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Notes From A Big Country [Mass Market Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Sep 1999

From perfectly formed potatoes to adulterous US presidents, and from domestic upsets to millennial fever, Bill Bryson just cannot resist airing his opinions and standing up for his (mostly) law-abiding fellow American citizens. But of course after twenty years in England, he is now back on the other side of the pond, and is obviously having a little trouble finding his true American self again.

After vigorous exercise on the Appalachian Trail comes this edited collection of Bryson's most splenetic comic pieces culled from his humorous regular column in the Mail on Sunday.

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Notes From A Big Country + Notes From A Small Island + The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (16 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552997862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552997867
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,897 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.

Photography © Julian J

Product Description

Amazon Review

Here's a fact for you. According to the latest "Abstract of the UnitedStates", every year more than 400,00 Americans suffer injuries involving beds,mattresses or pillows...That is more people than live in greater Coventry. That is almost 2,000 bed, mattress orpillow injuries a day. In the time it takes you to read this article, four Americans will somehow manage tobe wounded by their bedding.

Fans of Bill Bryson will know by now that this isthe kind of completely useless information that gets him excited. In fact, you are unlikely to read anyone else who derivesquite so much pleasure from meaningless statistics. If those statistics are about the USA (Bryson's homeland) or his adoptedEngland--or even better, comparing one to the other--then he is in heaven. And it is not only the uselessness of theinformation that interests him, but also the fact that Americans spend millions of dollars and hours each yearcollecting such data together.

Though not a match for his earlier success of Notesfrom a Small Island, Notes from a Big Country takes a good second place. It collects together more than 18 monthsworth of Mail on Sunday columns which Bryson wrote between October 1996 and May 1998 after he and his English wife andchildren returned to the US and settled in New England. The only thing that outshines his amazement--and sometimes,outright dismay--at the way American society has changed while he's been away, is his English-born family's instantembracing of transatlantic culture.

A word of warning: reading Bill Bryson is not aspectator are invited-- in fact, compelled--to marvel at how the nation that "has the largest economy, the mostcomfortably off people, the best research facilities, many of the finest universities and think-tanks, and more NobelPrize winners than the rest of the world put together" could be the same nation where "13 per cent of women cannot say whether they wear their tights under their knickers or over them. That's something like 12 million women walkingaround in a state of chronic foundation garment uncertainty." This is Bryson at his best, and though not every column inchhits the heady heights of underwear distribution, there are enough laugh-out-loud moments to keep you satisfied.

Detractors of Bryson's work complain all his booksare the same, yet dedicated followers cite that very uniformity of style and subject as the reason they return, book after book. Anyone disappointed by A Walk in the Woods (Bryson's account of hiking the Appalachian Trail and not his best book) will have their faith restored by Notes from a Big Country--here Bryson returns to his favourite subject and the simple, journalistic prose that makes his wacky facts and observations instantly accessible.

Bryson does not pretend to deliver an intellectual treatise on the state of mankind; instead he offers one man's take on how humanity lurches from one day to another--ironically through the kinds of details he mocks others for collecting--Lucie Naylor


"One of his best books" (Scott Bradfield Independent)

"Delightful bite-size essays that exude affection while debunking the ridiculous with wonderful succinctness... This is not a book to be read in a single sitting. It is one to be savoured" (Martin Fletcher The Times)

"Bill Bryson's answer to Alistair Cooke's Letter From America...not only hilarious but also insightful and informative" (Jeremy Atiyah Independent on Sunday)

"Bryson is great when explaining the idiosyncracies of America to middle England and making it funny... He is both serious and contemtuously funny" (Guardian)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By Darren Simons TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Much as I find myself trying to convince myself otherwise, I'm rather a fan of Bill Bryson books, his style of writing, his choice of places to visit. Notes from a Big Country is a little different to his other books as it's not really a book with a story at all - it's a collection of articles Bryson has written for a national newspaper.
Bill Bryson was born in Iowa, USA, moved to England in the late 70s and then returned "home" with his new family in tow. On his return, he wrote a weekly column for the Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine, about, well, pretty much whatever he wanted, and has now put them into a book.
Generally Bryson writes about things he missed from Britain, or things he cannot understand how he managed without - a same selection of topics include TV advert breaks, visiting a movie theater (cinema to you and me), weather and friendliness. Everything is written in the quite unique style of Bill Bryson which means that at times you feel rather sorry for him, and at times even more sorry for his wife!
I chose to read the book continuously which in hindsight I regret - far better to read a bunch of his articles, leave the book for a few weeks, read a few more and so on.
Definitely a recommended read - Bryson at his irrelevant best!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brevity at its Best 13 Feb 2007
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Bryson brilliantly combines comic asides with the most serious of subjects. If you like Bryson's dry wit, you'll love this book. At first I didn't like the format (exactly four pages per chapter) but after a while I liked the thought that if I had ten minutes to spare, I could read a chapter. And new chapter, new topic. Brevity at its best.

