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The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America Paperback – May 15, 2001

3.2 out of 5 stars 482 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A travelogue by Bill Bryson is as close to a sure thing as funny books get. The Lost Continent is no exception. Following an urge to rediscover his youth (he should know better), the author leaves his native Des Moines, Iowa, in a journey that takes him across 38 states. Lucky for us, he brought a notebook.

With a razor wit and a kind heart, Bryson serves up a colorful tale of boredom, kitsch, and beauty when you least expect it. Gentler elements aside, The Lost Continent is an amusing book. Here's Bryson on the women of his native state: "I will say this, however--and it's a strange, strange thing--the teenaged daughters of these fat women are always utterly delectable ... I don't know what it is that happens to them, but it must be awful to marry one of those nubile cuties knowing that there is a time bomb ticking away in her that will at some unknown date make her bloat out into something huge and grotesque, presumably all of a sudden and without much notice, like a self-inflating raft from which the pin has been yanked."

Yes, Bill, but be honest: what do you really think?

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Bryson decided to relive the dreary vacation car trips of his American childhood. Starting out at his mother's house in Des Moines, Iowa, he motors through 38 states over the course of two months, looking for the quintessential American small town. "Some of Bryson's comments are hilarious--if you enjoy the nonstop whining wisecracks of a 36-year-old kid," determined PW.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060920084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060920081
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (482 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Bryson was born in Des Moines, and moved to England in his early twenties, marrying and settling down there. This book documents a trip by car around America, starting and ending in Des Moines, after many years in the UK. The ostensible theme of the book is a search for the perfect small town; a sort of Ray Bradbury idealization of fifties America. There's no such town, of course, but Bryson just uses the theme as a springboard for some of the funniest descriptions, stories, and digressions I have ever read.
When I started reading this book, I laughed so much my wife wouldn't let me read it in bed. Then she picked it up and discovered how funny it was, and wanted to read it before me. Eventually we compromised, and kept it in the car; the rule was that whoever was driving had to read it to the driver. Several times, however, the reader was laughing so hard that they couldn't get comprehensible words out, and the driver had to pull over to the hard shoulder and grab the book for themselves.
Yes, he's a curmudgeon, as other reviewers here have noticed. That's just his style. He's not deep, either; his occasional ruminations aren't negligible, but he's no Mark Twain. But he has an acidly sharp eye for inanity and stupidity, and his anecdotal technique is flawless.
His other travel books are along much the same lines, but to me this is the funniest, though "A Walk in the Woods" does show he is capable of good introspective writing. "The Lost Continent" is sharp, satirical, acute, and unkind--wickedly funny in every sense of the word.
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Format: Paperback
I had high hopes for this book since I thoroughly enjoyed and laughed out loud while reading Bryson's 'In a Sunburned Country'. I was more than a little disappointed after finished `Lost Continent' I came away feeling more than a little disappointed.

Before I bought this book I was puzzled at the contrasting reviews here and I initially took the most of the negative reviews with a grain of salt. I figured these were written by people who mostly just took offense way too easily and were unable to laugh at themselves as Americans. I have to say though, after reading the book I find myself agreeing with some of the negative reviews of this book.

First off, as an American that has lived overseas for 3 years now, I feel I'm more than capable of looking at America with an objective eye. I'm completely aware of America's many shortcomings - ie. the propensity for urban sprawl, the seemingly declining interest in it's rich history, the ever growing dependence on technology and increasing laziness that invariably comes with it etc. etc.

Having said that, I still regard this book primarily as just one endless, tiring, repetitive rant by an unhappy man. One would be hard pressed to find more than a couple instances where Bryson spent more than three of four sentences at a time describing anything he found ENJOYABLE. As one reviewer pointed out, Bryson comes across as being exactly like the kind of people he constantly complains about in this book...rude, ignorant, and, just like Bryson himself, overweight (apparently he hasn't stepped in front of a mirror lately). One has to wonder why someone would put out a book that is so consistently sour in tone.
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Format: Paperback
This is my third Bill Bryson book. Thank goodness this was not my first, for I probably would not have picked up "In a Sunburned Country," and "A Walk In The Woods."
Where Bryson's latest books are droll, witty and endearing, "The Lost Continent" is frequently petty, forced and mean. In this book Bryson travels around 38 states in a beat up Chevette, often through small towns and out of the way places not usually visited by many. He didn't have a very good trip.
Most of this book revolves around the author's put-downs of people he sees and caustic comments about places he visits. After a few hundred pages, the observations seem awfully gratuitous. Where disappointments, angst and difficult people were treated with amusement in his later books, here he often dismisses similar trials here with the brilliant and trenchant observation "FU". Not much authorship in those moments.
Not to say that there aren't some funny passages. Several times on the train, I found myself reading out loud. However, I also found myself speed reading ahead several times, an unfortunate first for a Bryson Book. Bryson's later works also weave a good deal of interesting historical background and place descriptions into the book. That is almost totally missing in this effort.
He occasionally comes up with some awfully good writing. For example, he described driving toward the mountains in Colorado as "driving into the opening credits of a Paramount Picture." (sic). Unfortunately, there are not enough of those moments and instead too many paragraphs describing how he had another bad meal in another bad town with too many ice cream and pizza parlors and not enough ambiance or fetching waitresses to suit his tastes. Bryson has produced much better. But don't let this book (or review) put you off an author whose books can be very satisfying companions. Just go for his more recent stuff.
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