- Paperback: 581 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0767919394
- ISBN-13: 978-0767919395
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (987 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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At Home: A Short History of Private Life Paperback – October 4, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2010: Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) turns his attention from science to society in his authoritative history of domesticity, At Home: A Short History of Private Life. While walking through his own home, a former Church of England rectory built in the 19th century, Bryson reconstructs the fascinating history of the household, room by room. With waggish humor and a knack for unearthing the extraordinary stories behind the seemingly commonplace, he examines how everyday items--things like ice, cookbooks, glass windows, and salt and pepper--transformed the way people lived, and how houses evolved around these new commodities. "Houses are really quite odd things," Bryson writes, and, luckily for us, he is a writer who thrives on oddities. He gracefully draws connections between an eclectic array of events that have affected home life, covering everything from the relationship between cholera outbreaks and modern landscaping, to toxic makeup, highly flammable hoopskirts, and other unexpected hazards of fashion. Fans of Bryson's travel writing will find plenty to love here; his keen eye for detail and delightfully wry wit emerge in the most unlikely places, making At Home an engrossing journey through history, without ever leaving the house. --Lynette Mong
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bryson (A Short History of Everything) takes readers on a tour of his house, a rural English parsonage, and finds it crammed with 10,000 years of fascinating historical bric-a-brac. Each room becomes a starting point for a free-ranging discussion of rarely noticed but foundational aspects of social life. A visit to the kitchen prompts disquisitions on food adulteration and gluttony; a peek into the bedroom reveals nutty sex nostrums and the horrors of premodern surgery; in the study we find rats and locusts; a stop in the scullery illuminates the put-upon lives of servants. Bryson follows his inquisitiveness wherever it goes, from Darwinian evolution to the invention of the lawnmower, while savoring eccentric characters and untoward events (like Queen Elizabeth I's pilfering of a subject's silverware). There are many guilty pleasures, from Bryson's droll prose--"What really turned the Victorians to bathing, however, was the realization that it could be gloriously punishing"--to the many tantalizing glimpses behind closed doors at aristocratic English country houses. In demonstrating how everything we take for granted, from comfortable furniture to smoke-free air, went from unimaginable luxury to humdrum routine, Bryson shows us how odd and improbable our own lives really are.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
There's no point looking for a theme to At Home, even though it's nominally a social history of the home, specifically Bryson's home, a former rectory in Norfolk, built in 1851. Going from room to room is just an excuse for Bryson to expound on whatever he finds interesting. It might be best to take the book as a series of loosely connected magazine articles or short essays. You can skip around without losing the thread, because there isn't one.
Most of the history is Victorian, but there are side trips to the prehistoric Britain, 19th century America, and the recent past. This is not an academic book, so there are no footnotes, which is a shame. Although Bryson usually credits sources within the text, now and then he makes an outrageous statement without attribution. One that had me scrambling for some supporting evidence was a claim that Elizabeth I admired, then scooped some silverware into her purse at dinner in a nobleman's house while on her annual royal progress. Even more remarkable was a statement that one third of all women in London aged 15-25 in 1851 were prostitutes. Really?! After browsing through the lengthy and excellent bibliography, I found the instruction to go to Bryson's website for notes and sources, but found only that they are "coming soon."
Chances are you won't be interested in everything that takes Bryson's fancy, but no worry. If you find your attention waning during a discussion of furniture varnishes, it isn't long before he's off to vitamins or Thomas Jefferson's wine collection or Ötzi the Ice Man.
I'll admit that I might have skipped this book if Bryson's name wasn't on the cover, and wondered if it could have been published at all without his name and popularity. His early works are still my favorites, more or less in the order they were written. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America still makes me laugh, so does Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, and Notes from a Small Island, and I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away (Notes from a Big Country). I expect I'll continue to read just about anything Bryson writes, but I have to agree with some other reviewers who look forward to his travel writing more than his excursions into weightier topics.
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!
Mr. Bryson's playful curiosity about the world around him is infectious. Some topics, such as the bathroom and the difficulties of waste management prior to water treatment facilities made me queasy. I'll never complain about cleaning our toilets ever again. That's for sure. Ultimately, the book is chock full of many home qualities that we never or rarely wonder how they came into being. He also focuses a great deal of time on the oodles of lunatic Victorian mores that make me darned happy to be living in our more enlightened age. Heck, the whole book makes me happy that we have electricity, indoor plumbing, advanced medicine, mattresses, bathing and less draconian social services for the destitute.
'At Home' is not as entertaining as Mr. Bryson's 'A Walk in the Woods' but more informative. It is light reading, full of fun facts and an occasional dry sarcastic remark which always made me chuckle. If you're interested in something other than a murder mystery, science fiction, romance or whatnot then the author's easy-to-read book is a nice way to kill a few hours.