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At Home: A Short History of Private Life

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  84,117 ratings  ·  6,467 reviews
What does history really consist of? Centuries of people quietly going about their daily business - sleeping, eating, having sex, endeavouring to get comfortable.

And where did all these normal activities take place? At home.

This was the thought that inspired Bill Bryson to start a journey around the rooms of his own house, an 1851 Norfolk rectory, to consider how the ordin
Paperback, 700 pages
Published May 26th 2011 by Black Swan (first published May 27th 2010)
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Tony Marshall I'm certainly not struggling, although BB does tend to get side-tracked and meanders all over the place historically, which is perhaps why I'm really …moreI'm certainly not struggling, although BB does tend to get side-tracked and meanders all over the place historically, which is perhaps why I'm really enjoying reading and learning. It had never occurred to me that everything, literally everything, has a history. If only I can remember half of what I've learnt, I could be a source of anecdotes for years to come.(less)
Christopher Borum Here's one that I read that was interesting though it's more general and not just things in the home. It does talk about forks, but also about paper c…moreHere's one that I read that was interesting though it's more general and not just things in the home. It does talk about forks, but also about paper clips and Post-Its and the like.

The Evolution of Useful Things, by Henry Petroski, 9780679740391

And here's one I found on Amazon that looks like the same concept with maybe a different writing style and focused on the home. Petroski can be a little tough going, though worth it. I have not read this book.

The Elements of a Home: Curious Histories behind Everyday Household Objects, from Pillows to Forks, by Amy Azzarito, 978-1452178721(less)

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Oct 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across a review that dismissed Bill Bryson's work as being entertaining fact collection that doesn't present anything new. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, if not the implication. There is nothing wrong with entertaining fact collection, and, in my mind, everything right with it. In this age of information overload, the kind of clear-minded research and fact-sorting he performs for his readers is manna sent from communication heaven. The ability (and the willingness) to collect, ...more
Mar 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If Bill Bryson and Sarah Vowell wrote all the history texts, and Mary Roach wrote all the science texts, our society would be more educated and amused than anywhere on earth. I want to say that this book was a greatly informative text on the history of sanitation, architecture, anglo-saxon culture, farming, growth of cities, and society in general, but I'm afraid that would put you off.
This is the story of his house in England. He takes us through each room discussing the history, scientific br
Miranda Reads
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Looking for a new book but don't want to commit? Check out my latest BooktTube Video: One & Done - all about fabulous standalones!

Now that you know this one made the list - check out the video to see the rest!

The Written Review :

The things that were a thing back in the day boggles my mind

Even though sugar was very expensive, people consumed it till their teeth turned black, and if their teeth didn't turn black naturally, they blackened them artificially to show how wealt
Let me preface this review by saying that, yes, I am a fan of Bill Bryson and I love history books.

At Home is not Bryson's best work. Its loosely-organized premise (a room-by-room history of everyday life and everyday objects) feels overly-contrived and, in practice, makes for a rather clumsy and wandering book.

I could only put up with a very little bit at a time. It took me a month to finish.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I read it. There are sundry interesting factoids to be had here, and you'll be a
Roy Lotz
Reading this book is rather like having a trivia buff give you a sixteen-hour, cocaine-fueled tour of his house. It is exhilarating, exhausting, and often alarming.
I have a brain crush on Bill Bryson. I find his books entertaining, insightful and delightfully humorous. "At Home" did not disappoint, giving a fascinating, rambling, Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink view of world history.

