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At Home: A Short History of Private Life Paperback – October 4, 2011
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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.Read more ›
Yet, I have a hard time summarizing the book in a manner that will make you understand my enthusiasm. When I tried to explain to someone why this book was so wonderful, she crinkled up her nose and gave me a "You gotta be kidding" look. This book discusses so many topics, from the history of the toilet to the reasons behind the 1851 Great Exhibition to the impact of world exploration on furniture building, that any description sounds like Bryson threw a jumble of facts into a book and had done with it. On the other hand, I explained to my friend just one of the anecdotes (the one that ends with "Nothing -- really, absolutely nothing -- says more about Victorian Britain and its capacity for brilliance than that the century's most daring and iconic building was entrusted to a gardener") and she got interested. And she giggled.
Because somehow, amazingly, Bill Bryson ties together this collection of historical anecdotes and "what really happened" within a clear and recognizable structure: the Victorian parsonage in which he and his wife live, which was built in 1851. The chapters walk us through each room and the items within it.Read more ›
First, it's nearly humorless. One can't read In a Sunburned Country, A Walk in the Woods, or I'm a Stranger Here Myself without laughing until you cry at least a few times, and snorting in amusement often enough that you think twice about reading in public. This book, though, had a handful of lines that might provoke a quirk at the corner of your mouth, and that's about it.
Second, it's not at all what it claims. Despite repeated assertion that this book is about how all history ends up in the home, it's much more an exercise in History Through the Lens of the Home. Most chapters have nearly nothing to do with the room to which they're linked. The chapter on the Larder is entirely about servitude in England. The two are linked only in that the larder is one of the rooms typically visited only by servants. The chapter on the Garden, possibly the most tightly coupled example of chapter room and topic, dabbles briefly in the history of artificial fertilizers, but then spends the majority of its words on parks, public and private. In no chapter is there a round-up at the end where Bryson links back what, exactly, Olmstead's plans for Central Park in New York City have to do with a home's garden, and there's not even a pretext of assuming the latter at all affected the former.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It's not a travel book where he seems to excel but it is still a delightful read full of interesting facts that pertain to a whole host of thing in the common household, and a... Read morePublished 3 days ago by Sarah
Too many tangents to things already written about extensively. Seemed like "padding". But I loved back stories on inventors less known.Published 5 days ago by Amazon Customer
Fabulous, just fabulous. So interesting, I've read it twice.Published 15 days ago by David A. Grant
Great fun reading and also a learning experience. Loved it.Published 18 days ago by Kindle Customer
Bryson is a master with words, and he weaves history around the common house and it's attributes in this book in such a way that makes every page so interesting. Read morePublished 19 days ago by M. Stovin
I've never had as much fun learning history, as I did while reading this book. Mr Bryson is a superb writer and story teller.Published 26 days ago by Oelcee
Have read several Bryson titles and have enjoyed each one. If you are interested in history, science, and social development you have found a winner. Read morePublished 27 days ago by P McF