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At Home: A Short History of Private Life Hardcover – Unabridged, October 5, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767919386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767919388
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (699 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2010: Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) turns his attention from science to society in his authoritative history of domesticity, At Home: A Short History of Private Life. While walking through his own home, a former Church of England rectory built in the 19th century, Bryson reconstructs the fascinating history of the household, room by room. With waggish humor and a knack for unearthing the extraordinary stories behind the seemingly commonplace, he examines how everyday items--things like ice, cookbooks, glass windows, and salt and pepper--transformed the way people lived, and how houses evolved around these new commodities. "Houses are really quite odd things," Bryson writes, and, luckily for us, he is a writer who thrives on oddities. He gracefully draws connections between an eclectic array of events that have affected home life, covering everything from the relationship between cholera outbreaks and modern landscaping, to toxic makeup, highly flammable hoopskirts, and other unexpected hazards of fashion. Fans of Bryson's travel writing will find plenty to love here; his keen eye for detail and delightfully wry wit emerge in the most unlikely places, making At Home an engrossing journey through history, without ever leaving the house. --Lynette Mong


From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bryson (A Short History of Everything) takes readers on a tour of his house, a rural English parsonage, and finds it crammed with 10,000 years of fascinating historical bric-a-brac. Each room becomes a starting point for a free-ranging discussion of rarely noticed but foundational aspects of social life. A visit to the kitchen prompts disquisitions on food adulteration and gluttony; a peek into the bedroom reveals nutty sex nostrums and the horrors of premodern surgery; in the study we find rats and locusts; a stop in the scullery illuminates the put-upon lives of servants. Bryson follows his inquisitiveness wherever it goes, from Darwinian evolution to the invention of the lawnmower, while savoring eccentric characters and untoward events (like Queen Elizabeth I's pilfering of a subject's silverware). There are many guilty pleasures, from Bryson's droll prose--"What really turned the Victorians to bathing, however, was the realization that it could be gloriously punishing"--to the many tantalizing glimpses behind closed doors at aristocratic English country houses. In demonstrating how everything we take for granted, from comfortable furniture to smoke-free air, went from unimaginable luxury to humdrum routine, Bryson shows us how odd and improbable our own lives really are.
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More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. For twenty years he lived in England, where he worked for the Times and the Independent, and wrote for most major British and American publications. His books include travel memoirs (Neither Here Nor There; The Lost Continent; Notes from a Small Island) and books on language (The Mother Tongue; Made in America). His account of his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, was a huge New York Times bestseller. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his wife and his four children.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#15 in Books > History
#15 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors, and I've read most of his books and enjoyed them.
Tracie Jones
I actually read this book in paperback form and enjoyed it so much that I purchased this one as a gift for a friend I know would appreciate the contents.
Barbara Dickisson
It was very interesting to hear how people primarily in England and the US lived over the last few centuries.
ozone

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

323 of 333 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
Is there anything Bill Bryson isn't interested in? He moves from one subject to the next with equal amounts of genuine enthusiasm. And we're not talking about just the really remarkable stuff - a lot of what gets Bryson going seems quite mundane. Mousetraps, for instance. Once he has you hooked, you too realize that even mousetraps are pretty fascinating after all.

There's no point looking for a theme to At Home, even though it's nominally a social history of the home, specifically Bryson's home, a former rectory in Norfolk, built in 1851. Going from room to room is just an excuse for Bryson to expound on whatever he finds interesting. It might be best to take the book as a series of loosely connected magazine articles or short essays. You can skip around without losing the thread, because there isn't one.

Most of the history is Victorian, but there are side trips to the prehistoric Britain, 19th century America, and the recent past. This is not an academic book, so there are no footnotes, which is a shame. Although Bryson usually credits sources within the text, now and then he makes an outrageous statement without attribution. One that had me scrambling for some supporting evidence was a claim that Elizabeth I admired, then scooped some silverware into her purse at dinner in a nobleman's house while on her annual royal progress. Even more remarkable was a statement that one third of all women in London aged 15-25 in 1851 were prostitutes. Really?! After browsing through the lengthy and excellent bibliography, I found the instruction to go to Bryson's website for notes and sources, but found only that they are "coming soon."

Chances are you won't be interested in everything that takes Bryson's fancy, but no worry.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I adore this book. I sat up late reading it, and I woke up at 4:30am (really) to continue reading it. I expect to press the book into the hands of several friends with a stern warning about returning it *immediately* after they finish.

Yet, I have a hard time summarizing the book in a manner that will make you understand my enthusiasm. When I tried to explain to someone why this book was so wonderful, she crinkled up her nose and gave me a "You gotta be kidding" look. This book discusses so many topics, from the history of the toilet to the reasons behind the 1851 Great Exhibition to the impact of world exploration on furniture building, that any description sounds like Bryson threw a jumble of facts into a book and had done with it. On the other hand, I explained to my friend just one of the anecdotes (the one that ends with "Nothing -- really, absolutely nothing -- says more about Victorian Britain and its capacity for brilliance than that the century's most daring and iconic building was entrusted to a gardener") and she got interested. And she giggled.

Because somehow, amazingly, Bill Bryson ties together this collection of historical anecdotes and "what really happened" within a clear and recognizable structure: the Victorian parsonage in which he and his wife live, which was built in 1851. The chapters walk us through each room and the items within it.
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291 of 342 people found the following review helpful By Silea TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are two major factors that make this one of the least entertaining books by Bill Bryson.

First, it's nearly humorless. One can't read In a Sunburned Country, A Walk in the Woods, or I'm a Stranger Here Myself without laughing until you cry at least a few times, and snorting in amusement often enough that you think twice about reading in public. This book, though, had a handful of lines that might provoke a quirk at the corner of your mouth, and that's about it.

Second, it's not at all what it claims. Despite repeated assertion that this book is about how all history ends up in the home, it's much more an exercise in History Through the Lens of the Home. Most chapters have nearly nothing to do with the room to which they're linked. The chapter on the Larder is entirely about servitude in England. The two are linked only in that the larder is one of the rooms typically visited only by servants. The chapter on the Garden, possibly the most tightly coupled example of chapter room and topic, dabbles briefly in the history of artificial fertilizers, but then spends the majority of its words on parks, public and private. In no chapter is there a round-up at the end where Bryson links back what, exactly, Olmstead's plans for Central Park in New York City have to do with a home's garden, and there's not even a pretext of assuming the latter at all affected the former.
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