town America.The journey would eventually take him to 38 US states and nearly 14,000 miles.

I was reminded of this book while reading William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways,which is also about small town America and which was published just a few years prior to The Lost Continent.That book totally bored me and I remembered that Bryson had done a much better job with the same subject.

Bryson's trademark sarcasm and humour punctuates the book.Some readers may find him too snarky,but for me,the book was good fun.Yes,he does have a mocking tone,but that's the way he writes.For example,he uses such place names as Dog water,Dunceville,Hooterville and many more.

Of course,the nature of the subject is such that many of these small towns would be rather dull.But Bryson digs up interesting tidbits and historical detail,as he does in most of his books.

Finally,after the long journey,Bryson approaches his hometown,Des Moines. He ends on an optimistic note, thinking that he could actually live happily in his hometown,which he was once so eager to leave.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for ~☆~Autumn♥♥☔.
851 reviews50 followers
June 19, 2018
I have been to many of the places in the west that he traveled to in this book and it was interesting to me to read about his experiences which were so different to what I experienced. We had a great breakfast in Sundance, WY and the waitress was so super nice and cheerful that I actually purchased a t-shirt to remember her. Bill Bryson did not get to eat there as The Shriners had taken over and the waitress would not help him. I don't find the west to be like his experience at all but overall I don't care for Wyoming especially if you travel it east to west. South to north is fine and Yellowstone in the early spring is wonderful before it gets too crowded. I thought Yosemite was beautiful but I did have to agree with him about how disorganized it is and would never go back there again for this reason. He uses too much bad language as usual and it annoyed me more in this book. His constant nasty comments about women also made me angry. (like he has room to talk!) One review mentioned him being like W.C. Fields and I thought that was accurate.
I have been over Phantom Canyon road several times into Victor and his comments were so funny to me! I guess I am used to wild places.
Profile Image for Karen.
151 reviews37 followers
September 7, 2008
When reading this book, American readers may very well feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation not intended for their ears. This is because Bill Bryson obviously intended this book to be read by a British audience.

There are lots of laughs in this book. His depictions of Iowa made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. For example, his explanation for why so many farmers are missing fingers:

"Yet, there is scarcely a farmer in the Midwest over the age of twenty who has not at some time or other had a limb or digit yanked off and thrown into the next field by some noisy farmyard implement. To tell you the absolute truth, I think farmers do it on purpose. I think working day after day beside these massive threshers and balers with their grinding gears and flapping fan belts and complex mechanisms they get a little hypnotized by all the noise and motion. They stand there staring at the whirring machinery and they think, 'I wonder what would happen if I just stuck my finger in there a little bit.' I know that sounds crazy. But you have to realize that farmers don't have whole lot of sense in these matters because they feel no pain. It's true. Every day in the Des Moines Register you can find a story about a farmer who has inadvertently torn off an arm and then calmly walked six miles into the nearest town to have it sewn back on. The stories always say, 'Jones, clutching his severed limb, told his physician, 'I seem to have cut my durn arm off, Doc.' It's never: 'Jones, spurting blood, jumped around hysterically for twenty minutes, fell into a swoon and then tried to run in four directions at once,' which is how it would be with you or me."

This stuff cracks me up. Maybe it's because I grew up in Iowa too.

From an American's point of view, I was at times amazed by the important landmarks Bryson missed seeing or failed to appreciate. He drove by Monticello, for heaven's sake! In Springfield, Illinois, he "drove around a little bit, but finding nothing worth stopping for" he left -- Springfield, Illinois -- the home of Abraham Lincoln and his burial place! He passed up touring the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, because it cost too much! He called Gettysburg a flat field -- a battlefield of such varied topography as to make one wonder whether Bryson actually visited it! He missed Lake Tahoe! He also missed seeing Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine. Nor did he have any lobster along the Maine coast. Yet he felt informed enough to conclude that there was nothing special about Maine. Hurrumph!

