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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir [Kindle Edition]

Bill Bryson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (685 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.99
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.00 (38%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

From one of the world's most beloved writers and New York Times bestselling author of One Summer, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s

Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood with an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons)—in his head—as "The Thunderbolt Kid."

Using this persona as a springboard, Bill Bryson re-creates the life of his family and his native city in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality—a life at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. It was, he reminds us, a happy time, when automobiles and televisions and appliances (not to mention nuclear weapons) grew larger and more numerous with each passing year, and DDT, cigarettes, and the fallout from atmospheric testing were considered harmless or even good for you. He brings us into the life of his loving but eccentric family, including affectionate portraits of his father, a gifted sportswriter for the local paper and dedicated practitioner of isometric exercises, and OF his mother, whose job as the home furnishing editor for the same paper left her little time for practicing the domestic arts at home. The many readers of Bill Bryson’s earlier classic, A Walk in the Woods, will greet the reappearance in these pages of the immortal Stephen Katz, seen hijacking literally boxcar loads of beer. He is joined in the Bryson gallery of immortal characters by the demonically clever Willoughby brothers, who apply their scientific skills and can-do attitude to gleefully destructive ends.

Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, and full of his inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is as wondrous a book as Bill Bryson has ever written. It will enchant anyone who has ever been young.



Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For most of his adult life, Bryson has made his home in the U.K, yet he actually entered the world in 1951 as part of America's postwar baby boom and spent his formative years in Des Moines, Iowa. Bryson wistfully recounts a childhood of innocence and optimism, a magical point in time when a distinct sense of regional and community identity briefly—but blissfully—coexisted with fledgling technology and modern convenience. Narrating, Bryson skillfully wields his amorphous accent—somehow neither fully British nor Midwestern—to project a genial and entertaining tour guide of lost Americana. In portraying the boyish exploits of his "Thunderbolt Kid" superhero alter ego, he convincingly evokes both the unadulterated joys and everyday battles of childhood. As an added bonus, the final CD features an interview with Bryson in which he reflects on the process of writing his autobiography and discussing the broader social and cultural insights that he gleaned from the experience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–The Thunderbolt Kid was born in the 1950s when six-year-old Bryson found a mysterious, scratchy green sweater with a satiny thunderbolt across the chest. The jersey bestowed magic powers on the wearer–X-ray vision and the power to zap teachers and babysitters and deflect unwanted kisses from old people. These are the memoirs of that Kid, whose earthly parents were not really half bad–a loving mother who didn't cook and was pathologically forgetful, but shared her love of movies with her youngest child, and a dad who was the greatest baseball writer that ever lived and took his son to dugouts and into clubhouses where he met such famous players as Stan Musial and Willie Mays. Simpler times are conveyed with exaggerated humor; the author recalls the middle of the last century in the middle of the country (Des Moines, IA), when cigarettes were good for you, waxy candies were considered delicious, and kids were taught to read with Dick and Jane. Students of the decade's popular culture will marvel at the insular innocence described, even as the world moved toward nuclear weapons and civil unrest. Bryson describes country fairs and fantastic ploys to maneuver into the tent to see the lady stripper, playing hookey, paper routes, church suppers, and more. His reminiscences will entertain a wide audience.–Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1380 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 076791936X
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (October 17, 2006)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000MAH5KQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,839 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
206 of 212 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was literally sent downstairs for laughing too loud. October 19, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Seriously. I was up past bedtime, and I was reading Bryson's description of lame 1950's toys. I won't give it away, but imagine what he can do with the topic of "electric football". After a particularly vigorous episode of chortling, my wife trudged out of bed to decree that, if I insisted on continuing to read, I'd have to take it downstairs.

And that's what this book is, a laugh-out-loud remembrance of a simpler, sillier time. Bryson's travelogues are what made him famous, and he never would have made it without a fantastic memory for detail and an ability to convey a vivid mental picture of the topics he chooses. His descriptions of 1950's Des Moines are consistently evocative. It's like a travelogue unearthed from a 50 year old time capsule. I feel like I have visited there.

Still, readers of Bryson known that what truly sets him apart is his uncanny ability to attract and describe morons, as well as all manner of idiotic situations (generally self-inflicted). For a man who can do this on, say, a simple trip to Australia, imagine how much comedy gold can be mined from a childhood in the Midwest of the 50's. It is, as they say, a target-rich environment. His remembrances include family, friends, school, Des Moines, lame childhood toys, nuclear bombs, and more. Even things like TV dinners, which we have all heard mocked before, are skewered in new and amusing ways.

For all of that, though, the memoir is not mean spirited. I think that the ridicule works so well because it is easy to sense Bryson's real affection for his subjects (well, at least the ones who aren't carbonized by the x-ray vision of the Thunderbolt Kid). He's poking fun, but in a way that family and friends might poke fun at each other over old childhood foibles at a Thanksgiving dinner.
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98 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The FUNNIEST book I have read in years!!! October 18, 2006
Format:Hardcover
This is a wonderful, funny, and ultimately very human book, which reminds us all, no matter who we are or where we live (I'm Australian) of the total joys of a happy childhood.

