347 of 355 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2000
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bill. As a proud Australian, it has been a never-ending source of irritation that Australia is forever portrayed as a land of beer-swilling "yobbos" who say "cobber" and "fair dinkum" rather a lot. For instance, 'The Simpsons' - usually such a witty, clever and insightful show - completely missed the point in their Australian episode. Finally, someone has managed to capture a bit of the character of this great country. He releases it from the shackles of the Paul Hogan stereotype.
This is a terrific read. Bryson has, mercifully, gone well and truly off the beaten track to explore many different parts of Australia - the cities, the outback, the tropics, and everything else in between. But as ever with a Bill Bryson book, more than the destination itself, the pleasure is in getting there. Laugh-out-loud moments abound, though perhaps more in the restrained way of "A Walk in the Woods", as opposed to the guffaw-fest that is "Neither Here Nor There".
You don't have to be at all familiar with Australia to appreciate and enjoy this book. I am, sadly, one of those Australians to which Bryson refers that has never seen Ayers Rock / Uluru myself. In fact, I have never been to the majority of places Bryson visits. It was a revelation for me, too.
Bryson once again recounts numerous historical and trivial anecdotes which, together with his unique view of the world, elevate this book well above the mere travel genre. This is insightful, this is informative, this is FUNNY.
Perversely, my only criticism is perhaps that he likes Australia a little too much. God knows, I'm so pleased that he does. However, he is, I believe, at his best when distressed. Dull and drab places, and stupid, mindless people bring out the devil in Bill Bryson, and have always proven to be useful comic fair. There are elements of that here - his body boarding experience, his views on Canberra, and his trials and tribulations with hotel receptionists in Darwin - but at the end of the day, opportunities to vent his sarcastic wit are somewhat limited.
Being an enthusiastic and devoted fan of the great Stephen Katz, I would also have loved to have seen him deal with the hardships of outback Australia. He would have absolutely LOATHED it.
Read this book. It is a treat.
76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2000
I am an unreserved Bryson fan. I love "Made In America" about the English language, and, as an Australian living in England for an extended time, thought he captured perfectly both the expat experience, and the endearing and irritating qualities of the Brits in "Notes from a small island" . This book is factually correct. That might sound inane, but there is nothing more irritating than reading about your own place and finding it tritely stereotypical or factually incorrect. Bill scores well on both counts.
Bill's take on the Australian Prime Minister of the day (a small, invisible and colourless entity) is a reasonably brave thing to say in a sense - an outsider commenting on a political identity invites derision, but he captures the essence of the man so well.
The other special moment for me is his discovery of cricket on the radio...when all other stations fade out to static, there is the mighty game. Somehow or other, despite writing nonsense words, he captures the rhythm and cadences of radio cricket commentary PERFECTLY. To me, cricket on the radio is as much about summer as cicadas, running under the sprinkler and crackling heat. Beautifully pulled off!
A good read, and for the first time since leaving school I actually engaged with some of the stories of explorers! A wry but never cynical tone makes for an entertaining read. I am glad he pays "homage" to that other good 'outsider's book' - "Sydney" by Jan Morris.
Bill Bryson covers much of the same terrain as the other great US travel writer, Paul Theroux, and seems to meet as many odd or intersting characters. Bill's disposition, however, makes him far more open to LIKING a place, and enormously less self-absorbed.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2006
Bill Bryson is best known for writing very humorous travel books, and "In a Sunburned Country" is indeed a funny account of his travels in Australia. Those who love Bill Bryson's books for their humor won't be disappointed.
But unlike most people, I like Bill Bryson best when he's NOT trying to be funny, and my appreciation of this book is mostly due to the great amount of very interesting information presented.
Bill Bryson amazes you with loads of information about the geology, the animal life, the plants and insects, the history, the statistics, the folklore, etc., etc. The many dangers: poisonous snakes, poisonous insects, poisonous jellyfish, crocodiles, sharks, and rip currents - they're all out to get you. The inhospitable deserts, the beautiful beaches, the huge distances; Bill Bryson gives you a feeling of what it's all like.