These failings may be forgiven though, because he has lived away from the United States for a long time. And, to be fair, he traveled far and wide and saw many wonderful places. From his well-written depictions, I've regained a desire to see places in the United States I haven't visited yet, including Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Mackinaw Island, Michigan.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and enjoyed many laughs in reading it, which is why I like reading Bryson's books so much. But he seemed to tire out toward the end of the book and toward the end of his travels. His outlook became more and more jaundiced -- which is not good, when his outlook is generally jaundiced to begin with. Part I is the best part of the book, which focuses on the Midwest and East Coast. Part II, about Bryson's travels in the West, seems tacked on and unnecessary for the book (except for his description of his drive through the Colorado mountains to Cripple Creek and his depiction of his first view of the Grand Canyon ("The fog parted. It just silently drew back, like a set of theater curtains being opened, and suddenly we saw that we were on the edge of a sheer, giddying drop of at least a thousand feet. 'Jesus!' we said and jumped back, and all along the canyon edge you could hear people saying, 'Jesus!' like a message being passed down a long line. And then for many moments all was silence, except for the tiny fretful shiftings of the snow, because out there in front of us was the most awesome, most silencing sight that exists on earth.")).

*There is some swearing in the book.
Profile Image for Heather.
113 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2021
If it was suppose to be satyrical, it didn’t work. If it was suppose to be funny, it really didn’t work.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,106 reviews1,809 followers
March 13, 2013
I was excited to read this book. I've owned it for a few years now, and it's one of those books that I would see on my shelf and I'd think, this is going to be good, I better save it for another day when I guess I deserve to read something good rather than now when I should read something I'm not looking forward to. Or whatever it is that my thought process is about delaying gratification of books that I actually want to read versus a good deal of the books that I end up reading.

This should have been in the, why don't you just read this because then you can get it out of your apartment; or hey you have lots of really good unread books, Greg, so why don't you pick one of the mediocre ones that have been collecting dust and read that instead of something you might really like. Or maybe one of the, you are a worthless piece of shit, Greg, and you don't deserve to read anything good, so read this instead.

It was one of those books.

But I meant to like it.

I've only read one other Bill Bryson book, and I loved it. His history of American English, was wonderful. It was informative and witty and sprinkled with all kinds of nerd-tastic little facts and tidbits.

That's what I was expecting here. A witty and fun look filled with lots of interesting little facts about various small towns in America.

Instead it was a book about a guy a little younger than me, driving across country, spending most of his time in his car by himself and making some sort of funny and more not-funny at all remarks about America, and stopping at various tourist traps and historical sites where he inevitably grumbles about merchandising, any cost involved, and how bored he is by historical sites (so, um, don't go to them, it's a big fucking country)

Parts of the book are enjoyable, but too much of it is just snarky little comments that haven't aged too well in the twenty five years since the book was published.

I have no idea, but it came to me while I was making dinner and thinking about finally writing something about this book, is that the book must have originally been commissioned by an English publisher. Let's send the ex-pat, mid-western chubby guy back to his country with his affected English accent and let him give us some droll commentary on the big lumbering oaf of a country that was once one of our colonies.

I didn't think of that while reading the book, but it is the only explanation I can come up with for his Balkie-esque Perfect Strangers reaction to things like Friday the 13th and Mr. Ed. In the contemporary equivalent it would be like me summing up my evening by letting you know that Survivor was on TV, which is about doofuses on an island, but not something I would ever watch, but this country just loves doofuses on an island (does anyone watch this show still? I tried to watch an episode a couple of months ago and it confused me. Yet another sign that I'm getting dumber, like bordering on being mentally retarded dumb lately).

Too much social commentary about the 'current state of America' as seen from the eyes of someone who hasn't lived in the country for quite awhile, but most of it wasn't really that interesting, like it was sort of things that I was very well aware of at the time this book was written and I was about 14 at the time. Cineplexs were painfully small venues to see a movie in, the homogeneity of suburban sprawl was everywhere, historical battle sites weren't really that interesting (especially Gettysburg, which if you want to really have an unfun time go visit in the tail end of winter and walk twenty miles through bleak fields with a fairly unchanging landscape, while having strep throat, that makes the experience that much better, really), the people in horror movies are universally stupid and get killed because of their stupidity, radio sucks and plays the same songs over and over again. These are just a few of the things I'm remembering from the book.

