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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 20 November 1998
From the moment I picked this book up in WH Smith at Heathrow airport I knew that whatever else happened on my business trip to Istanbul, the journey was already worthwhile.
Bill Bryson has an insightful view of Britain and the British that can only come from living 'among us' for a considerable period.
His understanding of the British people is uncanny and more akin to that of a Brit who has lived in the US for a long time, rather than an American that has lived in Britain.
I spent much of my time while reading the book laughing out loud in public places (which I know is not the done thing for an Englishman - sorry !)
This book asks some of the same qustions I asked when I returned to my native Britain from a period living in the USA.
I finished the book in 2 days and immediately sought out the only English language copy of Bryson's other classic 'Notes from a Big Country' in Istanbul.
But that's another story...
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VINE VOICEon 25 August 2004
My friend bought this book for me to read whilst i travelled solo to the USA.As i had a 7 hour wait in NY airport, i got stuck in to this. I'm sure every Newark Airport worker and visitor at that time thought i was a stark raving English loony! This is a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek book which simultaneously made me cringe with embarrassment (yep, we Brits actually DO the things he says) whilst puffing my chest out in pride at being British! Bryson takes the reader on a tour around Britain venturing from one end of the land to the other and I really felt like i was there with him, through the strife and rain (of course). His narrative is informative (i learnt a heck of a lot about my own country...from an American! Of all people!) and comical. He introduces the reader to typical (and not-so-typical) British folk and ponders over such things as the unanswerable question of 'where have all the red telephone booths gone?'. I never realised that i had such a beautiful, diverse land for exploration on my own doorstep. A hilarious, rib-tickling book which literally did have me snorting aloud with laughter (and consequently ducking my head in embarrassment!).Great for reading whilst on your travels.It MAY make you want to come back home...
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on 28 July 2001
For some reason I always fancied reading a Bill Bryson book but never got around to it - until now. What the heck took me so long??!?!?
This is a funny and I mean FUNNNNY book. It gave me the odd chortle on the bus to a few full belly laughs. He is perceptive and and so very readable. He switchings into the British mentality and our oddments beautifully - and although is often scathing he is never rude or offensive. And in true Brit style we can all have a laugh over a cup of tea.
The way he writes gives me the impression his great love of dear old Blighty, and from the introduction when he first set foots on our Great land he had me in stiches.
This is a real must read and I can't really wait to tackle his other books. Well done Mr Bryson - a book here that really makes me proud to be British!
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on 9 August 2000
I'd never read any of Bill Brysons books before last week, and have now finished three! I found it easy to empathise with Bill - the places he stayed, the sights he saw, the people he met all sounded frighteningly familiar. Especially when he was visiting places I too have lived in or passed through I just had to keep on reading...did he go to the same awful B&B as I unfortunately stayed in? What did he make of the town I called home for three years? Compulsive reading. Having rapidly read Big Country and Walk in the Woods after this, I can't wait for to start on Down Under. Having also travelled extensively in Oz, I wonder if Bill loved the country as much as I do. I suppose that is the big appeal of these books for me - does somebody else view the world in the same way as I do!
I highly reccommend this book to anyone who has travelled in the UK, is thinking of doing so, or just wants a laugh!
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on 24 October 2004
You know, it takes a foreigner to really see the idiosyncracies of another culture. Bill Bryson has caught the essence of the British character, and has that rare gift of being able to take the mickey out of us without causing offence. This is one of the funniest books I have read in a long time. I'm on the way to the bookshop to see what he has to say about other places. If I have any criticism, then it has to be that he did not spend enough time in Scotland, visiting more Scottish places and gently extracting the Michael. Please Bill, another volume on Scotland. Surely the Scots are eccentric enough to give you material for a book ? I say that advisedly..........I'm a Jock myself ! :o)
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on 22 July 2003
Just why 'Notes from a Small Island' is classed as a travel book is beyond me. Reading this book will not tell you the top ten tourist attractions in Aberdeen or the best accommodation in Oxfordshire. This book is a deftly written, toe-curlingly humorous, semi-anthropological analysis of Britain and the British through the eyes of a genuine Anglophile.
From the moment he steps off the ferry and spends the night in a shelter on Dover promenade, Bill Bryson's fascination with all things British becomes a lifetime's work.
Often self-deprecating, openly admiring, occasionally critical. His journey encompasses the inexplicable - e.g. couples sitting outside a beach hut in a gale happily trying to read the Daily Mirror; the mundane - e.g. our collective fondness for small, hard, whitish biscuits; and the glorious - e.g. the staggering vistas of the Yorkshire Dales.
Like a good stand-up impressionist, Bryson again and again finds our defining tics, twitches and mannerisms which make his readers chuckle and wince in recognition. "Oh yes" you'll remark, "we do that don't we."
A lovely book that you'll return to often.
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on 28 January 1999
I haven't been especially impressed by the TV serialisation of the book currently being shown in the UK, but a friend recommended the book as a much better prospect. During an otherwise miserable (and painful) week lying on my back in a hospital bed, Bill Bryson took me on a magical tour of the British Isles. We visited places both familiar and not-so-well-known to me, but all the time my experienced guide eloquently captured the spirit of the British people, our enigmatic traditions and strange little ways, and he even managed to mention the peculiar-sounding village where I live. This book is truly one in a million, and anyone with even the slightest affection for the British Isles and the peoples of this realm will find instant gratification and endless giggles in this wonderful tome. Pure Escapism. By the way, I'm not on a commission!!!!
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on 18 November 2001
I am British and I can't do anything about that, but this book is still absolutely hilarious even if you live here! By coming from a different background, Bryson somehow manages to notice things that is part of everyday background noise that you never usually think about. The book is unbelievably accurate in little details and makes you laugh at yourself because you know it is all so true. I think this is more a guide to Britain for the British, rather than for foreigners.
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on 28 February 2004
I have bought this book three times over the years, having given it away a couple of times. I am surprised to read, therefore, the criticisms in these reviews, with some people saying this is not Bryson at his best.
I think the part of the chapter where Bryson eavesdrops on a conversation in a Glaswegian pub is head and shoulders the funniest thing I have ever read.
I live in Broadway, in the Cotswolds, which gets a brief if ignoble, mention in the book.
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on 2 April 1999
Mark Brennan ( from Bristol, England Thank God for Bill.... There are very few writers of whom you think, I'd like to have a beer with that guy.. Bill Bryson is one such however. His ability to poke fun at us all, Brits, Americans, Europeans, and any number of other nationalities, is remarkable... and yet he does it with a kind of wicked charm that makes it nigh on impossible to take offence. Bryson caused me great embarassment when I read this book on a south-bound train from Leeds, as I kept emitting snorts of laughter which resulted in my fellow passengers moving to other carriages..
I love this book, and I love its American successor, Notes from a Big Country too. In this one, his whimsical tour through Britain and his reflections on what makes us the people and place that we are is truly hilarious.
Bryson has respect for those things which are most important in any country, but little respect for the traditional tourist trail and sentimental tripe. He can surely claim honorary Brit status, should he and the family (Mrs Bryson and the children, including "little Jimmy", the child that never was) ever plan to return to the UK.
A Walk in the Woods is also well worth a read, for those who got to know Bryson's old school friend Stephen Katz in the chronicle of their adolescent meander through Europe, Neither Here or There. He is a hardier man than he looks!
But of them all, Notes from a Small Island remains my favourite, because it reminds me why despite all my moans, I still love this country. Those who say Americans have no sense of irony have obviously never read Bill Bryson's book; he has it in buckets.
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