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At Home: A Short History of Private Life [AT HOME D] [Compact Disc] CD-ROM – October 31, 2010
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- ASIN : B008N3I4LS
- Publisher : RandomHouseAudioPublishingGroup (October 31, 2010)
- Language : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #10,257,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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I don't believe there has been a month gone by I've not mentioned something I have learned from Bill Bryson. His many books enlighten, open the world, and amaze with the panoply of knowledge. That, and he's good plain fun.
You will never regret having read this book
AND it has broad appeal. Knowing that my engineer spouse would find some fascination in it I plugged it into the car's CD player when we were locked in its embrace for 8 hours...& he loved it. We talked about finer points raised in the book endlessly & thoroughly enjoyed both the book & what would ordinarily be a painfully boring trip we know all too well.
For our next road trip I've got Bryson's book on 1927....I am just hoping he doesn't read it himself as he isn't the best representative of his own work. If you accept his Iowan birth, he comes across as stuffy & pretentious because of his diction which is full of British overtones having lived there so long. If you accept him as a citizen of the world, he can't honestly represent Des Moines. He should just shut up & write - a lot!
Why is my home the way it is? Why do we still call it the Master Bedroom? Why do we call it a garage? Why are fireplaces so loved yet nearly useless?
Of course, I turned to Bill Bryson to answer these questions for me. A while back I read the amazing A Short History of Nearly Everything and I quickly put his other books on my list.
I finally got around to another robust work, At Home. Each chapter takes you through a room in his home, an old rectory in Norfolk, England. Each room launches Bryson into an interesting history lesson with exciting characters and forgotten episodes. Though I learned a lot, I was hoping for more history related to the house or houses in particular. Instead, the home tour is just a conduit for the information. There were several chapters I forgot what room we were in completely (luckily the header on top of each page kept me informed continuously). The chapter focused on the Drawing Room actually focused on architects and manufacturing. Though interesting, Bryson did little to breakdown the history of the Drawing Room, its development over the years and perhaps why the term has fallen out of favor recently.
If you are an enthusiast for random trivia, this is a book for you. If you are looking for something particular on homes, houses, or living areas this book will leave you wanting more.
Top reviews from other countries
I never cease to be amazed at the vast range of Bill Bryson’s sources, or the depth and intensity of his research. Here, once again, he has delved deeply into the minute histories behind the growth and development of every room in the house, his starting point being his own home in Norfolk, which set out as a Rectory, and is still so-called.
His revelations cover centuries of discoveries and inventions, as well as the lives, loves, highs and lows, and extremes of character of those responsible for them. To describe this book as less than utterly riveting would be doing it an injustice.
- Clergymen sometimes preached against the potato since it does not appear in the Bible [p131].
- Families used to move between their various properties a lot, requiring furniture to be portable, so chests and trunks usually had domed lids in order to throw off water during travel [p86].
- The aspidestra features prominently in Victorian photographs because it was the only flower which was immune to the effects of the gas which leaked from the lights [p184].
- The diamond pattern of different-coloured bricks used for decoration in a wall is called a diaper, from which the baby's undergarment - originally made from linen threads woven in a diamond pattern - gets its name [p291].
- Rats have sex up to twenty times a day [p348].
- The first person in America to slice potatoes lengthwise and fry them was Thomas Jefferson [p126].
- The expression "sleep tight" comes from the requirement to tighten the supporting lattice of ropes in a bed when they began to sag [p456].
- Buttons under the sleeve near the cuff of a jacket are the last relic of a fashion for attaching (useless) buttons in decorative patterns all over a coat [p538].
- In the face of objections to run a railway line through the middle of Stonehenge in the 19th century, an official pointed out that the site was "entirely out of repair, and not the slightest use to anyone now" [p615].
These are just a few of the interesting facts you'll learn (along with a few things you probably already knew - such as why British people are known as 'limeys') from this book. It's ostensibly inspired by the author wandering through the rooms of his house - hall, kitchen, dining room, bedroom and many more (it's a big house) - and using each location as a starting point for burrowing back in time, unearthing anecdotes, facts and biographies of personalities who contributed to making our world the way it is, and presenting them in his characteristic, pleasantly familiar discursive style.
Sometimes the connections between the location and the story appear tenuous: for example, the (truly fascinating) story of the building of the Eiffel Tower arises when in the passage between the kitchen and the rest of the house, as does an account of the inventions and character of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. In other places the link is more explicit: thus, visiting the bathroom brings forth a history of ablution, cleanliness and disease - particularly smallpox, which I (yet again) didn't know was named to distinguish it from the great pox, or syphilis.
Bryson has a teacher's gift for telling you things you didn't know (or want to know, such as infant mortality rates, or that flushing a toilet with the lid up "spews billions of microbes into the air") in an engaging fashion. His writing here lacks much of the humour which is on show in his other books, probably because that's usually employed in describing himself in a self-deprecating fashion, or his encounters with other people. Here, the author stays in the background, gently pointing out one intriguing vista after another. To be sure, not all discourses are successful, but it's a big book (belying its title) with a well-stocked bibliography and index, indicating the breadth and depth of the author's homework (hah!). Recommended.