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183 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm Swearing Off Bill Bryson Books, I Promise
I have to stop reading these books. People are looking at me funny in restaurants and on the train when I burst out laughing. But Bryson's books are SO GOOD. What's a person to do?
If you read A Walk in the Woods and felt a deep yearning to walk the Appalachian trail, haul out your suitcase. This book will make you want to follow Bryson's footsteps again as he...
Published on February 25, 2000 by Lauren E. Pomerantz

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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A long way from his best work
After a lengthy residence in England, journalist Bill Bryson and his family had reached the decision to move back to their native USA. Before leaving, Bryson pulled out all the stops and embarked on a freewheeling 7 week whirlwind tour of England, Wales and Scotland. Shank's pony, bus, train, and the occasional rented car were his only modes of transportation. Of course,...
Published on February 9, 2008 by Paul Weiss


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183 of 191 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm Swearing Off Bill Bryson Books, I Promise, February 25, 2000
By 
I have to stop reading these books. People are looking at me funny in restaurants and on the train when I burst out laughing. But Bryson's books are SO GOOD. What's a person to do?
If you read A Walk in the Woods and felt a deep yearning to walk the Appalachian trail, haul out your suitcase. This book will make you want to follow Bryson's footsteps again as he travels across England, Wales, and Scotland by foot, by bus, and by train. He spends a day or so in dozens of small towns and cities, disecting them for our education and amusement. He tours galleries, musuems, and historic homes; visits pubs and restaurants; and stays in an amazing variety of shoddy hotels. (There are fine hotels in England. They just cost more than he is willing to pay.)
Even if you don't plan to go to England anytime soon (and why not? it's a lovely country full of friendly people we Americans and Canadians can mostly understand) this book is a reminder to those of us who are far too insular that the world out there is different and that difference is a good and quite frequently amusing thing.
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104 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Views Life in Britain, July 18, 1998
By 
Bucherwurm "bucherwurm" (California United States) - See all my reviews
Bill Bryson expertly captures the mental amusement and bemusement of an American living in Britain. I am an American who also lived in England, and I laughed myself silly reading this book. This isn't meant to be a travel guide or an in depth academic study of British culture as some reviewers must evidently believe. There are many ways to reminisce about life in a foreign country, and BB chose to tell us fond, funny stories of his life in the UK. Let's not be stuffily chauvinistic about these things. I'm sure many Brits could write equally hilarious tales of their lives over here in the USA. For me its hard to understand that any American who has lived in Britain would not find funny such tales as the train/bus schedule incident (As I remember it the Brit Rail agent couldn't understand Bryson's difficulty with a schedule that had a daily train arrive in a town minutes after the scheduled departure of the daily bus that took travellers to their next destination.)
If y! ou are a Bryson fan, this is as good as he gets. You will especially enjoy it if you have spent time in both the US and the UK.
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He's better with places than with people, April 10, 2000
This is a great read, a fascinating book about the writer's journey through Great Britain, with the author's impressions cleverly expressed. He's like an earthier Paul Theroux, or like Peter Mayle as channeled by Dave Barry. Bryson is good at using both humor and hyperbole to illustrate good points about his British travels as well as disappointments. After reading the book, you feel you've had a conversation with an old friend who gave you the lowdown on his trip without any sugar-coating. You feel that everything Bryson says comes directly from the heart.
The only reason I didn't rate the book 5 stars is that, a few times too often, Bryson goes into great detail about how rude he was toward service people who were just doing their jobs and whose performance wasn't precisely what he wanted. He reaches a low point when he takes almost a page to describe his reaction to a McDonald's employee who made the mistake of asking if he wanted "an apple turnover with that." Maybe it's because I've waited tables, but Bryson struck me as exactly the kind of arrogant, self-righteous, condescending customer you prayed you wouldn't have to serve. He comes close in these passages to personifying the ugly American: willing to enjoy England's riches, but not tolerant of its shortcomings.
Nevertheless, that's no reason not to read the book. Bryson's insights into the places he visits are more than worth the price of admission.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A long way from his best work, February 9, 2008
By 
Paul Weiss (Dundas, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
After a lengthy residence in England, journalist Bill Bryson and his family had reached the decision to move back to their native USA. Before leaving, Bryson pulled out all the stops and embarked on a freewheeling 7 week whirlwind tour of England, Wales and Scotland. Shank's pony, bus, train, and the occasional rented car were his only modes of transportation. Of course, as one would expect, the journal from that trip formed the core of a book about the English people, their habits and customs, their towns, their buildings, their history, and the countryside and its landscapes.