The book goes into detail about many aspects of Australian life that are fairly unknown, including the discovery (and re-discovery) of Australia, the settlement by British prisoners, the early expeditions to explore the interior, the gold rushes, the outlaws, and the devastation caused by rabbits and other imported animals and plants. Bill Bryson talks about the many unusual animal species found only in Australia, including giant earthworms that grow up to 1 meter (and can be stretched to 4 meters) and the platypus, a cross between a reptile and a mammal. He talks about Australians and the Australian society, and the situation regarding the native people, the aboriginals.
Bill Bryson doesn't cover all of Australia from the geographical point of view, and the parts he does cover are somewhat random. But that doesn't matter because he captures the spirit of the whole country based on the parts he does visit and the general information he includes.
A very positive aspect is that Bill Bryson makes it clear that he loves Australia. The feeling is infectious, and it makes you want to pack your bags and head "down under" for a long leisurely trip so you can do your own exploring.
If I were to mention two things I was less happy about, it would be the occasional excessive attempts to be funny and the lack of contact with Australians. One of the best parts of the book is about his traveling together with an Australian couple for 3-4 days, but other than this passage Bill Bryson is mostly playing the typical tourist, with little or no contact with Australians. And despite a fairly long discussion about the aboriginal situation he does not ever get into contact with any aboriginals. Why not?
A final note regarding the unabridged audio version of the book, read by Bill Bryson himself: Most authors are poor readers, but Mr. Bryson does a very good job here, almost on a par with a professional reader. Recommended.
PS. "In a Sunburned Country" has also been published under the title "Down Under". It is exactly the same book.
69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Bill Bryson has an excellent way with words, especially with his descriptive writing. For a travel writer, I suppose this is a must. He's also a humorist, and I laughed out loud on at least a half a dozen occasions while enjoying his adventures down under. Particularly amusing were his descriptions of a Cricket match, of a particularly bad hotel in Darwin and and of a drunken night in the Outback. He also gives a fine overall view of Austrailia, of which he covered much, but alas not nearly as much as he wanted. Though some might gripe that he spends too much time ruminating over the poisonous wildlife and looking for a cold beer, overall this is an exceptionally fun book to read. He includes many historical facts about Australia and even devotes some space to the unfortunate condition of the Aborigines. But not too much to spoil the fun. Bryson's travel writings remind me of an apolitical P.J. O'Rourke, and for that he's worth a read.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2000
I have a great deal of affection for Bill Bryson's writings. I'm a long-time fan of travel essays, but I always cringe at those that take their subjects too seriously...reflecting solely on the majesty, history, culture, and tradition of a place. I want to shout at these writers: C'mon! You're looking for a clean public toilet too, just like the rest of us!
Bill Bryson isn't the only humorous travel writer, but he's one of the most effective at taking the p*ss out of travel as a holy grail. He's well informed and read on his subjects, but not afraid to say he's forgotten the name of Australia's Prime Minister (and reflect that that says a lot about the rest of the world's focus on Australia in the global stage). He's curious and willing to try new things like body surfing, but not too proud to let you know he's dead rotten at it. He'll seek out exotic wildlife, and then retreat quickly to safety if it's venomous. He loves to try out the local cuisine, but spends much of his time looking for a cold beer. In short, he's someone *I'd* like to travel with--informed, funny, and personable. He's less grumpy than usual (then again, these travels are less physical arduous than hiking the Appalachian Trail in "A Walk Through the Woods").
His anecdotes are entertaining and informative. I read this book the weekend before the airing of the PBS mega-series on Australia, and learned much more (and laughed a whole lot more too) from Bryson than from Robert Hughes. From the big cities to the Outback Bryson travels (sometimes in a good nature, sometimes in a humorous grumpiness), talking to the people we wish we'd meet on our travels, doing the things we'd like to do, and asking the questions only a man with the outspokenness of an American but the politeness of an Englishman could ask.
