John Braine's Reviews > At Home: A Short History of Private Life

At Home by Bill Bryson
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's review
Jun 10, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: narrative-nonfiction, audiobooks
Read from June 10 to 22, 2011

A lot of the chapters in At Home have an amusingly tenuous link to the supposed subject matter. I like to imagine the pitch went like this:

Bryson: So I want to do a follow up called "A short history of some other stuff too" - a potted history about lots of other odds and ends I find interesting.
Publisher: No, no, no. You can't do that - you need a new title and a new theme.
Bryson: Oh.
Publisher: Here's a whacky idea. But it might just work. Call it "At home" and base each chapter on a room of your home and then just talk about whatever you like.
Bryson: Really? And not have anything to do with the room I'm talking about?
Publisher: Well there will be a few easy ones at the start, like the kitchen and the bedroom. You have enough material for those to make them very topical. But then you could start getting more and more tenous in other chapters, no one will notice.
Bryson: ummm
Publisher: Yeah it'd be hilarious - do a whole chapter called The Study - but instead talk about mice and rats, and don't even mention the study. By the end you can talk about whatever you want. The Attic can be about Darwin, you like Darwin don't you?
Bryson: Erm - yeah
Publisher: So what are you waiting for? Off you go.

So some chapters are specifically related to the room at hand, others amusingly bear not the most tenuous link. Not that that takes anything away from the content. It's a good book It's not quite the fantastic read that "A short history of nearly everything" is, but it's in the same vein.

Though, despite lots of amusing historical stories, and word origins, and top notch trivia, I didn't enjoy this book half as much as some of his others, and hardly laughed at all. Unusual for reading Bryson.

Pretty sure I can put it all down to buying the audiobook even though I knew better after having major doubts while listening to a sample. Someone told me I'd get used to it. He was wrong. Bryson just doesn't have the delivery to read an audiobook and amazingly makes his own words sound far less interesting by merely reading them out loud. So I imagine it's a much better book on paper.

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