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The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America [Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Jan 1999

'I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to'

And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. Travelling around thirty-eight of the lower states - united only in their mind-numbingly dreary uniformity - he discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land.

The Lost Continent is a classic of travel literature - hilariously, stomach-achingly funny, yet tinged with heartache - and the book that first staked Bill Bryson's claim as the most beloved writer of his generation.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (2 Jan 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552998087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552998086
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,058 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

A travelogue by Bill Bryson is as close to a sure thing as funny books get. The Lost Continent is no exception. Following an urge to rediscover his youth (he should know better), the author leaves his native Des Moines, Iowa, in a journey that takes him across 38 states. Lucky for us, he brought a notebook.

With a razor wit and a kind heart, Bryson serves up a colourful tale of boredom, kitsch, and beauty when you least expect it. Gentler elements aside, The Lost Continent is an amusing book. Here's Bryson on the women of his native state: "I will say this, however--and it's a strange, strange thing--the teenaged daughters of these fat women are always utterly delectable ... I don't know what it is that happens to them, but it must be awful to marry one of those nubile cuties knowing that there is a time bomb ticking away in her that will at some unknown date make her bloat out into something huge and grotesque, presumably all of a sudden and without much notice, like a self- inflating raft from which the pin has been yanked."

Yes, Bill, but be honest: what do you really think? --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"High-spirited... hilarious" (Observer)

"Hilarious... he can be suave, sarcastic and very funny... not your typical travel writer" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Funny as this wonderful book is, it is also a serious indictment of the American way of life and the direction in which it is going... he is genuinely shocked, as we are, by the statistics of affluence, poverty, crime and culture that he drops in hither and thither" (Irish Times)

"A very funny performance, littered with wonderful lines and memorable images" (Literary Review)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing and great telling 10 Jan 2004
Format:Library Binding
I like Bill Bryson. For me, he has the greatest wit of any travel writer.
The Lost Continent is a very entertaining book anyway, but Kerry Shale brings the characters Bill meets to life. Take the Mississippi policeman Bill meets at some traffic lights. 'Yawwwwwwwwnnnn vaycayshun...? How'd'y'laaaaak Misuppy?' the cop asks. Bill has to ask him three times to repeat himself because he simply doesn't understand the outsize drawl the man has. Finally, he thanks the cop profusely for his patience and drives off, pondering the wisdom of giving such dangerously stupid people a gun and squad car...
Alongside these straightforward amusing vignettes, he does still make a lot of interesting observations about small-town America. He even lets on some of his secrets for saving money. When visiting Historic Williamsburg, don't drive up the main driveway cos that'll only cost money. Just drive round the back and you can get in for free...
Packed full of humour, observations and tips, this is ideal for listening to in the car, especially with Kerry Shale's inimitable voice. You'll find yourself imitating some of his best lines to yourself, and wondering how on earth they sound so much funnier when he says them!
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The first book by Bill Bryson I read was "A walk in the woods", and I could not imagine any book to be funnier and wittier. Then, one day, I saw "The lost continent", bought it, read it - and had to change my opinion. In this book, Iowa-born writer Bryson, who has moved to Great Britain some years ago, becomes homesick, borrows his mother's rusty car and makes a journey across small-town America. It was great fun reading and enjoying all those acerbic commentaries about everyday life in the U.S. On his journey, Bryson has to deal with lots of displeasant accidents - unfriendly waitresses, weird (and warty) gas station attendants, bad hotel rooms, ugly shopping malls everywhere, mentally retarded radio dj's (who are fond of playing "Hotel California" by the Eagles every ten minutes) and so on. His travel leads him to Cape Cod, the Grand Canyon and the Great Lakes, and there are lots of funny depictions of life in those places as well as worried remarks about fast-food culture throughout the U.S. You really can feel Bryson's affection for his home country, and that's why this book is so entertaining.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Before they were famous... 17 Mar 2004
This book started a complete new genre of travel writing.
It appeared on the bookshelves unannounced some time ago.
It slowly began to gain momentum for Bryson purely on the strength of the quality writing and it's apparent new style.
It became a massive seller, as have many of his subsequent books.

Before Bryson travel books were DULL and polarised.
Byson took the shine off the glossy travel books and created a new type of writing - maybe REALITY travel writing?!

