Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Notes from a Small Island” as Want to Read:
Notes from a Small Island
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Notes from a Small Island

(Notes from a Small Island #1)

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  101,511 ratings  ·  4,473 reviews
"Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain-which is to say, all of it."

After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson - bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. ("I had recently read," Bryson writes, "that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abd
Paperback, 324 pages
Published May 28th 1997 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published September 7th 1995)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

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

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Notes from a Small Island, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Lloyd You might try E. M. Delafield. She wrote several books about The Provincial Lady. Very interesting and wonderfully dry in humor, they tell of a life w…moreYou might try E. M. Delafield. She wrote several books about The Provincial Lady. Very interesting and wonderfully dry in humor, they tell of a life we can no longer experience. Might also try R. F. Delderfield, though these are not written from a women's point of view. Strong characters, big on descriptions of life. The Dreaming Avenue and The Avenue At War are two favorites. Loved the Horseman Came Riding By series as well.(less)
A Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonInto the Wild by Jon KrakauerEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertInto Thin Air by Jon KrakauerIn a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Favourite Travel Books
1,902 books — 4,410 voters
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsGood Omens by Terry PratchettLamb by Christopher MooreThe Princess Bride by William GoldmanMe Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Best Humorous Books
3,983 books — 7,359 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  101,511 ratings  ·  4,473 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Notes from a Small Island
Jun 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
Bill Bryson likes hedgerows, yelling at people, the English language, complaining, pretending to be a hiker, the fifth Duke of Portland, W.J.C. Scott-Bentinck, and himself. He tries too hard to be clever, and although you're being introduced to some interesting mental pictures ("a mid-face snack dispenser" for instance), and it's positively obvious how much he loves the English language and the art of writing, the lengths to which he goes can be tiring. The long-winded, irritating tangents he go ...more
This book combines several of my favorite things: travelogues, England, and the charm of Bill Bryson.

It is the book version of comfort food.

So you can understand why I instinctively reached for this audiobook on the the first day of my new job. I wanted something comforting. And humorous. And British.

I was instantly gratified. Bryson begins his book about touring England by describing how intensely Brits will argue about distance and driving routes:

"If you mention in the pub that you intend to d
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
May 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016

Newsflash: I have a new entry into my Top Ten Authors (past and present) that I would like to invite to a night out at the pub for a session of heavy drinking and tall tales.


Bill Bryson, with his sly humour and irreverent atitude towards tourism, is a strong contender for the top position right after my first experience of travelling in his company through the twisted back lanes of historical hamlets of his cherished island. Being both a personal journal and a travel guide, his Notes have been
After 20 years in England, Bill Bryson decided to tour Britain in 1995 by public transport over ~6 weeks and write a book about it.


There are snippets of humour and insight: “a young man with more on his mind than in it”; “carpet with the sort of pattern you get when you rub your eyes too hard”; “They were having a festival of litter... citizens had taken time off from their busy schedules to add crisp packets, empty cigarette boxes and carrier bags to the otherwise bland and neglected land
I first read this book back in the late 90s, 20 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed.
This is my first re-read, and it was enjoyable, as good as the first read ? Hmm, probably not (which was a little disappointing), but still fun.

I shall write more thoughts anon but shall leave you with Bill’s thought “ Hae ya nae hook ma dooky ? “

Ok, so in the last couple of days I have been thinking about why this was a tad disappointing, and I think it was because it was 20 years old, and it was really of its ti
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson is an ode to Britain, lovingly written by an American who lived there for almost twenty years and wanted to revisit it before departing for his home country. I have especially enjoyed the audio version. If you do not like curmudgeons, this will not be the book for you. Bryson, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, will take you on a tour of all things great and not so great. His grumpiness, sometimes endearing, sometimes not, will accompany the reader whil ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
Ambling know-it-all wanders around the UK, complaining about architecture, getting drunk, finding delight in little, and generally having a hard time deciding where to eat (always Indian or Chinese in the end).
It paints a pretty depressing picture of the UK, when I think his intention was the opposite. Plus, I really liked his book about traveling through continental Europe, so I don’t know what happened here. Also thought the scene where he tells us how fat people eat was insulting, to, well,
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Britain viewed through an American's eyes.
Although both the British and American speak English, their words and cultures are hilariously different.