Bill Bryson is the first to confess that his was a normal, uneventful and by the standards of today, relatively bland childhood. But thankfully this has been rendered into a book that will have you laughing aloud, as we hear of his evolution into the fearless Thunderbolt Kid, complete with super hero talents; the list of alien (now commonplace) foods that never graced the family table, and the unique and gruesome ways he managed to hurt himself whilst playing (I was particularly fond of the tale where he hit his head on a rock and his friends bought pieces of his "brain" to his house - kids can be so thoughtful).

This is a ray of sunshine in the literary world. It is truly the most delightful thing that I have read in a very long time, and I am a voracious devourer of books. I enjoy Bill's travel books, as he is a talented and observant writer, but this is a cut above - I think his very best to date.

Do yourselves a favour. Buy yourself a couple of hours of happiness and read this book. Buy it for your friends and relatives, and relive your happy and normal childhood all over again. You will all treasure that moment where you remembered how you were a super-hero/alien/king or queen, and then get back to your normal, uneventful, adult lives.
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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Made in America's Heartland January 3, 2008
Format:Paperback
"Getting into the strippers' tent would become the principal preoccupation of my pubescent years." - Bill Bryson in THUNDERBOLT KID

"Essentially matinees were an invitation to four thousand children to riot for four hours in a large darkened space." - Bill Bryson in THUNDERBOLT KID

As I mature gracefully, reading the coming-of-age reminiscences of others that grew up about the same time I did - the 1950s - becomes an absorbing leisure activity. Perhaps I just need to supplement my failing memory with theirs. In any case, several fine volumes of the genre come to mind: Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood by Susan Allen Toth, Sleeping Arrangements by Laura Shaine Cunningham, When All the World Was Young: A Memoir by Barbara Holland, and Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As you may have noticed, all four of these are by female authors who are recalling their girlhood. On the other hand, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID, by Bill Bryson, is all about boyhood. And, as I think you'll agree, boys are an entirely different species from girls. I should know as I used to be one of the former. For example, boys have a propensity for shenanigans that would elicit an "Eeeuw!" from the gentler sex, as the following passage on Lincoln Logs, of which I myself had a set, illustrates:

"What Buddy Doberman and I discovered was that if you peed on Lincoln Logs you bleached them white.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laugh out loud funny! January 24, 2008
By MLRapp
Format:Paperback
Even though this is the era in which my parents grew up, and not me, I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and would recommend it to people of all ages. While I'm sure the baby boomer generation would really find this book resonating with their life experiences, I think its an intersting look at a unique and fascinating time in our country's history and will appeal to a much wider audience, such as myself (I'm in my late 20's).

The author is hysterical and I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book. It was so interesting to learn about growing up in Des Moines in the 50s - everything from what people ate to how they shopped to the trouble kids and teens got into- it is indeed such a stark contrast to growing up in America today, regardless of where you live.

I think this book would make a particularly great book club selection and would also be interesting reading for history classes or classes on American culture, etc. I HIGHLY recommend it!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulously Entertaining Book
Fabulously humorous account of the fifties and sixties in America as told by the boy who lived in those times. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Carla M. Gilbert
5.0 out of 5 stars great,
funny, uplifting memoir about growing up in a midwestern town in the fifties. I recommend this book to lift your spirits.
Published 2 days ago by mary
5.0 out of 5 stars book for boomers
great especially if you grew up in the 1950's.
Published 2 days ago by pnysoe
5.0 out of 5 stars It resonates
Bryson's autobiographical book brought back many memories of the times and of the pains and joys of growing up in small town America. Oh. And the tall tales are wickedly funny! Read more
Published 7 days ago by M. O'Blivion
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
love it
Published 9 days ago by Zhe Shi
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable journey back to the 50's and early 60's
It was amusing and historical. Takes you back to the authors boyhood in the 50's and 60's bringing back the nostalgia of that era.
Published 9 days ago by DJCFUN
4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, I did cackle out loud on an airplane!
Humorous, Bought it for my self (almost 60 years old) and then purchased one for my dad (more than 80 years old). Nice to read a bit at a time.
Published 10 days ago by S. Avramis
5.0 out of 5 stars A real okey-dokey laugh riot to be savored and shared!
Like sitting down for a hilarious chat with someone you've known for years. His walk down Memory Lane will be surprisingly like your own, inducing laugh-out-loud moments and fond... Read more
Published 18 days ago by K. Cavin
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic read from Bill Bryson
Read as much Bill Bryson as you can.
Seriously, great stuff.
Published 20 days ago by Thad J. Kacsandy
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
This might have been funnier if I were older. . .
Published 20 days ago by Lynne
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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.

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