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At Home: A short history of private life Paperback – 26 May 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 700 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan (26 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552772550
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552772556
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 12.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (344 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. Settled in England for many years, he moved to America with his wife and four children for a few years ,but has since returned to live in the UK. His bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of the decade in the UK.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

256 of 260 people found the following review helpful By John Brooke VINE VOICE on 1 Jun 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the great things about Bill Bryson's books is his ability to grab your attention and draw you in to find out what odd fact he's going to come up with next. So I hadn't even got through the introduction when he came up with the gem about why all churches in Norfolk appear to have sunk into the churchyard (they haven't; it's the churchyard that has risen 3 ft or more because of the number of bodies buried there, which if you do the maths of how many people live in a parish, how many die each year, and how long the churchyards have been there is not so remarkable. And keep on reading to find out just how many bodies were buried in urban cemeteries in the Victorian era - quite astounding). He is also a great debunker of accepted truths - for instance, there's a lot of interesting comment about the widely accepted view that most food, especially bread, was adulterated with all sorts of disgusting and probably toxic substances. Bryson refers to somebody who tried baking bread with all these supposed adulterants, and showed that what was produced was actually inedible, with the exception of alum, which, he points out, if used in small quantities actually improves bread, and is also used nowadays as an additive to many products.

So once again I read this through with great enjoyment and picked up lots of little nuggets of the odd and the interesting. Having said that, however, I did find that I had a sense of deja vu about this book; many of the anecdotes it contains seem to have been recycled from some of his other books (I think that I can recognise quite a lot of them from "Made in America" for example, where they were hung about a framework of American language, rather than around the structure of his wanderings from room to room of his house in Norfolk).
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115 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Zoonie TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 Mar 2011
Format: Hardcover
Bill Bryson is a big favourite in this house. Our bookcases are festooned with his works. I have learned much about my own country, about his country, about Shakespeare, and more.

I have laughed a lot, I have pondered a lot and I have admired this man a lot.

I have to be honest about this book. I did learn some fascinating facts, but the rambling, all-over-the-place nature of the book was tiring. I do not remember laughing, either.

The ultimate test is ..will I re-read? After all, I go back to his other stuff for a treat at intervals, even though have read it before.
Truthfully, I do not think I will get the urge to pick up this up again in the future.

Sorry. (But I WILL buy his next book.)
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146 of 159 people found the following review helpful By Big Jim TOP 50 REVIEWER on 28 May 2010
Format: Hardcover
Having found his name attached to a number of diverse products this is Bryson's first "proper" book since the short history of nearly everything. Well he has made a fine attempt to fill in some of the gaps and has produced a fine, if eclectic, book. The premise of using fixtures and fittings around the home as a means of opening a discourse on a myriad topics is a novel one and one he pulls off as only he can. Sure there is a scattergun approach to this, how could there not be, but using the home as the focus of the many topics up for discussion here keeps the narrative on track and means that you are drawn from subject to subject without a jarring note.

This is not what one could call a "learned" tome, it would never be described as a deep read, but is all the better for it as it is such an absorbing read. It is such a simple idea I only wish I had thought of it first - or could write a hundredth as well as Mr Bryson.

Quite remarkable really.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Brian R. Martin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 Jun 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In his phenomenally successful `A Short History of Nearly Everything', Bill Bryson presented a panorama of scientific and technological theories and discoveries, keeping rather closely to his brief. The title of the present book and the introduction suggests that he is going to repeat that exercise for the `home and private life', using the rooms in his own house, a Victorian rectory in rural Norfolk, as the pegs on which to hang the story. But a reader expecting to find a history of the evolution of the modern house and its contents will be disappointed, because the threads that link the rectory rooms, the names of which are the chapter headings, to the contents of the book are sometimes very tenuous indeed.

In the chapter headed `The Study', such a reader might reasonably have expected to find discussions of such things as the evolution of books in the home, or the history of cabinets of curiosities and other study furniture. Not a bit of it. In the Bryson rectory the room called the study is what most of us would call a junk room and for some reason is the only room where mouse traps do their job. This is the `excuse' for a review, that is the whole chapter, of rodents and creepy crawlies in the house, including a long discussion of the important role of bats in the ecosystem and brief history of man's attempts to eradicate them! This is an extreme example, but all the other chapters are full of digressions.

Does this mean that this book is therefore a failure? Not at all. As in `A Short History of Nearly Everything', the chapters are crammed full of interesting facts and amusing anecdotes written in Bryson's relaxed witty style that he has honed to perfection in his popular travel books.
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