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on 20 March 2017
I chose this book because it was about Bill Bryson in Australia and his 'politically correct' way of writing which sometimes includes a swear word or two. Before reading this book, I found myself in Australia visiting my sister and her family where she worked and lived for a couple of years. I liked the relation of some points and places written in this book with real-life events that occurred to me when I was there. I enjoy books by this author because they are so well-written and relate to subjects that interest me.
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on 8 November 2015
This book was written 20 years ago and the Internet age has probably changed and improved quite a few things in Old Blighty but some things are still true enough. If you are a hill walker / explorer and love the wilder areas of the UK, then you will enjoy this book. It is quite hilarious in places. Perhaps we take for granted our beautiful ancient heritage.
I was left wondering whether the author actually likes Brits, but think he must do as he is still here.
His observations on modern architecture and the 1960 s and 1970s Brutalist design crimes are more than justified and I agree with them whole heartedly. It makes you think of what we lost when old beautiful places were removed. Who allowed this to happen?
Observations on the strange quirks of Brits are hilarious. Reminds one of how different their culture is from ours. Mr Bryson does not seem to think very highly of the British transport system ( and it has probably not improved greatly since then) but he cannot really compare the resources of our small island with the USA.
His enthusiasm for tourist attractions is infectious but I was irritated by his frequent mention of the admission charges and that he resented paying. If he admires the places so much, why resent it?
He is quite knowledgable about geography and how towns / settlements develop and seems to be able to analyse places quite intricately. Town planners should read this book.
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on 26 July 2017
This was the best read I've had for a long time. I have read all of Bill Bryson's books and this one was as good as the rest with lots of laughs, beautifully described countryside and an excellent insight into the country's politics and culture - and it was good to see that he didn't miss the native Australians. An excellent read right to the last page. Would highly recommend.
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on 11 October 2015
There are lots of popular linguistics books and for a while I was worried that Bill Bryson was going to cover much of the same ground. However, he manages to unearth quite a lot of information that I, at least, hadn't come across before. Most seemed to be chosen for its entertainment value, which is fine in a book that makes no pretence at scholarship. I prefer Bill Bryson when he is writing from personal experience rather than research, but his enthusiasm for this topic shines through and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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on 28 September 2015
Generally, I found this book entertaining and interesting. However, one or two inaccuracies did jar. For instance, the Germanic settlement of 'Britannia' is almost universally acknowledged amongst historians to have resulted in, not only East Anglia, but the Midlands (Mercia) and the land north of the Humber being Anglian, not Saxon, for many generations. The Saxon kingdoms were in the south and the west country. This is what eased the cultural and linguistic assimilation of Old Norse/Old Danish into the existing Old English substrate when The Danelaw was created, giving rise to the northern dialects. Also, to claim that the Vikings left no linguistic inheritence in Normandy is to completely ignore the existence of the extensive and extant Norman dialect, which shares many lexical features with the dialects of Yorkshire (see Rhodes and Le Fevre in Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, Vol XIX, 1998).
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on 25 November 2015
Disappointed! Bought this 2009 edition in the hope that it would have been updated from the 1990 edition I have. Without carrying out a word-for-word check there doesn't seem to have been any updating at all. The English language, as others, has changed considerably in the intervening twenty years. Technology, modes of communication, movement of populations and education have all made their impact - a period of quite dramatic change. However, this edition is still in the mindset of the eighties and nineties.