For those of you who went on cheap holidays, and visited poor `attractions` as a kid, this re-lives it all.

It's about America, but there are so many similarities in the UK. When something is c**p he tells it like it is; when it's quality, he also gives praise.

Brysons offerings since have been variable - now he knows he has an audience to please.

Many writers have tried to follow him; some more successful than others. Don't forget Bryson was there first.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and vivid odyssey across America 2 Feb 1999
By A Customer
I've just finished The Lost Continent and am still recovering from the experience. Bill Bryson's devastating wit and keen perceptions are right on target. I had tears rolling down my face, collapsing in helpless laughter when reading about tacky souvenir shops in Savannah and Gatlinburg and pig-out marathons in Pennyslvania Dutch restaurants and boring nonsense on historical markers. He never misses an opportunity to zing Americans for their lack of taste but he also lovingly describes scenic back roads and the few small towns that are still thriving, or are at least interesting (especially if they resist the lure of fast food chains and WalMarts). Anyone who went on endless car trips as a kid will definitely love this book. I must read more by Mr. Bryson!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Bryson takes us on a journey through small town America, strictly on the by-roads, in search of that American Nirvana that he calls "Amalgum". Poignant comments and humourous reflections upon the new society on the way, together with many bizarre and macabre historical references make this an excellent holiday read.
For those who have ever travelled outside of the cities in the U.S., and witnessed the social mix which is as varied as the weather across this vast land, this will sate your appetite for a definitive view of American culture. Bryson sees what is now, and with subtle yet hilarious use of personal reflection and historical counterpoint manages to capture the essence of his America.
Excellent cadence, depth and colour. There is a little of him in all of us, and he knows well how to reach it. A beatifully sublime book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Travels between crudbucket towns 11 Nov 2008
By Sally Wilton VINE VOICE
When Billy Bryson wrote this book Nancy Reagan was still twitching the net curtains at the White House. 4 presidents later counting the president elect to date and could it be that this book is still relevant and contemporary? I haven't been to the states myself but seeing the recent election and the excitement engendered by some middle american farmers for a woman shooting a moose the answer must be 'Yes indeedy doo, you betcha'

Billy B moves from one crudbucket town to another with hilarious opinions, spending nights in seedy motels in beds that sometimes appear to have been vacated by a horse, eating fast foods in diners with views of parking lots once the scenes of important battles. Visiting wax works and souvenir shops selling pictures of farmers on escalators and baseball caps with turds stuck on the brim, sometimes coming across fabulous scenery even, his comments are often scathing but also warm hearted.

Aside from farmers with tanned arms and necks sporting missing fingers and limbs, his poor old dad is the main butt of his humour. BB claims that his dad was even more penny pinching than himself with his butane gas cooker and obsession with only going to free places.

I am sure that the USA is an amazing place and I look forward to visiting to see for myself but for now am very appreciative to live in the UK with it's long established culture and excellent public service broadcasting.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very good
Published 6 days ago by listener
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and interesting
I really enjoyed this book, it makes me want to go traveling. It's funny and interesting.
Published 9 days ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely brilliant!
Funny and so true to life. Bryson always hits the literary nail on the head and as an observation is the has no peer. Roll on the next book
Published 14 days ago by Gillian Fox
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great. read this on holiday. Amusing, interesting, informative
Published 15 days ago by Kev
4.0 out of 5 stars Bryson at his best: his writing beautifully allows him to express both...
Bryson at his best : his writing beautifully allows him to express both disgust and awe within, frequently, the same sentence, at some of what, and who, he sees in his trip round... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Ian R. Mccolm
5.0 out of 5 stars very funny.
What can I say,very funny.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. P. Freeman
4.0 out of 5 stars my second Bryson book and I'm still getting used to the humour - good...
Enjoyable read, my second Bryson book and I'm still getting used to the humour - good for reading on the train.
Published 1 month ago by John Brady
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read ...
Lovely book. If I went to the USA, this is where I would go!
Published 2 months ago by Dr. J. Davis
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Possibly a little out of date but still fun
Published 2 months ago by Marmite
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Husband birthday present - very pleased
Published 2 months ago by tinkerbell
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