A quick look at the local magazines at a boarding house
I'd intended to turn in early, but on the way to my room I noticed a door marked RESIDENTS' LOUNGE and put my head in. It was a large parlour, with easy chairs and a settee, all with starched antimacassars; a bookcase with a modest selection of jigsaw puzzles and paperback books; an occasional tab
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Taking a trip with Bill Bryson is always a crap shoot.

Am I getting the funny self-effacing Bill?

Am I getting bilious Bill?

Am I getting drunken Bill on a murderous rampage?

Okay, that last one, sadly, was never published.

Here, Bill wants to get a last look at Great Britain before he moves back to the good ol’ U.S. of A., so he schleps around that island nation taking in the sights. As someone who has been to those environs or thereabouts a few times, Mr. Bryson gets it right and then some. Plu
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
It took me forever to read this because I was constantly picking it up and putting it down, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because it’s one of those books where it works to read it in this way, and I read so many other books during the times I took breaks from reading this book.

Sometimes I just don’t like Bill Bryson as a man. There’s a smattering of things he writes that are cruel, crass, and otherwise makes him unappealing to me, and he sure drinks a lot of beer, but the nasty material
Paul E. Morph
Nov 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure how much I'd get out of reading a book about my home country written by an American... but it turned out to be a joy. I hadn't realised, until I read the book, that Bryson had lived in the UK for many years. It gives him a rather unusual perspective on the place and makes for interesting reading.

It also helps that I enjoyed his sense of humour. It's a little morbid at times; he makes a joke about the Zeebrugge ferry disaster at one point that a lot of people may find to be in bad t
Petra X has permanently sun-burned eyes
Quite an entertaining book. Bryson is at his best when presented with oddities and eccentricities he can describe to, what he seems to presume anyway, a foreign audience who will be all agog at such just how different the British are. Its quite amusing to have our foibles pointed out by an American anyway, so this British person at least, enjoyed the book.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
"One thing I have learned over the years is that your impressions of a place are necessarily, and often unshakably, colored by the route you take into it."
- Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island


It is really hard not to like Bill Bryson's travel books. Actually, it is hard not to like his dictionaries, travelogues, or explorations of: the Universe, the home, Shakespeare, etc. He is, essentially, our Falstaff. He stumbles from bus to train, from pub to pub, from city to city exploring Britain on
Zoe's Human
Feb 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
Maybe it's because I've worked for 25 years in customer service, but listening to some middle-class dude complain about trivialities is not my idea of entertainment, it's work.

In the main, the book was okay. There were some hilarious bits, however, much of the humor was in the form of grousing, which is not to my taste. I was thinking it was going to be a 3-star book as some bits dragged, but then . . . at page 274, so close to the end, I hit this:

In the end, fractious and impatient, I went into
Mr Bryson has an entertaining line of patter, a nice, wry humour and he works very very hard to endear himself with the reader. Look, I'm a regular guy from Iowa who sometimes gets really narked at owners of undisciplined dogs and thinks hedgerows are A Good Thing and cars aren't. But that doesn't quite compensate for the fact that this is basically a catalogue of towns, hotel rooms and meals in restaurants - an amusing catalogue, but a catalogue all the same. Where BB gets right up my nose is w ...more
Judith E
Corona gotcha down? Is your mask rash making you all itchy? Well then, time for some belly laughs while you stroll through Great Britain with Mr. Bryson.

In spite of his never ending battle with British transportation, sudden clothes-soaking downpours, and continual, shabby accommodations, Bryson treats the reader with discoveries of England’s architecture, the patchwork countryside, and the positive spirit, manners, and resiliency of the British personality.

A supremely, silly social study of t
Easily my favourite Bryson book and one I happily recommend as a light hearted introduction to Britain.