Which is not to say the whole book is a laugh riot. He's remarkably effective discussing the treatment of Australia's Aborigine tribes by modern culture, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of the country's educational failure in teaching the Aborigines' next generation. That's the mark of the best travel writer, in my view: he makes you laugh, he makes you think, he teaches you something, and best of all, he makes you long to visit and experience the country for yourself.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2001
Born and raised in Iowa, Bill Bryson spent 20 years in England before moving back to the United States to live in the perfect college town, Hanover, New Hampshire. A syndicated columnist, many of his columns about life in Hanover have been collected and published in "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," an enjoyable book, but because of the nature of its source material (syndicated columns) also a simple and highly sanitized one. At no point is the reader confronted by complex intellectual concepts or any obscenities.
"In a Sunburned Country" is a different matter. Written as an integrated book, it is a wonderful introduction to the more intellectually complex aspects of Australia, as well as the funnier ones, providing fascinating anthropological, botanical, geological, historical, political and sociological insights about our friends Down Under. Prior to reading it, I had dismissed Australia as being little more than a very dull version of America in the Fifties; Like Bryson, I now view it as the most fascinating place on earth. Similarly, I had viewed Mr. Bryson as being a male Erma Bombeck; I now view him as one of the more intelligent writers I have encountered.
The Australian Tourism Authority should consider licensing this book and either giving it away to prospective visitors or otherwise using it to promote the country. It is that good.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2002
I bought this book in England, at the airport, for something to read on the way home. Having traveled to Australia a few years ago, I thought it would be nice to read someone else's impressions of the country. I loved it! Some parts had me laughing out loud so hard I was crying (which I am sure the flight attendants thought strange) while insights about the treatment of the Aborigines inspired some serious reflection. This is not a 'how-to' guide for planning a trip to Oz, but it is wonderful at giving gut reactions, background information and history, as well as the pure, honest emotions involved in traveling somewhere far from home. So, after talking to your travel agent and reading Fodor's or Lonely Planet's guides... read Bryson before boarding the plane. And if you fly into Sydney, you will know more than the locals about Kingston Smith, for whom the airport is named! Even if you aren't bound for Down Under, Bryson can transport you through the sights, sounds, and conversations that he reports so well.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2000
A new Bill Bryson book is always a treat of the highest magnitude. I preordered this book and counted down the days until its arrival. This book was as wonderful as his previous efforts, in fact, maybe even more so because it hit so close to home. As a former Sydney gal, I miss my homeland and Mr. Bryson reminded me of why. He takes the reader on a journey that most people (including most Aussies) would never go on; Australians tend to travel abroad before exploring their own country. I think anyone who reads this book will want to actually travel to this beautiful country and explore its riches. The reader will discover that there's more to Australia than Kangaroos and Foster's Beer (which no self-respecting Aussie would ever drink.) The author introduces us to the colorful locals and explains in painful, yet hilarious detail, how he gets from place to place. He has toned down the sarcasm for this book, and one almost gets the impression that he just likes the place too darn much. This book will not disappoint fans of his previous books. Thank you, Mr. Bryson, for writing a humorous, yet flattering book about the most under-appreciated country on the planet!
98 of 123 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2000
When Bill Bryson's newest book was published, I had been home from my 5 month semester abroad in Australia for almost as long. Still achingly missing a country I had come to love and feel at home in, I eagerly ran to the bookstore to buy Bryson's book.
Yes, the book is overall entertaining and pretty much witty; it's easy to read and a little hard to put down. But for the most part, i was disappointed. Occasionally, I would even find myself thinking, "I could have written this book and done Australia more justice!"
Australia is a spectacular, wonderful, welcoming, enchanting country. As if anyone could have any doubt about that after listening to Bryson effuse for 300 pages. Perhaps some will find the fact that he sings the Lucky Country's praises page after page grating; for me, I felt I had found someone with whom I could sympathize about missing the place!