The book is structured into chapters based on the different parts of a house, such as the kitchen, the drawing room, the cellar, the bedroom, etc. In the introduction, Bryson explains that he and his wife moved into a former church rectory in a village in eastern England, and s
William Ramsay
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very hard book to categorize. Ostensibly, it's a description of the author's home in England, but that really doesn't cover it. All I could think of as I was reading it was a great conversation. If we went to his home - an English parsonage built in 1851 - for dinner we would, of course, talk about the house, but like all really great conversation the talk would ramble off in every direction with stories that had nothing to do with this particular house or houses in general for that ma ...more
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
There are quite a few people I know and respect that don’t really like Bill Bryson. I’ve never quite understood why not. I’m actually very fond of his writing and from this distance I even tend to think he has the perfect life. I mean, you would think that the word dilettante (or perhaps autodidact) had been created just for him. Wouldn’t you love to have the time to think to yourself, ‘gosh, I wonder how houses first came to be as they are’ – and then to spend, I don’t know, a year? two years? ...more
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Tremendously interesting history book for people with ADD and butterfly minds. It's as if someone had taken an encyclopedia and very cleverly joined all the entries so it looked like a proper book. Oh, it was a proper book! Well then, very clever. ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bryson brings us another fascinating tome filled with delightful trivia and anecdotes in this history of housing in Britain.

The “hall” as we know it today is a place to leave the muddy boots and hang coats. Originally, it *was* the whole house. With an open hearth in the middle and members of the family (this included slaves and servants since the one large room made everyone party of the unit) congregating around it, little was private and everyone shared in the heat (or lack thereof.) The inv
I am currently only reading books as a bedtime ritual, but this one turned out to be hopeless for winding me down at the end of the day. Lying in bed roaring with laughter is not the best way of preparing for sleep - and roar I did. The book is a hotch-potch of amazing descriptions of Victorian life. It has a pot-boiler's thirst for sensationalism, and it's highly entertaining as well as informative. It's not all fun. Bryson doesn't only write about the funnier eccentricities of British Victoria ...more
Nandakishore Varma
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"If you had to summarise it in one sentence, the history of domestic life is the history of getting comfortable slowly."

Whew... Ladies and gentlemen, I have spent an exhausting yet exhilarating ten days with Bill Bryson at his Norfolk home. When he invited me to take a look at this former Church of England rectory, I hardly expected spend more than an afternoon there - a spot of tea, maybe a couple of beers in the evening, along with the promised tour of the house. But I got much more than I bar
Jason Koivu
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Well that wasn't very "at home" at all, quite frankly! But hey, it was still good!

In At Home: A Short History of Private Life Bill Bryson, that transient American-Brit, is in England for this look at the house, that thing humans use to keep the rain off their heads. If you've ever gone out for a drive you've probably seen one.

Using the house he bought in the Norfolk area of England (northeast of London), Bryson takes us for a lengthy and meandering tour of each room of the standard home from th
Dec 15, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book has lots of interesting factoids but these are buried under many pages-long avalanches of words about "unfairly neglected" minor personages of history. It sort of delivers on the promise of telling us something about the home we live in and what's inside it, but the cost of that information is a ton of tangential trivia I found extremely boring. Others surely find all the meandering anecdotes entertaining and that's fine, but then the book should be titled something like "shooting the ...more
Jeanette (GR isn't sending comment notifications)
Bill Bryson's curiosity is boundless, and he loves research. He seems to have a particular fondness for digging up bizarre, creepy, and freaky tidbits to share with his readers. If you don't mind skimming over the dull parts, At Home is worth reading for all the trivia and historical weirdness Bryson shares.

The book is essentially a history of domestic life in Britain and America--its comforts and discomforts, and the inventions along the way that made things easier and cleaner. I found both th
A fun and mind expanding tour of Anglo-American cultural history structured loosely around the rooms of his Victorian rector’s house in village in Norfolk, England. If you have experienced the pleasures of some of his travel books, you will recognize his method of using an experience in the present as a launching pad for circles of digression down many fascinating paths before returning with amazing insights into the curious behaviors and marvelous accomplishments of human creativity. It all sta ...more
Sep 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
“It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life


Bryson uses his own family's Victorian parsonage to map out the history (mainly focused on the 18th - 20th Century) of the private life. His discussion of specific rooms ends up allowing Bryson to tangent off onto related topics as wide and varied as sex, family, shit, medicine, architecture, makeup, rope-making,
Jul 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For Bill Bryson, this is poor: What could have a fascinating, amusing and insightful social history turns out to be a meandering series of not very interesting or particularly entertaining passages on the vague subject of the 'home' and 'private life'. The whole book unfortunately just feels poorly edited, unfocussed and directionless.

