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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 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 2 April 1999
Mark Brennan (brennanmg@cf.ac.uk) 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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on 27 July 1999
Bill Bryson is grumpy and harsh, yet somehow he made my heart fill up with pride for our own little country. He had a hard time and sometimes he deserved it, he made some parts of Britain seem awful, yet he identified what it is about the nation that make being British very special. After a short holiday in my own country (which was reasonably miserable) I found it difficult to understand what it was that attracted so many foreign tourists. This guy explained it for me, and perhaps even made appreciated our own precious little island a bit more. And talk about laughing out loud. Read this book in the privacy of your home-unless you like rolling about on the ground hysterically in public. And have plenty of paper tissues on hand as it brings tears to the eyes (yes,it is really that funny). Never has there been a book with such hilarity and dry wit.Marvellous!
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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 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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HALL OF FAMEon 18 January 2006
A wide gulf separates the "travel writer" from those who keep journals of their rambles. The former wishes to entice you to visit the places he's seen - indeed, he's generally paid to accomplish that end. The travel journal is often a pure record of sights, events, people encountered. It is also an honest record of what is experienced. Bill Bryson writes journals of his travels. His accounts are forthright, often with scathing wit, but devoid of malice, even when deeply critical of their subjects. In this book, mainly a walking tour of England, Wales and Scotland, he writes a valedictory to his years in Britain. A delightful read, Notes provides rich entertainment with a serious look at the current British scene.
Bryson deserves full marks for courage. He walks. He covers vast distances in weather that would dismay a seasoned fisherman. He risks his life along wind-blown cliffs, looking down for surf lost in driven fog or slashing rain. No-one wet, cold and hungry can maintain their humour long. Bryson conveys his feelings with honest vigour, but veneers his stress with vivid descriptions of the environment he traverses. He struggles to make sense of British Rail [something even the natives have abandoned hope of achieving], more than once falling back on irregular bus services. He suffers a day's dogleg travel to cover a twenty mile distance because no connecting line exists. Still, he persists and is often enough rewarded to make the effort worth the time. And his descriptions of these events rewards the reader through sharing his reactions yet not pointing an accusatory finger. It's "the system" that's at fault.
As an American from Iowa, Bryson may be relied on to take a detached view of Britain. He's no royalist, but he has a strong affinity for the traditional. He admires old buildings and wants money spent to keep them intact. He grieves volubly over the supplanting of "heritage" buildings by modern steel and glass monuments to capitalism and modernity. In this vein, perhaps the best chapter is on Oxford - the town and the uni. He virtually takes you by the hand, leading you about the town, up one charming street or along "some forgotten lane." Regrettably, you emerge in a desolate square swamped by parked cars. Grungy shopping centres abound, and he [and you] find little refuge unless you choose the right pub. His anguished cry for Oxford, " . . . there is so much that is so wrong. How did it happen?" is
repeated throughout the book as variations on a theme.
His tour completed, he returns to his family in preparation for a return to America [he's now in New Hampshire - not Iowa - a telling point]. His British home in Yorkshire seems unsurprising in view of his travails in the South. He likes the North's warm-heartedness, although he admits it is manifested only over a long duration. He adores the scenery, but has never had to make a living from that land. His favourite town names are Northern ones and he'll leave with more than mild regret. Yet, at the end of this book, as he declares his bliss at returning to Yorkshire, one cannot but wonder whether the long journey was worth the effort [other than to produce the book]. Because this book is a journal of a pilgrimage, it fails to entice the reader to duplicate it. Bryson's superb wit and descriptive powers hold you to his side as he journeys. But on closing the pages, this reviewer felt no compulsion to emulate the tour. There are other places that appeal more and Byson's otherwise admirable account doesn't evoke a desire to divert from them. A wonderful book to read, but only once. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 26 April 2016
To start, I have to say this is the first Bill Bryson book I’ve ever read so I can’t compare to any of his other work. To begin with, I was really enjoying this book, he had some interesting stories about each place he went (mainly from living in those places during the 80’s) and I was eager to continue reading. It started to go downhill about a quarter of the way in when Bill starts travelling to places he’s never visited before, Bill basically sets out with no planned route, doesn’t check timetables, when he does he leaves everywhere too late to make the bus/train he’s aiming for, then has to go somewhere completely different, then complains it wasn’t what he was expecting! Basically repeat this twenty times and you have an outline of the book.

Bill also complains about the prices of things, a lot. There is a section where he visits a museum (I think it’s a museum, I can’t be bothered to look through the book to find out) who charge £1.50 entrance and then want £2 for a guidebook. Obviously this is too expensive for Bill, who then goes on to complain that he doesn’t know what anything is due to not having the guidebook!

If you want a free version of this book, you can get this by simply visiting the Trip Advisor website, typing in a random British place, say Chepstow, selecting a variety of hotels, bars and restaurants, then click to view all one star reviews. Here you will find ridiculous complaints ranging from things being too expensive (£2 for a guidebook for example), the weather not being good enough and the buses not running from two completely random places quite as often as the reviewer would like.

I also really went off Bill when he shouts at a fast food worker who basically asks the breakfast equivalent of “would you like fries with that?” Is this not an expected question in every fast food restaurant in the world? A question which the staff are told to ask and who can not just decide they’re going to stop asking it? If it really bothers you that much, at least ask to speak to the manager rather than taking it out on the poor kid who’s just trying to serve you your egg Mcmuffin! When Bill wakes up the next day he remarks that he’s in a great mood, I then expected to see a line about how he went back to the fast food restaurant to apologise for his appalling behavior the previous morning. He doesn’t of course, I mean honestly!
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on 26 September 2003
I have read and re-read Notes From A small Island more times than I can count! It is brilliantly written and Mr Brysons observations are hillarious. My favourite being the problems with a Kent Landlady and a counterpane!! I have read several of his books but this one does it for me every time. He is top of my 'People I would Like To have Round For Dinner' list!
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