As the book moves on it gets a little better. Maybe Bryson had some insights. He stops saying stupid shit like, I was driving from Butt Crack, Virginia, though Yokle-ville heading to I'm Gonna Bang my Sister Tonight, West Virginia when I ate a terrible meal at some dinner where good ol' boys were all hanging out. His quest to find the perfect small town seems to disappear, and he stops gripping about the deficiencies of so many places he stops in at not meeting up with his Mayberry ideal (or maybe it's just that the last part of the book is in the West, and you just don't expect that sort of thing there?). He starts to realize that it's outsiders like himself who want this idealized town, with it's quaint pragmatic shops, when the people who live in towns like having conveniences like supermarkets and fast food restaurants, and don't necessarily want to live in a petrified pretty past. Maybe they all just want that quaint little town to be somewhere else, a few towns over where they can go visit on a Sunday, but for the rest of the time they like being able to get stuff easily. Not that I'm saying all that stuff is good or that the convenience of a Wal-Mart, or a road covered in big box stores is good, but I can see how you would like to have those things near by (I come from a town that attempts to be picturesque, and there were (still are?) uproars when the real sprawl of Wal-Mart et al, started, back in the early 90's. I liked voicing my annoyance at these 'awful' stores, too. I liked bashing Barnes and Noble for destroying small bookstores, but you know what the small bookstore in my town was terrible. The small stores in the picturesque downtown were filled with shitty things that catered to an idealized idea of what you would find in a small downtown of a city/town trying to artificially hold on to the past while also kissing up to tourists and parents of college students up for a weekend. I can go and buy a pewter horse with no problem, but if I needed to buy something I actually could use the whole downtown was pretty much worthless, and it's not like that was a big change that came about after the big box stores came in (I originally typed big fox stores, what an awesome idea, giant stores that either sell foxes or are run by foxes, either way I'm totally on board with that idea)).

I didn't mean to start rambling on, but you know how it is. I guess what I mean to say is that I have mixed feelings about some of the homogeneity of suburban sprawl.

I don't even remember what I still meant to write.

I guess I'll wrap it up. Not very informative. The humor is kind of corny, immature and aged poorly. The idea of the trip is sort of weird. Drive for weeks at a time by yourself in a Chevette, while your wife and children are across the pond. I think if he had brought someone along with him the book would have been better. Or at least he'd have interactions with people who weren't mainly waitresses, motel clerks and gas station attendants. One reviewer, a friend of mine I think, said something like, it would have been nice if he actually talked to people in these small towns, instead of just talking to a waitress that might not be the sharpest tool in the shed and then declaring everyone dumb based on that one person. Ok, maybe I'm making up some of what this other person said, and exaggerating a little bit, but that is sort of the tone that much of this book takes.

I was expecting more.
Profile Image for Andrea.
8 reviews
December 31, 2008
I was really excited to read this book, as I love observational memoir-style writing - especially when it deals with travel and cultural habits people keep with food. And at first I thought his observations were snarky, spot-on, and funny. But as the book wore on (like, about 25 pages or so in), I started to become appalled at how really shallow and mean he started to sound: everyone he encountered was disgusting, stupid, or fat - or all three - and the places he visited never measured up to the ideal he had envisioned. Perhaps his observations would ring true to someone who had just come here - if anything, he captures his disillusionment well. That said, however, his scopes of both exploration and expectation are ridiculously narrow. It all just got so tiresome; and while I performed a forced march to the end of the book, I can't say I felt enamoured with his writing or his perspective.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,018 reviews556 followers
July 15, 2017
I do like Bryson. I enjoy his wry views on life, people and places. He informs and he makes me laugh, and that's enough to ensure I keep coming back to spend more time in his company. Here he promises to follow the path of old holidays with his parents, when as a child he was hauled around the country visiting towns of dubious merit and passing time at ‘freebie’ attractions that failed to delight or even stay long in the memory. His father was a cheapskate who preferred to keep his dollar in his pocket. For all this, I sensed within the author a longing for times and places past. In fact, he states early on his desire to track down the perfect American town, devising a tick list drawn from memories of these early adventures and his own upbringing in Des Moines, Iowa.