As a fan of Bill Bryson's books, this one came as a somewhat of a disappointment. Having now read his subsequent books - it is good to know that he is once again (
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
It had been on my reading list for a good long while,but I had never found it.When I finally found it,I was reminded of the saying,"Be careful what you wish for,you might just get it."

It is the most disappointing,yawn inducing Bryson book of them all.

He had written a couple of bad ones before,Bizarre World and Bill Bryson's African Diary.But those,mercifully,were short ones.

This one just went on and on,forever.
It really taxed my patience.The anecdotes and trivia were not interesting,not entertai
Oct 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Despite the author's wry humor & jaunty reading style this is a very sobering book on social history. Personally, it reminded me that had I begun life just a few decades earlier I would have died during the birth of my first child. Instead, I & my 3 children exist thanks to the marvels of modern medicine & look to make a difference in this amazing world of ours.

Bill Bryson's writing style reminds me of Australian artist Rolf Harris' painting style. Rolf would slap paint on the wall in a seeming
Tucker  (TuckerTheReader)

DNF at 43% because I'm so bored I actually fell asleep in the middle of reading


So far, a litle drab but I'm hopeful.

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Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, humour
Proof that a writer does not need to go anywhere outside their home in order to produce a good story.

Bill Bryson tells us all about the evolution of our homes in a delightful and personal style.

I had previously read this book before I began to oversee my building crew construct my house on the island of Pilar, Philippines. At one point my construction manager asked me about the proposed stairs to the attic. "An angle of 45 degrees", I said, remembering Bryson's detailed notes on safe types of st
Read by His Nibs himself.

Description: “Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”

Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a histor
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took me a while to warm up to this one. All the other Bill Bryson books I've read have been about, well...Bill Bryson. HIS trip to Australia - In a Sunburned Country, HIS hike on the Appalachian Trail - A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, HIS childhood in Iowa - The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. This book seemed mostly like a list of facts.

Then around chapter five, The Scullery and Larder, while I was learning about servants and the running of massive
Micah Eliot Cummins
"... whatever happens in the world, whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over, eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house."
- from the introduction

Bill Bryson's wonderful word webbing style shines in AT HOME, a wonderful history of domesticity, and the origins of what we all just accept as constants when it comes to living. Indoor plumbing, electricity, and even the physical structure of the house we live in, started somewhere, and as this book illustrates, often i
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
Ooh, yes please. This is juuust the kind of thing I like. It reminds me of trying to organize a closet, where one thing leads to something else, and something else, and something else until you find yourself in the middle of re-installing a light fixture and you look over and the closet is in a mess all over the floor...anyway where was I?

Yeah, anyway, it's actually much better organized than I make it sound, and somehow manages to be organized chronologically AND spatially AND at the same time
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really love Bill Bryson...entertaining, enlightening, and an all around good read. I'm now driving my wife crazy by bringing up little "tid-bit" facts that I learned from this book. Full review shortly but I wanted to at least move this off my "reading" to the "done" state. ...more
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bryson, history
This is a very informative book about everyday furnishings in and around people's homes and how they evolved over the centuries. Bryson mentions that one huge English mansion had a room devoted entirely to cleaning bedpans. ...more
Katie Lumsden
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very enjoyable, if somewhat meandering read. It wasn't exactly what I expected but it was very interesting. ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bill Bryson's work -- and this book in particular -- have been on my list for a long time. I finally grabbed this at the library from the staff recommendations shelf, and it is definitely a good one.
I really enjoyed this volume which provides amazing, jaw-dropping, at times very funny anecdotes of how day-to-day life at home grew to what it is today, and the key dates, figures and time periods that became definitive.
Bryson uses his own home, a former parsonage in England where he lives, as a ba
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William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, FRS was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to New Hampshire in America for a few years, but they have now returned to live in the UK.

In The Lost Continent, Bil

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