Fresh from a reading of Bryson's brilliant Appalachian travelogue, "A Walk in the Woods", I was psyched and I had enormously high expectations for "Notes From a Small Island". But, in the words of the Britons whom he had lived amongst for almost 20 years, "it were a bloomin' disappointment wot didn't come up to snuff!"

Oh, to be sure, there were moments of unutterably funny comic brilliance! But I found that on far too many occasions, Bryson used the book as a platform to preach and whine, over and over again, about the loss of British architectural heritage to the ravages of much more boring 20th century buildings and lack luster store fronts. And, please don't misunderstand me ... I couldn't agree more! To tear down some of these beautiful structures that are hundreds of years old or to raze a hedgerow for no other purpose than to erect a mall filled with a Boots, a Marks & Spencer and a MacDonalds is an unforgivable travesty. But, bless me, Bryson seemed to go on and on ... and on again! And, truth be told, if I had to listen to one more nearly endless string of cutesy British village and town names, I swore I was going to throw up and give him a real life version of the plastic vomit he was so oddly intent on purchasing as he traveled through Inverness.

In my review of "A Walk in the Woods", I commented that Bryson's unmatched humour took every possible form imaginable but, in "Notes From a Small Island", a far larger percentage of the time was spent trying to generate laughs with Don Rickles' style of humour that always seemed to come at someone else's expense. Somehow, it all got tiresome and simply stopped being funny.

That Bryson has an eye for history, geography, and the quirky bits of local social life that can make a book like this so interesting is beyond doubt. Likewise, there is no question that he has a flair for comic delivery of his material. But "Notes From a Small Island" was a long way below the standard that I enjoyed in "A Walk in the Woods".

Paul Weiss
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He's now one of my favorite -- I mean favourite -- authors, February 18, 2003
By 
It all started with A Walk in the Woods. A friend loaned it to me, and almost didn't get it back. Then he loaned me Notes From a Small Island, but with a warning. "You may not like this as much," he said, "I didn't even finish it. But give it a go." Curious about his tepid reaction to the book, I took it with me to jury duty. I sat in the cafeteria, literally laughing out loud. I could have gotten off a case by pleading insanity -- I'm sure that's what people at the surrounding tables were thinking. Bryson's turn of phrase is truly magical. His appreciation for England, for people, for family, is deep. His observations are so well-worded, they give you chills. Two of his passages made it into my journal of quotable-quotes. So I got through half the book at jury duty. Cut to my couch at home. I'm reading the latter half of the book, and come across his description of his drunken attempt to get back to his hotel after an evening at the pub. Downhill. I tell you, I was crying, I was laughing so hard. It's hard to get me to chuckle, and forget LAUGH, during a comedic movie, much less a book. I reread the paragraph two or three times, like rewinding a scene on video tape, and laughed harder and harder. Bryson is a gift to readers who love good writing. And a good laugh.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it!, July 14, 1997
By A Customer
So, you've always wanted to visit Britain. You've manfully (or womanfully) ploughed (that's how WE spell it) through many a travel guide and you now know that pubs serve warm beer , the site of every Neolithic pile of stones and that at 4 pm precisely, the entire population stops for a cup of tea. A cup of hot tea at that, with milk if you please. You've gained an insight into the British weather and know to pack clothes to accomodate all four seasons in one day. But what you really need to know is, what makes the people tick?

