David's Reviews > Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States

Made in America by Bill Bryson
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's review
Nov 25, 2009

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bookshelves: read-in-2009
Recommended to David by: david-giltinan@sbcglobal.net


Specifically, the reader is invited to imagine a conversation between two reviewers, both of whom live inside my head. As will become evident, one is infinitely more crotchety than the other, possibly to the extent of bloody-mindedness. To keep guesswork to a minimum, I will alternate between regular and italic fonts.

This exploration of American English by Bill Bryson contains a wealth of entertaining anecdotal material that is unfortunately often buried in a welter of undisciplined, self-indulgent blather, expressed in breathless, eighth-grade level prose that cries out to be edited and brought under control. In considering the development of the language in the U.S., Bryson casts a wide net, with the first nine chapters covering various stages of American history from the Mayflower to the various waves of immigration that characterized the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"Casts a wide net" is a good one. To say that this book is 'about' American English is a bit like saying "A Tale of two Cities" is 'about' knitting.
Subsequent chapters are organized thematically, dealing with such subjects as shopping, travel, advertising, eating, sports, the movies, sex, politics and war, and the state of American English at the time the book was written (the mid 1990s). It seems fair to say that the author's scholarship is characterized more by the breadth of his curiosity than its depth.
Isn't that just another way of saying that sloppiness abounds in this dog's breakfast of a book?
That seems a little harsh. Sure, his style is sometimes a bit discursive, and the author has a fondness for tangents...
'Discursive' is an understatement. Whole chunks of this book give you the feeling of being stuck in an airplane next to a garrulous midwestern drunk with an unending supply of anecdotes and no sense of pacing.

(to be continued)
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker But does it so stoop to conquer?

Paul Bryant You are so right about this guy. Bryson gets so much readerlove it's embarrassing. Your last sentence sums up all of his stuff. The truth has now been spoke and the Brysonettes will be after you with burning torches. Expect no further votes for this review.

message 3: by Mary (new)

Mary I'm relieved to read your review, because I just couldn't get through this book. It was so chockful of extraneous details, I felt like I had undiagnosed attention deficit disorder and just couldn't focus on what I was reading. (My 'condition' improved as soon as I gave it up.)

I liked Bryson's book, A Walk in the Woods, but this one was a dead end for me.

message 4: by Mark (new)

Mark ' tale of two cities ' is about knitting.....classic. Really made me laugh

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