Bryson is the perfect coffee and a doughnut writer. You can read him while concentrating on your coffee and it will pass your time pleasantly, maybe you won't gain anything from this exercise, no wisdom, no insight, no sudden new understanding but he won't cost you anything either (view spoiler)
Kara Babcock
Since I moved to England this fall, I haven’t done too much travelling around the country. I’ve been to London a couple of times, neither of which I did much that could be described as a touristy; the same applies to my trips to Cambridge. I went up to Scotland during the half-term and had a good time there, but I’m looking forward to visiting a few other places around the UK. Until I do, travel writing like Notes from a Small Island will have to serve to whet my appetite.

Bill Bryson is a brilli
Mikey B.
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england, travelogue
To start with I am a Bill Bryson fan. I laugh loudly at his humour which can be scathing. I love his travelogues. In this journey he travels through England, Wales and Scotland (but the last two probably make for only one-quarter of the book).

Even though, aside from a few days in London some years back, I have not ventured in the British Isles I thoroughly enjoyed and felt a part of this trip with Bill Bryson. It was like I was sitting or walking beside him on the trains, buses and hikes he took
Oct 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hm. I've been to England only once in my life (so far). Last year. I went to London only but I do like a number of things about Great Britain (Brexit not being one of them - surprise!). So of course I had to read our favourite grumpypants' take on it. Especially since it was yet another funny buddy-read with Jeff (read his review here).

The interesting thing I wasn't aware of is that Bryson isn't a Brit living in exile the US, but an American who married a British woman and lived in England for a
Jun 22, 2008 rated it it was ok
I only got about a third of the way through this book. I was giving Bill Bryson one more chance to impress me, but he didn't quite do it.

I would recommend this book for anyone who has lived in England, as many of the references in the book would escape someone who has not spent much time there. However, I was just never pulled in by his narrative.

I felt like Bryson writes with a perennial smirk on his face, laughing at his own cleverness as he pens various turns of the phrase. But a few funny
Jill Hutchinson
Apr 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor
This is the second time I have read this book and since my initial introduction to Bryson, I have gotten used to his sometimes snide comments by reading some of his others works. It brought up my rating from my original review which is found below.

"Being an Anglophile I knew I would like this book and I least most of it. Bryson, who lived in the UK for a number of years, writes this as a farewell to the "sceptered isle". Having spent time in England I could relate to some of the anec
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I want to say this is the ultimate travelogue of a fascinating and exotic foreign country, but in point of fact, it's ENGLAND, and while it is fascinating and exotic even to people who are familiar with the English language, it is still ENGLAND.

I don't know about anyone else, but I liked the disconnect. I especially liked all bits that made fun of the oddball naming conventions not limited to food or towns. But for other countries somewhat familiar with the English language, we all know that Eng
Aug 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I studied for a summer in Bath, adore Wimbledon, and I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and most of literary canon which can be defined as British Lit, so I think I've always had a special place in my heart for the UK, particularly England.

Also, this was introduction to Bryson and I was enchanted with his witty and slightly snarky prose that teach and amuse simultaneously!

A favorite moment: hiking in a rainstorm and reaching the summit to find a cadre of Brits huddled together eating soggy sandwic
Christine Boyer
Dec 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Boomers who preferred England in the 1970s.
I have never been more shocked by a book and author! I had heard older family members in my life mention this guy and really love him. I thought I was going to love it! This book was boring with only occasional bursts of laughter. Two stars for my occasional bursts.

Bryson is a baby boomer - 70 now, I think. Yet I can't believe he was only 45 when he wrote this because he sounded like a frumpy, dorky, grumpy, curmudgeon throughout the whole travelogue. And not one of those cute curmudgeons, actu
Riku Sayuj
Bryson, true to spirit, makes you laugh at everything about the place and fall in love with the place at the same time. No wonder for years the Brits have considered this the most representative travel book about themselves. Full review to follow.
Dec 16, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
Ah, so Bill and I had a break-up around the middle part of this book. He was getting on my very last nerve with his sudden unfriendly outbursts to dogwalkers and jolly families enjoying cream buns. It was also rather tiresome, this carping about architectural eyesores. I get it, I do, but after a while one rather does think that the author would like Britain to return to the halcyon days, circa the late 1800s when no one had yet had the effrontery to tear down hedgerows or build shopping centres ...more
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
‘Notes from a Small Island’ and ‘Neither Here nor There’ are Bill Bryson’s early travelogues concerning his journeys through Britain and other European countries respectively.