My only regret is that I missed the columns when they appeared in The Mail on Sunday's Night and Day Magazine. Hope the editor intends to commission more soon.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Go and buy it ! 9 Sep 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Like the rest of the correspondants have said, this is a fantastic book that will have you laughing out loud. Without a doubt this is my favourite Bill Bryson book so far and is great to dip in and out of as each chapter is only 3/4 pages long and easily read in 5 mins. I can't pickup this book without knocking out 4 chapters and have re-read it on numerous occasions. I still, in moments of quiet reflection, wonder whether they ever found that small plane in the woods ?? Everybody I've leant this book to, has loved it and bought copies themselves or have gone on to buy his other books... I wish I was on commission ! Just buy it, you'll love it !
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book before moving to California in 1999. It was a fantastic way to prepare for the culture shock that ensued. I had a great time in the States, largely because I could recognise the absurdity that Bryson talks about.
His unique perspective (American living in Britain, moving back to the US) puts a delightful spin on all the things we Brits make fun of the Americans for. His wonderfully witty writing style is laugh out loud funny - especially beacuse it's all true.
So much American culture is already part of life here in the UK, I would say anyone will identify with this send up of all things from across the pond.
Great travel writing, very humorous and hugely entertaining!
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Laughed out loud on a plane! 31 Aug 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book on holiday and finished it on the way home on the airplane. I wonder what the guy in the seat next to me must have thought because I just couldn't help myself laughing out loud every few minutes. Once I even had tears running down my cheek, I was laughing so hard. This is definitely one of the funniest books I have ever read. It captures the US mentality and way of life so well and with such enormous humour. If you haven't read it, you've deprived yourself of a treat! Well done, Mr Bryson!!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This may not be one of the best Bill Bryson books about , but if you enjoyed any of the others and lets face it, most if us have, then you'll find this an interesting addition the Bryson family.
The book is a compliation of news paper articles, written for the Mail on Sunday, which may not be the best format for a book, but lends itself to a good travel companion,which you can dip in and out off, without loosing the plot and and without loosing any of the humourous threads.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb; Absolutely fantastic 10 Mar 2000
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
This is bryson at his very best... Witty and serious. Superbly written about the contrasts between the UK and US. Best read after 'Notes from a small island. Have lent it to everyone i know. Just Brilliant. Forget all the other travel books... This is the one for you, providing you have a sense of humour
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Bill Bryson: read it, enjoy it! 22 July 2000
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Bill Bryson is not only a witty travel writer, a deep connoisseur of the peculiarities of American English and one of the greatest homour writers of our age; he is also an acute and dispassionate observer of the defects and the petty follies of our fellow humans. In "Notes from a Big Country" he shows once more this ability of his in its full glory: after living in Britain for almost 20 years, he decided to go back to his native country with his whole family. So, whereas his wife and children are fascinated and charmed by their new life in the USA, he sets to criticize his fellow Americans with unquenchable humour and deep understanding of their inner worlds.
Some of the columns collected in this book will be regarded as outstanding specimens of Bryson's best prose: the columns on Xmas decorations, on plane travels, on computerand on the maddening tax system in the USA are small masterpieces that one can't read without feeling the urge to laugh out loudly, regardless of where one is.
My favoutite column is the one concerning seaside vacations; it chanced that I read it on a crowded noisy beach of the Adriatic Sea, amid busloads of German tourists and Italian holidaymakers. Needless to say, in Bill Bryson's witty pages I found something familiar...
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
A series of articles written by Bill Bryson after his return to the United States following a long absence. Read more
Published 13 days ago by JanH
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best books
I originally bought the hardback version many years ago when it first came out and have re-read it periodically, always enjoying Bryson's wit and perceptiveness. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Marjo
4.0 out of 5 stars Good holiday read
Bill Bryson's witty writing is entertaining as always. Would recommend as a light read, highly recommended as feel good book.
Published 1 month ago by Jeanne M
5.0 out of 5 stars A new take for me on America
I know that America is a big country but did not realize quite how big until read this book. It really is warts and all. Read more
Published 1 month ago by etheldreda
5.0 out of 5 stars reason for buying
I chose this book as I am new to the writings of Bill Bryson and I was not dissapointed in any way
Published 2 months ago by george mcgregor
5.0 out of 5 stars Fab Bill
Brilliant book by Bill Bryson again, he insults his own country in such a way that they wouldn't mind and his humilty is so good you sympathise with all the human foilibles going.
Published 2 months ago by Judy Deykin
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT
Bill Bryson at his best laughed out loud on the plane had to explain to the person sitting next to me
Published 2 months ago by EILEEN WALTON
4.0 out of 5 stars Great but not up to date
Great book, really funny, but obviously was written in the 90's a so just be prepared for that as it references things from back then.
Published 2 months ago by Jodie
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, but not one of his travel books.
Not really like the rest of his travel guides as he doesn't travel from place to place but instead writes a series of articles for a British Newspaper based on his comparisons of... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Rachel
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent exactly as described, complimented the other furniture in...
excellent exactly as described, complimented the other furniture in the room very well. adds a bit of brightness to the room
Published 4 months ago by markquo
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