on 14 January 2001
A very impressively researched and entertaining book. It sets out as an exploration of what happened to the English language when it got to North America, and achieves this goal admirably. However, it also provides a wealth of insights into the growth phases and catalysts which caused the US economy to grow to the super power it is today. This aspect of the book provides (perhaps unwittingly) many valuable historical perspectives on recent internet- driven developments - and how they may pan out. I read 'Mother Tongue' first. 'Made in America' is a perfect follow up.
on 28 January 2004
To be honest, I always associated Bill Bryson with light travel books, so I was pleasantly suprised to find his refreshing writing style applied to etymology; not always the easiest topic to entertain with!
Having said that, there is so much more than etymology. The anecdotes are amusing, and you will find yourself repeating them to everyone you know. The work that debunks urban myths is fascinating and, as is often the case, fact is stranger than fiction; some of the truths behind words and phrases are truly special.
The lists of when words were first used did not appeal to me personally, although I am perfectly willing to believe that there are people out there who would be interested, but they are fairly easy to skip.
The one thing I take away from this book more than anything else is respect for American English. As a young Englishman, I have been pre-conditioned into a certain disregard for 'Americanisms'. Yet after reading this book, you will see how useful many of these words are, and the ones we choose to attack are very limited. I think the book is worth reading for this information alone.
In conclusion, a good read that you can take your time over.
on 26 March 2001
As an American having spent years in both England and Ireland, I thoroughly enjoyed this book exploring the American usage of the English language. Bryson, as only he can, relates many of the untold stories of the founding of the United States and how as a society we morphed the language to fit our ever-changing needs. He takes us on a journey through the events that enlivened and matured our language into what it is today.
Interesting, light-hearted yet immensely learned- it is the type of book you'll be referencing and discussing at dinner parties for years to come. Brilliantly written to appeal to readers on both sides of the pond.
While different from the travel books that Bryson is so famous for, this new genre of writing is no less wonderful.
on 2 August 2002
I read first read this book a few years ago but still find myself going back to it time and again. My copy is so well thumbed it is falling apart. Billed as a history of American English, this book is much more than that. It is one of those books which entertains and informs. I learned more about American history from this book than I did from a whole set of textbooks on the topic. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone. It is his best book by far.
on 26 August 2006
For a description of the book itself see the paperback version. Suffice to say if you are reading this entry then you probally want the audiobook specifically. This really is complete and unabridged and comes as one of those chivers audio packs you sometimes get in libraries aimed I think at the hard of sight. It is not in a standard CD case like regular audiobooks. This is read as are 'The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America' & 'Notes From a Big Country' by William Roberts. Comes on 14Cd's divided into approximately 5 minute chapters on each for ease of finding your 'bookmark'.
on 23 September 2004
This is quite an engaging read. Approaching primarily it because of my interest in language and also in American culture, I was not disappointed by this work which offers the reader information on such diverse topics as travel, immigration and American food. Principally of a linguistic focus, it traces some of the etymological history of some of the more common (and uncommon) terms in the American and English languages. A worthwile read, and enjoyable too.
on 6 January 2003
I think I read too many English boarding-school books when I was a kid. At least I got a snobbish attitude about the superiority of British English over American English from somewhere.
This book was a revalation, it showed me that my snobbishness was just that, and without foundation. Things that I had firmly believed, like that 'trash' was an Americanism, were swept away (and now I think, what would it matter if it were?).
Made In America is full of fascinating detail. I couldn't stop myself from reading passage after passage out loud, and I've bought copies for gifts. Anyone with an interest in language, history, or culture would get a kick out of this book.
on 30 October 2013
The strengths of Bill Bryson are his wry and good natured sense of humour and the depth and application of his research. In Made in America (subtitled, I believe, in the US edition as An Informal History of the English Language in the United States) he brings that research to the fore as he relates the development of language in the USA. In doing so he adds to his pantheon of books that cover science, history, geography, travel, home life and auto biography. Fans of Bryson will know the successful formula - non fiction story telling wherein the reader is carried along in an informative, folksy and interesting journey as BB relates and comments on the subject. When I say 'folksy' and 'interesting' I do not mean to imply prosaic or necessarily genial. He brings to his narration a fine sense of history and place that escapes many of the travel writers and social commentators I have read.
