At Home: A short history of private life (Bryson) Paperback – 26 May 2011
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"A work of constant delight and discovery...His great skill is to make daily life simultaneously strange and familiar, and in so doing, help us to recognise ourselves. A treasure: don't leave home without it" (Judith Flanders Sunday Telegraph)
"Enchanting... Bryson tackled science in his brilliant A Short History of Nearly Everything. This new book could as easily be categorised as 'a short history of nearly everything else'... extraordinarily entertaining" (Antonia Senior The Times)
"Not just hugely readable but a genuine pageturner... None of these things, needless to say, are as easy as Bryson in his ever-genial way makes them seem" (James Walton Daily Telegraph)
"Entertaining, fact-packed... He is a cheery, idiosyncratic guide, eclectic rather than scholarly, a true populariser. At Home will have every reader eyeing home rather differently" (Financial Times)
"The much-loved writer takes the attention to detail that made A Short History of Nearly Everything such a fantastic guide to all things science, and applies it to our homes. Written in his laid-back style, this is a wonderful celebration of what makes a house a home" (News of the World)
The irresistible book by Bill Bryson which does for the history of the way we live what A Short History of Nearly Everything did for science.See all Product description
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The style is exactly the same as his previous books. He has a structure but regularly wanders away from the subject and uses one topic to jump to another which is not always relevant.
It's great to learn about some of the things in the house but the book is so much more than that. It is particularly strong on the social and industrial changes in the nineteenth century. I felt that he could have covered more of the changes in the twentieth century but there must come a point where even Bill Bryson thinks that a book is getting too long.
Many times in the book he goes into huge detail about a subject which didnt interest me but it is always worth sticking with it as something of interest with soon pop up. Example - I was getting bored with a history of italian villa design when he moved to statistics about accidents on stairs which I found fascinating.
I find these books very difficult to recommend as they are heavy going simply due to their size however it is worth noting that on the kindle, which is how I read it, the actual book finishes at 69% with the rest of the text being references, etc.
good choice at the time: I've enjoyed most of Bill Bryson's books (excepting
a couple of his early works that bored me by descending into too-long lists of facts),
and I've loved the sound of his voice on BBC broadcasts of extracts. So
surely I would enjoy At Home as an audiobook as well?
Well, maybe not. The problem is that I've found I can't really cope with
audiobooks. I listen for a while, but then my attention wanders, and I realise
that I've not really paid attention for the last minute or so, and have to
skip back and (try to) listen again, which is quite fiddly. Somehow I don't
have the same problem whilst reading (except perhaps when trying to finish a
chapter when I ought to be going to sleep!) It doesn't help that Bill's voice is
so gentle and soothing that it's easy to drift off. (I have the same problem
with David Attenborough, even at his most fascinating!)
In retrospect, I should've seen this coming. When on earth would I get round to
listening to an audiobook? Some people love listening to them in the car, but I
knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate on a book whilst driving; and I don't
use public transport very often. I quickly discovered that trying to listen to
this at bedtime was not going to work (though it did get me to sleep quickly!)
Daytime turned out to be not much better.
I think I got through about two chapters before the gaps between listening
sessions grew so large as to render the experience pointless - I simply lost
In its favour, the individual tracks are all quite short, so I never felt I had
to plough through to the end of a long section before stopping. (My copy is on
CD, though I did put part of it onto an iPod.)
It's not that I had a problem with the material. Later, I bought At Home as an
e-book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a history-with-ephemera of the progress
of home comforts, connected (albeit sometimes pretty tenuously) to the rooms of
the author's home, it's excellent. I loved the way that the year when the
rectory was built keeps turning up in all sorts of unexpected ways. Somehow I
had a better sense of the narrative structure of each chapter in the e-book
than I ever got with the audio version.
My rating reflects my enjoyment of the content, rather than the fact that I
just don't seem to get on with audiobooks.
At times the subject matter is forced into the `home' framework like a Victorian lady into a corset (for example, the topic of mice, rats and other pests is covered by the Study chapter because more mice are caught in that room than anywhere else in Bryson's house, apparently) and several of the later chapters reprise information from earlier chapters, but these are minor quibbles. Overall it's an interesting book - and if that sounds less than a ringing endorsement it's because the scale of the subject matter shrinks Bryson's laugh out loud humour to a slight smirk.
If you're a Bill Bryson fan you've probably read At Home already. If not, then try one of his travel books first, Notes from a Big Country or Notes from a Small Island, say.
** Worth reading
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