Enter Bill Bryson and" Notes from a small Island", a must read book for every Britain bound American. With no orderly listing of museum opening times or best ways to get from London to Bath, it's not a travel guide as you know and loath and that is the book's strength. Bryson undertakes a gentle meander around the best and worst of the Island that has become home, interspersing his journey with well observed details of the British character. Its the insight into these characteristics which make the book so funny, so unputdownable and ultimately, so sad as Bryson comes to the end of the journey and his 20 year stay.

Read this book and you will feel that you have already visited Britain and then plan for your own epic journey because that is what you will want to do.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jolly good, March 9, 2001
I read this book while on my own farewell tour of Britain. My stay was significantly shorter, at 10 months, but I was equally enamoured with the country and was close to staying permanently as Bryson had done. For someone who had been in the country for 20 years, Bryson easily identified those idiosyncrasies that Americans will find most amusing about British customs.
His actual travel destinations were quite interesting as well. He found many obscure places to visit that were highly worthwhile. I especially liked the tarp-covered, mosaic floor which dated to the time of Roman occupation of Britain (early centuries A.D.) at an unmarked site in a random patch of woods.
A MUST READ for any American who has spent time living in England. I recommend doing so halfway through your time in the country which will give you enough time to appreciate the humor, but also leave time to adopt some of Bryson's travel destinations into your future itineraries.
Whether you have lived in England, visited there, or are simply interested the home of clotted cream, roundabouts, and Prince Charles, you will enjoy this witty book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There will always be an england..., March 17, 2000
By 
I have read and re-read this book in the way some Trekkies watch the cycle hundreds of time-(though hundreds would be an exaggeration in terms of my reads) It is fiendishly difficult to imagine a funnier ,non fiction book about england and i defy anyone to show me one that IS funnier!(Evelyn Waugh can be pretty damned funny -but he's no Bryson.) Bryson is a great companion as he finds his way around a country he obviously loves-a love that emanates from nearly every page. If you like travel/humor you can't go wrong with this book (though i admit it may be a 'guy' thing) I can also highly recommend Neither Here Nor There (howlingly funny 1970's era europe travelogue -another bill bryson book)) and "A Walk in the Woods " ..too a joyously funny adventure along the Appalachian trail. Bryson is the funniest writer alive(in my book) My explicit directions should i die suddenly include a direction for the the full Bryson catalogue to be entombed with me!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this book, but not all at once!, June 8, 2000
By 
Gemma Cox (Southampton, England.) - See all my reviews
The first part of this book was amazing, it really made me laugh. Unfortunatly, the book does not continue to the same high standard throughout. There are a few funny parts later on in the book, I see that there are a lot of people who found the 'Vodaphone Man' amusing, but sometimes the jokes may offend people.
As I am British myself, I sometimes found myself being irritated by Bryson's comments about this country, but I think the overall picture is flattering.
In spite of its shortcomings (it is sometimes repetitive) I liked this book so much I recommended it to an American friend who wanted to know more about Britain. I hope he finds it as entertaining as I did.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and irreverent, January 1, 2008
While I do agree with a reviewer who said that this book is more subdued than some of Bryson's others, I still enjoyed it greatly and thought it had some moments of genuine hilarity such as characterize every Bryson book I've yet read. These sources of hilarity are, at times, Bryson's making fun of others but just as often they are instances of him poking fun at himself, such as his comical description of his propensity to sleep open mouthed and drooling while on trains. For me, this is what makes Bryson so likable. His style is so conversational and he's very self-effacing so that the overall effect is that of listening to a friend talk about his travels.

One of my favorite parts of this book is one in which Bryson describes his encounter with a couple who, upon learning that he's an American, begin to abuse the U.S. I've often wondered if I'm the only one who has experienced this and I'm glad that I'm not. I always find this perplexing when it happens because I wouldn't denigrate someone's country of origin to their face.

This is not the main theme of the book, though. With a mixture of amusing anecdotes and some interesting statistics, Bryson does a nice job of giving an overview of England and it is obvious that he has a great deal of affection for the country. From his descriptions, it's easy to see why. While he does gripe about its propensity for erecting buildings that are less than complementary to the landscape, he also has a great deal to say about its beauties. I've long been interested in visiting England and Bryson has done a lot to make that interest even more keen.
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