In Made in America the book provides a man in the street history of the colonisation, expansion and growth of the USA. The title chapters (there are 21) show his approach .... The Mayflower and Before, Making a Nation, We're in the Money; The Age of Invention, The Movies, Politics and War, Welcome to the Space Age; 1950s and Beyond. The book doubles as a conversational history of the USA from the ground up. The influence of English (as spoken by the Pilgrims when they stepped ashore in 1620), German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Chinese and, of course, the native languages spoken by the indigenous population, can be seen as BB describes the onward march to that common language which WSC said separated us.
The one criticism I have of the book is really a comment on BB's obvious enthusiasm for the subject. I found often that he listed far too many ways of pronouncing this word or spelling that word. He is strongest when relating the characters and rise of individual eccentrics like Edison (he had 1093 patents in his name), J. Murray Spangler (invented the vacuum cleaner), Kodak, Goodyear, Rockefeller, Dr Kellog and weakest when giving us the origins of words like skidoo, fink and cahoots. Having made those points I am indebted to BB in that he seems to have nailed the origin of the initials 'O.K.' (page 103) and for telling me that keeping a stiff upper lip is an Americanism!
In addition to being a work of semiotics (I dont think BB would see it as such) and a work of history the book really is a superb work of reference - 567 pages with 18 of index and 22 of bibliography / chapter notes. Despite my slight crit., I would heartily recommend this book to all BB fans and to those who want to see how BB writes and how he sees his native language.
This 1994 work by Bill Bryson is probably the most impressive (funny and educational) non-travel book I have read by this most infectious of authors. It is also contains the most evidence of detailed research, and therefore simply more facts (at least I assume them to be facts) than any other of his books. On the slight down-side, what this means (of course) is that, although Bryson's trawl through the history of the English language (as adopted and adapted by the US), as it applies to areas such as travel, national identity, politics, eating, sport, advertising, inventions, immigration, shopping, etc, is highly entertaining and informative, there are simply so many facts here that it is difficult to commit even a small proportion to memory (although the book can obviously be used as a reference, if necessary).
Nevertheless, Made In America is still a totally compelling read and is actually highly educational if, like me, you are less likely to trawl through a more academic history book than to be drawn in by Bryson's highly readable (and frequently wryly humorous) style. Here, for example, he provides a relatively succinct (around 100 pages) set of introductory chapters charting the formation of the US, the drafting of its constitution and formation of its political system. He also concludes the book with a particularly interesting (list of facts-light) chapter on current (i.e. early 1990s) educational standards in the US, and whilst painting a rather negative (though ambiguous) picture, concludes (rightly I feel) that the US' highly diverse racial and cultural mix is likely to stand it in continued good stead in terms of its future prosperity.
on 3 July 2012
This starts off as mainly a book about the development of the English language and the first couple of chapters do not disappoint. He is clearly an expert in his field. (Well, I think he is.) But then it opens out into a broad popular/ social/ economic history. There are plenty of his trademark stories and anecdotes and lashings of his trademark humour. It is done in such an entertaining way that I barely noticed that he'd moved beyond the linguistics insofar as it becomes more about the introduction of new vocabulary than anything else.
It's a fun book, but for all that it gives a much better idea than hardly any other book I've come across of how the US (and us too) have reached where we are: health, food, sport, cars, roads and shopping centres. One story in particular that stays with me is how the young officer Eisenhower (ie think) attempted to bring a detachment of troops from east to west coast 100 years ago: just to see if it could be done.
Being the extravert that he is (psychologically speaking) he makes a determined effort at the end to justify pc newspeak. Doesn't quite work for me but nice try, bless him!
You will learn more in this book than in hardly any other publication of comparable size.