In total, Bryson covers nearly 14000 miles and visits numerous states throughout the Union. On the whole he's pretty critical about what he sees and experiences, but I'm inclined to think that this is his style - I've seen it before when he's commentated on visits to different countries. For instance, he's lived in the U.K. for years and yet he is pretty unsparing in his reflections on his adopted nation too. And his cynical view on life in general does allow him free license to let rip an anything and everything he sees, often hilariously.

It’s a little disturbing that some of his vitriol is vent on parts of America I’ll be visiting in just a few weeks. My only hope is that as this book was penned some years ago things have improved significantly since. No matter, this is a deliciously funny account of his journey and I defy anyone to to read it or listen to it without a smile on their face. Well done Mr Bryson, I’ll be back for more of your thoughts and a adventures sometime soon.
November 26, 2022
Bill Bryson was born in Iowa but, as he reminds you frequently, he moved to England and now he’s just way better than you. I would like to have been present during his pitch for this book:

Bill Bryson: I went back to America in the early spring, when it was still cold and almost everything was closed. I borrowed my mother’s car and then drove all over the country acting like a twat. I insulted everyone I saw and complained nonstop, especially about the fact that it was cold and everything was closed (and/or too expensive.)

Here’s one of my witty observations, when I finally happened upon a tourist spot that was open, and I wasn’t too cheap to pay for it:
I don’t think I had ever been to a place quite so ugly, and it was jammed with tourists, almost all of them ugly also – fat people in noisy clothes with cameras dangling on their bellies. Why is it, I wondered idly, as I nosed the car through the throngs, that tourists are always fat and dress like morons?

And here’s a hilarious example of my musings on a woman I met in a café in Vermont:

…I listened to a fat young woman with a pair of ill-kempt children moaning in a loud voice about her financial problems to the woman behind the counter. ‘Harvey, he’s been at Fibberts for three years and he’s only just got his first raise.’ ...It didn’t sound as if God had blessed Harvey very much. Even his kids were ugly as sin. I was half tempted to give one of them a clout myself as I went out of the door. There was just something about his nasty little face that made you itch to smack him.

(Right back at ya, Bill!)

I hate-finished this terrible thing out of sheer morbid fascination, I really can't believe it got published. I read the kindle version, so I was able to do a count of the adjectives used most. And they perfectly sum up my feelings about this book:

Dull (18)
Boring (15)
Disappointing (19)
Flat (24)
Poor (17)
Empty (31)
Closed (30)
Ugly (9)

What's sad is, this author can be really funny. I laughed out loud quite a few times. But when it came to writing this review, I couldn't remember any of those things because the overall impression of his petty meanness was so strong.
Profile Image for Adam.
316 reviews19 followers
March 30, 2009
Ha, oh America!

As much as I hesitated to read a travelogue about America while living abroad (I mean, shouldn't I be reading about my host country), my diminishing pile of books from home lead me to this humorous Bryson tale.

I've now had a couple of encounters with Bryson's writing and each time, seem to grow more and more fond of his haphazard style of not only traveling but writing as well. How many other authors dare pay tribute to their deceased housmaid in the middle of a book or drop in random facts about world happenings in irrelevant places? Now that's the type of stuff that keeps you on your toes!

As for the undying cynicism, well, what do you expect? The man left America to live in Britain of all places! I mean, come on, obviously he's going to find Friday night football and town hall meetings a bit trite!

Personally I find his accounts of each state absolutely hilarious! Bryson's omnipresent cynicism and nack for pointing out the obvious (with out regards to political correctness) bring a bit of truth to 'small town America' that is probably often lost or overlooked in any other true 'guidebook.' To say that that the author is honest about what he feels would be, well, an extreme understatement! Each trip through each state is as steroetypically perfect as is the idea of a fat white man calling a long circular drive across an entire continent with no particular destination a 'vacation.'

