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When All the World Was Young: A Memoir

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  198 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Acclaimed writer Barbara Holland, whom the Philadelphia Inquirer has called "a national treasure," finally tells her own story with this atmospheric account of a postwar American childhood. When All the World Was Young is Holland's account of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and '50s, and is a deliciously subversive, sensitive journey into her past.
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Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 21st 2006 by Bloomsbury USA (first published March 2nd 2005)
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Gustine
Aug 05, 2009 Gustine rated it it was amazing
This intelligent, literary memoir is about childhood during simpler times (the 1940s, though it could easily have taken place any time pre-80s, before urban sprawl and recent child-rearing fashions took hold. Indeed, I identified very strongly with the childhood Holland describes).

Unlike so many other memoirs, this one is absolutely engrossing without ever once relying on harrowing or shocking events. (Although serious family dysfunction and tragic events are present, they seem entirely incident
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Kim Fay
Oct 11, 2010 Kim Fay rated it really liked it
"What happened to eccentrics? I suppose for a while we locked up the impecunious ones, and then we just medicated them all, and after that it was no fun anymore and they faded away." This is the kind of observation that fills "When All the World Was Young," Barbara Holland's clear-eyed look back on growing up in the 1940s and '50s. This is a memoir, yes, but it is also a testament to what it meant to be a child, teenager, mother, father, wife, and husband in a time before TV, the Internet, huggi ...more
Renee
Sep 12, 2011 Renee rated it really liked it
This story is so much more than a brilliantly observant girl growing up in WWII-era Washington, D.C., more than the story of growing up in a home with an emotionally detached mother and wicked stepfather- it's also an authentic history of that time and a terrific look of how children were seen, how wives lived and how fathers (some) ruled the world.
Holland never victimizes herself and is anything but sentimental, yet it certainly seems her family alienation extended to her entire academic career
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Melody
Apr 06, 2011 Melody rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
The best memoirs leave one wanting more. This is one of those. A lovely, incisively observed life. Holland is amusing without being silly, nostalgic without being treacly.

A telling excerpt:
"Several years ago a well-heeled friend said to me, 'I was brought up to believe you must never, ever dip into capital. Weren't you?' 'No,' I said, 'I was brought up to believe you must never, ever cross a picket line.' and we gazed at each other across the chasm."

I adored this book. Holland struck all the rig
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Rosalind M
Mar 25, 2015 Rosalind M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-biography
3.75 stars. Caustic, with a blindness to privilege that disturbed me (likely because my foremothers would have been the "help" that everyone took for granted). From the first chapter, the memoir read itself in Rosalind Russell's "Auntie Mame" drawl in my mind, which definitely colored my reception of it. The early part of her adulthood that was recounted was so murky and painfully abrupt that I wonder if it would have been better to end before she got that far.
Darth
Jan 27, 2014 Darth rated it really liked it
It took me way longer than required to finish this memoir because I didn't want it to end. You know there are books you simply couldn't put down and had to devour the whole thing as quickly as you could? Well, with this one, it's a dilemma. As much as I enjoyed her writing and wanted to find out what happened next, I was reluctant to read fast. It was like a decadent slice of cake I wanted to savour. This book made me cry, made me laugh, and made me cry some more in the end. It definitely tugged ...more
Jamie (ReadsInTrees) Dacyczyn
2016 Reading Challenge: An autobiography/a non-fiction book dealing with feminist themes.

Wow...I'm not sure I could explain why this memoir was so good, but I inhaled in in less than two days. Non-fiction books rarely pull me in unless they're humorous and/or fascinatingly scientific (Bill Bryson, Mary Roach), but this one was a breeze.

The author has an easy way of writing that is lush and vivid without feeling flowery or overwrought. There were certain descriptions that felt immediately famili
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Stephanie
Jun 16, 2015 Stephanie rated it really liked it
A year or two ago I'm at the South Pasadena library looking over their 50 cent books on the sale table. I spotted this book, thought "sounds interesting," bought it, put it on my shelf, and forgot about it.

I recently picked it up and started reading. Wow, who is this woman? Never heard of her. This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read. I haven't read that many, but this is right at the top nonetheless. I will be reading more Barbara Holland in the future. I am sad to learn that she is alrea
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Marcus
Nov 16, 2013 Marcus rated it really liked it
Great memoir from an interesting time in American history. The innocence/naivete that was prevalent in that period is sorely missed these days. Descriptive, yet fast-moving, the author's prose takes you through some important life issues as a young person finding their way in a nuclear world with funny anecdotes and relate-able social/family situations.
Kathy
Feb 27, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
Delightful memoir. Such a way with words; sad little girl but an incredible insight and way to express it. It's terriffic!
David
Feb 15, 2013 David rated it liked it
Good writing again. The book made me really sad. Made me ponder life a bit.
Lily
Apr 28, 2016 Lily rated it liked it
This was an enjoyable memoir of a girl growing up during and after the second world war. Very well-written and I really liked the author's voice. She was serious, but witty, in an understated way. I totally agreed with her attitude toward public school, especially physical education! I want to check out more of her writing.