However, for all his accolades, Bryson seems to only brush the surface of a country rich in history, landscape, and experiences waiting to be had. He spends only ONE DAY at one of Australia's most recognizable landmarks, Uluru, the giant monolith; he is too much of a sissy to even GO UNDER WATER at the Great Barrier Reef; he misses out on the beauty and home-i-ness of Adelaide (my home away from home!); he doesn't see an opera at the world famous Opera House; and he doesn't even VISIT Tasmania, a place almost too beautiful and wild to put into words.
Having lived in Australia for those 5 months, and having traveled extensively, I was looking for something to aleviate the sadness of having had to come "home" from a place I had become so attached to. I wanted something to evoke a vivid trip down memory lane. What I found did not live up to those expectations, and I suspect for those like me, the feeling will be the same. And for those of you who have yet to visit Australia, there's more out there than Bryson relays; it's better than the book.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2000
Bill Bryson, a travel-writer with a difference, in a league of his own. Bill Bryson could be you or me; an endearingly incompetent traveler who often gets lost, brings the wrong map, whose nerve sometimes fails when faced with steely service staff, who is not a great conversationalist (unless drunk), who likes good food and drink, and who, when hiring a car and bravely setting forth to some distant destination, more often than not spends half a day extricating himself from the suburbs.
I'm British and have read all Bryson's books, except "A Walk in the Woods". In this book, his 6th travel book, he visits Australia, which he imagines as a sort of cross between Britain and the US, "Baywatch with cricket"; however, the reality turns out to be much more fascinating and complex than that.
Bill Bryson is an honest man who gives his spontaneous, personal responses to what he encounters - Ayers Rock (now called Uluru) evokes from him a genuine awe, whereas some of the souvenir shops he sees are full of "overpriced shit".
A knowledgeable man (Bryson was a journalist in the UK for 10 years, and has written 2 books on the English language) who clearly does his homework both before and after his trips, as attested by frequent references to writers on Australia, the wealth of background information, and the 3 pages of bibliography. He comes prepared, and knows what to look for, and plans his route accordingly. However, he is interested in the wacky and weird as well as the conventional cultural icons, and is often ready with an interesting anecdote about the people involved. The opening page of this book contains "the startling fact that in 1967 the Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was strolling along a beach in Victoria when he plunged into the surf and vanished." A little further on he tells of Sir Eugene Goossens, head of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, whose goading led to the Sydney Opera House being built, but who failed to see his dream realized: "In 1956che was found to be carrying a large and diversified collection of pornographic material, and he was invited to take his sordid continental habits elsewhere. Thusche was unable to enjoy, as it were, his own finest erection." And then there is the Big Lobster - not a biological specimen, but made of wire and fiberglass, one of about 60 dotted around the country, which you can visit if, as Bryson puts it, "you have sufficient petrol money and nothing approaching a real life."
Bryson visits the main cities and famous spots, including the Great Barrier Reef (complete with a hilarious description of Bryson trying to skin-dive, and a more somber account of 2 young Americans stranded on the Reef and never seen again), the Gold Coast, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Alice Springs, and various deserts (often with a gruesome anecdote or two). There are also not so famous spots, such as Shark Bay with its prehistoric stromatolites, Tree Top Walk, Daly Waters with its famous tree, the aviation museum in Alice Springs with the wreck of a famous airplane, Red Bluff Beach where 2 Dutchmen were abandoned, nearly 150 years before Captain Cook, and so on, each with its own background story or anecdote, usually humorous or at least enlightening.
In the background to the travel is Bryson's potted history of Australia, including Captain Cook, "transportation" era, the gold rush, various expeditions to explore the country (still incomplete), the Aborigines, the rabbit invasion and myxamatosis, the "White Australia" policy, the republican issue, and horrific stories of crocodile attacks. This is what history and geography in school should be like! Full of humour, and human interest, as well as information.
This book told me a lot of things I didn't know, not only about Australia but also terrestrial evolution; it made me want to visit the place again, and, as Bryson's travel books always do, it sometimes made me laugh till I cried, tho, as others have noted, it is not trying so hard to be funny as his previous books.
(I read the UK version of this book, entitled "Down Under").