Both of these books are the strongest and the funniest of Bryson’s earliest work and undoubtedly established his reputation (at that time) as a travel writer and commentator of repute, producing engaging and very entertaining travelogues.

Now very much the Anglo-American (having lived at times in the UK and now holding dual
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: expat Brits or those nostalgic for the 1990s
Shelves: comfort-re-reads
It was hardly surprising to discover that the first book I finished in 2008 was one of my comfort re-reads. For these are the books I treasure, in the absolute certainty that whenever I feel bored, depressed, tired, lonely, miserable, or just over-whelmed by daily life I can pull them out and indulge in the healing power of the written word.

And Bill Bryson's “Notes from a Small Island” must be recorded as the ultimate comfort re-read for an expat Brit; providing on every page diversions that ar
Oct 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
This book is 30% random information about Britain, 10% witty humor, and 60% Bryson constantly complaining about what he thinks is wrong. At first the reading was amusing, and there are good passages that contain great cultural observations from an outsider's perspective, but Bryson is a biased, self-absorbed liberal, and his narrow-minded perspective often gets in the way of what could have potentially been a greater book. True, clever little observations about various iconic landmarks gave the ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Lost Words: Bill Bryson - Notes from a Small Island 4 6 Mar 15, 2020 12:39PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Alternate cover 3 14 May 04, 2017 04:25AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: Notes from a Small Island 1 5 Nov 16, 2012 02:14PM  
What's the Name o...: Who's the guy who writes humorous travel books? [s] 4 81 Dec 03, 2011 12:48PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland
  • Around the World in 80 Days: Companion to the PBS Series
  • Eat, Pray, Love
  • Round Ireland with a Fridge
  • Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World
  • Pole to Pole
  • Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucía
  • Pattaya Youtuber: And other true stories from Thailand
  • A Year in Provence
  • Toujours Provence
  • Stephen Fry in America
  • Bella Tuscany
  • Riding the Iron Rooster
  • The Shaughraun [An Original Drama in Three Acts]
  • The Kingdom by the Sea
  • The Salt Path
  • Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure
  • The Great Railway Bazaar
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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, Bil

Other books in the series

Notes from a Small Island (2 books)
  • The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

Related Articles

  Listen up, because our colleagues here at Goodreads have some excellent audiobook recommendations for you! Of course, the books they've...
64 likes · 37 comments
“I know this goes without saying, but Stonehenge really was the most incredible accomplishment. It took five hundred men just to pull each sarsen, plus a hundred more to dash around positioning the rollers. Just think about it for a minute. Can you imagine trying to talk six hundred people into helping you drag a fifty-ton stone eighteen miles across the countryside and muscle it into an upright position, and then saying, 'Right, lads! Another twenty like that, plus some lintels and maybe a couple of dozen nice bluestones from Wales, and we can party!' Whoever was the person behind Stonehenge was one dickens of a motivator, I'll tell you that.” 183 likes
“Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain - which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad - Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying 'mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but', people apologizing to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays - every bit of it.

What a wondrous place this was - crazy as fuck, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start? Who else would think it not the least odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, compel the Speaker of the House of Commons to sit on something called the Woolsack, or take pride in a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy? ('Please Hardy, full on the lips, with just a bit of tongue.') What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardners' Question Time and the chocolate digestive biscuit? None, of course.

How easily we lose sight of all this. What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century. Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far-seeing welfare state - in short, did nearly everything right - and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure. The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things - to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.

All of this came to me in the space of a lingering moment. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like it here. I like it more than I can tell you.”
More quotes…