I was hoping to find revelations about how and why our language has changed since the previous edition, but was disappointed.Ten pounds wasted!
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on 7 June 2016
A foray into the differences & similarities between American and British English together with meanderings down the highways and byways of word origin and changes over time. Having ploughed my way through the kindle edition (about 20% of which comprise references, source notes, etc), I'm not sure (A) what was the point of it all, (B) what I really learned from this book and (C) why Bryson bothered to write it in the first place. Having said that, it is well researched (as evidenced by the wealth of references) and eminently 'worthy' - but I didn't find it a gripping read (and in places, tedious). If I'd known then what I know now, I wouldn't have bought it.
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on 26 April 2013
As a Brit, I found Down Under infinitely less threatening and much more enjoyable than Notes on a Small Island (see separate review); the latter which is nonetheless great itself. While Bryson is on your home patch, there is always that anxiety that he is going to trash some icon or way of life that you hold dear. However, when Bryson switches his attention to our Antipodean cousins, all of that angst immediately dissipates, and you can sit back and enjoy his particular talent for finding nuanced little stories in among the detritus of life and bringing them to life with his sparkling and witty prose.
Bryson is very definitely upper middle class but it is that ability to be Everyman; see what we all see and yet articulate it in a way we cannot; that makes his writing so successful. Bryson dishes out praise and derision in roughly equal measure, so that he comes across as neither overly effusive or curmudgeonly, but it often both, sometimes within the space of a sentence or two. I doubt Bryson would top anyone's list of people to be stuck in a lift with, and yet you can't help hanging on his every word and ascribing it the status of the gospel truth. You almost don't feel like you don't need to go and see the Sydney Opera House or journey through the Outback, because Bryson has told you all you need to know. It's a very smart trick to be able to pull off, and no one does it better than him.
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on 3 February 2013
Bill Bryson's affectionate tour of the UK has much that is good about it. He clearly has a fondness for our sceptred isle that makes him a warm, engaging and reliable narrator. Bryson is clearly happiest spending time in middle England, be it wandering enraptured around Windsor's magnificent royal parks or admiring the Victorian building facades of a market town in Lincolnshire. Scotland gets short shrift in terms of both his length of visit and much of what he has to say about it, although if he genuinely expected Aberdeen to be nice, he has only himself to blame. The chapter on Blackpool is, in places, laugh-out-loud funny. The chapter on Milton Keynes is genuinely depressing but that's not Bryson's fault - the new town is the kind of cancerous sore on the landscape that would have Prince Charles frothing at the mouth; and rightly so.

Bryson makes himself out to be a man of simple pleasures, although you lose track of the times he says `I checked myself, guiltily, into yet another splendid Georgian hotel.' At times his Notes read more like an extended City break than an attempt to really get under the skin of our magnificent country. If an attraction or site of interest is more than 300 yards from the town centre, Bryson huffs and puffs his way there with all the reluctance of a resentful teenager. Cornwall is shamefully ignored, and I don't remember Bryson once trying to uncover the really wild side of Britain, with its amazing wildlife and variety of landscape and habitat. He does some walking, but in a very middle-class, taxi fare at-the-ready kind of way. He's certainly no Bilbo Baggins. But of course Bryson can't do everything and go everywhere, and we must accept that. The fact that someone finally bothered to take a tour of modern Britain and recount what they say is to be applauded.

My only real criticism is his i.e. that Britain's towns and cities are often homogenized beyond having any individual character. This coming from a Yank who occasionally yearns for the featureless McSuburbs of home is difficult to take. Besides which, if that is true, then who but the Americans are to blame for their corrupting influence on communities and individuality worldwide? People in cube farms shouldn't throw burger wrappers! Despite this major flaw, Notes From a Small Island is an entertaining stroll around Britain in a very comfortable pair of shoes.
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on 11 April 2016
In the main I enjoyed reading this book. I'm a fan of Bill Bryson's style of writing and wasn't disappointed. Some issues though. The book was written in the 1980s; not clear from blurb before you buy. Being a 'history' book that shouldn't matter but recent developments of English language are not covered. The controversy of use of apostrophes, including criminal use, is barely mentioned. Not mentioned is the recent trend to 'verbise' nouns. Some facts are suspect or wrong as noted by others but I didn't regard this book as an academic treatise.
But, I'm glad I read this book, particularly good value at the Kindle price.
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