To find this book any less than humurous one would have to maintain a cynicism much more deeply rooted than Bryson portrays his own to be, or, perhaps, you might just have to come from one of the dozens of small towns that he makes fun of along the way!
Profile Image for Erica.
1,295 reviews427 followers
Shelved as 'couldnt-finish'
December 12, 2017
Hey, I just remembered - I don't like Bill Bryson.
I made it all the way to the end of the first CD, just to be certain I wasn't mistaken about my opinion, and nope, I wasn't.
I still don't like Bill Bryson.

This is especially repugnant coming straight off Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

Note to self: Please stop trying with this guy. You do not like him. You never have, you never will.
Profile Image for Tara.
205 reviews268 followers
July 16, 2013
How can a man think he's seen America if he refuses to get out of his car? Bill Bryson perfectly embodies what Wendell Berry would describe as a "failure to encounter": Bryson doesn't encounter America. He doesn't find it. He treats it like a disposable tissue, with as little interest in where it came from and in where it's going. Our nation does have a problem in rampant, mindless consumption, but along with our (possibly fatal) flaws are millions of fascinating people, good hearts, heartbreaking tales, catastrophic disasters, systematic abuses of horror and hatred, and sublime skies and lands which claim our devotion even when our nation's history seems like one long, miserable tragedy.

How did Bryson have the audacity to write a book about America and not visit an inner-city slum? How could he fail to get out and talk to the Native Americans in South Dakota, rather than just dismissing the state as 'empty'? How could he treat the Sequoias so thoughtlessly, be so little moved by the sadness and beauty of the Old South, the haunting eeriness of West Texas, how could he miss the pretty, solid, dependable beauty of Maine, or the sorrow of loss that arises as each new suburban development imposes the same mask over the gorgeous landscape that is our home?

How did Bryson get paid for this? How did he miss his own country? I cannot understand.
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,588 reviews153k followers
December 10, 2020
As my father always used to tell me, 'You see, son, there's always someone in the world worse off than you.' And I always used to think, 'So?'
Bryson returns to England after ten years and decides to take a road trip full of nostalgic stops. He reflects on many a good adventure with his family and, in particular, his father. Wholly entertaining and engaging!

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Read by William Roberts - and he did a fab job. But, it's a pet peeve when an author tells such a personal story but doesn't narrate his own house.

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Profile Image for Tamara (shales.daughter).
87 reviews7 followers
August 14, 2019
Hilariously funny, Bryson’s description of the small town America which most of us Europeans don’t know, makes you want take a trip to America, skip all the touristy places, and visit only the never-heard-of no-tourist no-fun towns, such as Des Moines, Iowa.
The part where he describes his long-distance bus trip to New York is unforgettable. Couldn’t literally stop laughing.
Profile Image for Michael.
213 reviews52 followers
January 6, 2008
While in the Frankfurt airport killing time, I decided I needed something to read while waiting in the airport and on the long flight back. During my vacation, I had already read Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of Freedom, Judith Butler's Excitable Speech, and Yves Simon's Freedom and Community, as well as most of two issues of CCC and an issue of Hypatia. I was a bit tired of academic voices and theory (though I had enjoyed everything I read, except perhaps Simon, whose Thomistic perspective irked me and whose writing seemed dry), so I went to the bookstore and perused. The English section was limited, so I was left trying to decide between a collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood and The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson.

Bryson, a native Iowan who had moved to Britain, had been haunting me for years. If someone was knowledgeable of travel writing, they asked me about him. I have some acquaintances who have been shocked that I hadn't read any of him. I was holding Atwood's book and Bryson's book, weighing the pros and cons of each. So I read Bryson first paragraph:
I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact without question and settle down with a local girl named Bobbie and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever, or you spend your adolescence moaning at length about what a dump it is and how you can't wait to get out, and then you settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever.

and decided I had to read this. Iowa-deprecating humour? I was excited. Maybe this book would be worth the astronomical 14 Euros (which, with the exchange rate, is about 1 million dollars).

I admit I was chuckling a lot during his first few pages, and even occasionally throughout the rest of his book. However, it wasn't before too long that his book just began to annoy me. Every attempt at humor in his book, besides some self-deprecation or making fun of his family, is targeted shots at those who are different from him. Bryson's book seems like a good example of how to enact the construction of "normal." Overweight? Here's a few jokes thrown at you. An accent that isn't accepted as standard? He'll mock you incessantly. Differently abled and in the same room as Bryson? You're there for one purpose alone: to stare at because you're a freak.