Favorite quotes:
"Boredom possessed me like a rage. The world out there was bursting with things to be learned and books to be read, and the hours of school where deliberatel
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Marjorie
Sep 25, 2014 Marjorie rated it it was ok
This was a book club read for me. I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of memoirs. I did read the entire thing (didn't abandon it). I think I was waiting to find out about her time where she was forcibly committed to a mental hospital, but alas that never happened. I also wondered through the first quarter of the book whether she was forced to write this book during her therapy sessions as she never seemed like a very happy or satisfied person.

I do admit that some of this was probably on t
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Elizabeth
Sep 16, 2010 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2010
Holland's high school Shakespeare schedule (late 40's):
Freshman year: Romeo and Juliet
Sophomore year: Julius Ceasar
Junior year: Macbeth (oddly jammed among a year of American Lit)
Senior year: Hamlet

My high school Shakespeare schedule (mid 90's):
Freshman year: Romeo and Juliet
Sophomore year: King Lear (though I know other classes did Julius Ceasar)
Junior year: Macbeth (oddly jammed among a year of American Lit)
Senior year: Hamlet

This is not a profound point, but it made me laugh.
Suzy
Jun 04, 2007 Suzy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Alexis Randell
Shelves: suzysshelf
This is one of my favorite memoirs. Funny, and familiar too. She grew up during the 1940's and 50's and much of what she talks about is what I remember from the 50's and 60's. Hilarious! She looks at childhood the way it used to be,Jump roping, sledding, playing outdoors with a gang of kids, brothers and sisters in a large family and so much more. All before the women's movement.

Barbara Holland is a very witty writer and I found myself laughting out loud all the way through! Loved it.
Diana
Jul 29, 2010 Diana rated it really liked it
I loved learning about what it was like growing up in the 40s and 50s, what family life was like, the roles of men and women during the War, and social expectations. It makes history so much more relatable when it comes from a woman's perspective. I'd be interested in reading one of Barbara Holland's other titles.
Valerie
May 30, 2014 Valerie rated it it was amazing
I always enjoy reading Barbara Holland's books. Her imagery is unique and real. She writes so that you feel what happened. She also documented a time gone by (with the observation that, of course, all time has gone by). Despite the observation, she preserved a view of the 1950s that isn't a rehash of what is usually presented concerning the 1950s.
Judy
Mar 31, 2015 Judy rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book! Holland's humor is wonderful. Her assessment of life growing up in the 50's and 60's was spot on for me. Who didn't have a "Father's chair" in their house? I sure did. A quick and wonderful read.
Cory
Jan 28, 2008 Cory rated it did not like it
Found this left on a bench in a mall. Never should have picked it up. The first chapter seems interesting but I struggled to get through a couple more chapters before deciding it was terrible and that I wasn't going to waste my time reading it.
Susan
Apr 01, 2012 Susan rated it liked it
This book struck a cord especially for a baby boomer.... Ms Holland's strong imagery evokes a time and place in our/my history. Her description of THE chair that livingrooms had- the one with the comfortable chair with a reading lamp... the chair no one sat in except the Dad.
Sarah
Mar 07, 2011 Sarah added it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I am going to quit pretending to read this now. Poor book, I've been supposedly reading it for like two weeks and have gotten through about five pages. It's not the book's fault, it has fallen victim to my annual March college basektball- and Spring fever-induced reading lull.
A-bookworm
Aug 26, 2012 A-bookworm rated it really liked it
Having grown up in DC, within walking distance of where she grew up, reading this was like a trip down memory lane for me. But biases aside, she her tale in a way that keeps you you reading. Anyone who grew up in the 40s or 50s should be able to relate.
Sue
Jul 07, 2010 Sue rated it really liked it
grew up on meadow in chevy chase... wanted to have words w/ her stp father ... experience affected her life it seems... very interestingly written and fun to recall growing up in 40's and 50's... she may have been born about 1940...
Rozanne
Mar 12, 2009 Rozanne rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read thus far this year. Totally absorbing and extremely well-written. Even though this is a memoir, Holland tells her story in the larger context of the era in which she grew up (1940s and 1950s), which I found fascinating. A truly wonderful book.
Kathleen
Jan 16, 2008 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography-memoir
Barbara Holland is truly fantastic - her observations, wit and style make her writing come to life so vivdly. This is a great account of her life, and also a light examination of how the "role" of the woman is defined in society.
Marnie
Mar 05, 2008 Marnie rated it it was amazing
Great insight into the life of one of my favorite authors. Like any memoir, much of it was painful to read and consider, but Ms. Holland manages to come through her trials fairly unscathed.
Paul Klein
Aug 13, 2008 Paul Klein rated it it was amazing
This memoir was the first Barbara Holland I had read. A delightful memoir, interesting because she herself is an interesting person, and because she gives fine tuning to "dysfunctional family."
Nancy
Nov 03, 2016 Nancy rated it really liked it
Engrossing. One of those surprising good reads that I picked up at a museum's used book sale. Read it in a day.

Nancy
Nov 22, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable memoir. Although the author is older, I could identify with many of her experiences, particularly since she lived in the DC area, where I spent my high school years.
Marybeth
Mar 28, 2009 Marybeth rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. The most honest non-fiction I have ever read.
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Barbara Murray Holland was an American author who wrote in defense of such modern-day vices as cursing, drinking, eating fatty food and smoking cigarettes, as well as a memoir of her time spent growing up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.
More about Barbara Holland...

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