I haven't quite finished the book, and I probably will (I only have about 50 pages left), but I have to say I'm greatly disappointed. The sour icing smothered the cake when he announced that, feeling incredibly visible and alone in a nearly all black Southern town, that he now knew what it was like to be black in South Dakota.

I beg your pardon, Mr. Bryson, but you have no idea what it's like to be black anywhere. If anything, Bryson's book is a chronicling of his extreme naiveté at his own unearned privilege.

It seems like the only group not worth mocking in his book are queer folk, and that's probably because they are so invisible to him that they're not even on the radar to mock. Jokes about other people can be amazingly funny, but a book constructed completely on mocking others, a book that seems to function mostly as a reinforcement of normalcy, fails to continue to be funny. It's just tiring.

I should have picked up Atwood's book instead.
Profile Image for Negin.
591 reviews151 followers
January 17, 2016
I read parts of this during an extremely long wait in the doctor’s office with my teenage daughter. There were lots of giggle-out-loud moments, and, of course, I’d interrupt her reading to hand her a short paragraph or two to read. It was fun to have her chuckle also. It also made the wait go by so much quicker. This isn’t my favorite Bryson book by any means, but as always, I thoroughly enjoyed his humor and wit. Many don’t seem to like this book, claiming that Bryson comes off as grumpy and overly critical. I wouldn’t recommend this book if one is sensitive to that sort of tone or feels offended by criticism of certain aspects of America (its consumerism, for example). If you’re the type to take such things personally, do not read this! His humor may be offensive and crass to some, but I didn’t mind it at all. This book was like experiencing a road trip across small-town America with a very witty and observant travel guide.

One of my favorite quotes:
“The most splendid thing about the Amish is the names they give their towns. Everywhere else in America towns are named either after the first white person to get there or the last Indian to leave. But the Amish obviously gave the matter of town names some thought and graced their communities with intriguing, not to say provocative, appellations: Blue Ball, Bird in Hand, and Intercourse, to name but three. Intercourse makes a good living by attracting passers-by such as me who think it the height of hilarity to send their friends and colleagues postcards with an Intercourse postal mark and some droll sentiment scribbled on the back.”
Profile Image for Jenn.
40 reviews47 followers
November 22, 2021
I’ve decided I’m more a fan of Bryson’s later work than his early attempts. It’s been years, but as I recall, the humor in A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail and In a Sunburned Country could be classified as self-deprecating (or perhaps Katz-deprecating in the case of the former). The laughs in this book feel more mean-spirited than I expected.

Don’t get me wrong…there are very amusing excerpts, mostly compiled from Bryson’s childhood travels to destinations of his father’s choosing and visits to his grandparents’ home where he would be subjected to exotic-sounding dishes like “Frosted Flakes ‘n’ Cheez Whiz Party Nuggets”.

I’m 30 years younger than Bryson, so references to some celebrities and old television series went right over my head. There are also statements (not jokes per se) of a racial/geographical nature that I found rather offensive. (This travelogue was published in 1989 and is far from politically correct.) Reading this 32 years from its publication date also takes all the shock factor out of the quoted prices – Bryson is practically apoplectic at moments when he’s asked to pay $42 for a hotel room or $17.50 as an admission price to a historical museum. Sounds like a bargain in 2021.

Sometimes you just wake up moody, a storm front is moving in, and the day’s outlook feels predestined for bleakness. Funny, though, how some of the worst moments in a trip become those that you look at most fondly from the other side. There is very little of that positivity here but rather a lot of grumbling over the sad state of affairs in the United States, simply because Bryson expects 5-star dining from a truck-stop establishment in the desert. Vacationing, especially long-distance by vehicle, is an unpredictable endeavor. He didn’t seem particularly willing to roll with the punches and spend enough time off the highway to actually experience small-town America, which was purported to be his intention.

As it was, by the mid-way point, I was eager to get to the end of the trip, which is undeserving of a 3rd star from me. I think I’ll continue experiencing America on my own.
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