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In a Sunburned Country Paperback – May 15, 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 1,249 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bill Bryson follows his Appalachian amble, A Walk in the Woods, with the story of his exploits in Australia, where A-bombs go off unnoticed, prime ministers disappear into the surf, and cheery citizens coexist with the world's deadliest creatures: toxic caterpillars, aggressive seashells, crocodiles, sharks, snakes, and the deadliest of them all, the dreaded box jellyfish. And that's just the beginning, as Bryson treks through sunbaked deserts and up endless coastlines, crisscrossing the "under-discovered" Down Under in search of all things interesting.

Bryson, who could make a pile of dirt compelling--and yes, Australia is mostly dirt--finds no shortage of curiosities. When he isn't dodging Portuguese man-of-wars or considering the virtues of the remarkable platypus, he visits southwest Gippsland, home of the world's largest earthworms (up to 12 feet in length). He discovers that Australia, which began nationhood as a prison, contains the longest straight stretch of railroad track in the world (297 miles), as well as the world's largest monolith (the majestic Uluru) and largest living thing (the Great Barrier Reef). He finds ridiculous place names: "Mullumbimby Ewylamartup, Jiggalong, and the supremely satisfying Tittybong," and manages to catch a cricket game on the radio, which is like

listening to two men sitting in a rowboat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren't biting; it's like having a nap without losing consciousness. It actually helps not to know quite what's going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distraction.

"You see," Bryson observes, "Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I'm saying." Of course, Bryson--who is as much a travel writer here as a humorist, naturalist, and historian--says much more, and does so with generous amounts of wit and hilarity. Australia may be "mostly empty and a long way away," but it's a little closer now. --Rob McDonald --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

With the Olympics approaching, books on Australia abound. Still, Bryson's lively take is a welcome recess from packaged, staid guides. The author of A Walk in the Woods draws readers in campfire-style, relating wacky anecdotes and random facts gathered on multiple trips down under, all the while lightening the statistics with infusions of whimsical humor. Arranged loosely by region, the book bounces between Canberra and Melbourne, the Outback and the Gold Coast, showing Bryson alone and with partners in tow. His unrelenting insistence that Australia is the most dangerous place on earth ("If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback") spins off dozens of tales involving jellyfish, spiders and the world's 10 most poisonous snakes. Pitfalls aside, Bryson revels in the beauty of this country, home to ravishing beaches and countless unique species ("80% of all that lives in Australia, plant and animal, lives nowhere else"). He glorifies the country, alternating between awe, reverence and fear, and he expresses these sentiments with frankness and candor, via truly funny prose and a conversational pace that is at once unhurried and captivating. Peppered with seemingly irrelevant (albeit amusing) yarns, this work is a delight to read, whether or not a trip to the continent is planned. First serial to Outside magazine; BOMC selection. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (May 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767903862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767903868
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,249 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bill. As a proud Australian, it has been a never-ending source of irritation that Australia is forever portrayed as a land of beer-swilling "yobbos" who say "cobber" and "fair dinkum" rather a lot. For instance, 'The Simpsons' - usually such a witty, clever and insightful show - completely missed the point in their Australian episode. Finally, someone has managed to capture a bit of the character of this great country. He releases it from the shackles of the Paul Hogan stereotype.
This is a terrific read. Bryson has, mercifully, gone well and truly off the beaten track to explore many different parts of Australia - the cities, the outback, the tropics, and everything else in between. But as ever with a Bill Bryson book, more than the destination itself, the pleasure is in getting there. Laugh-out-loud moments abound, though perhaps more in the restrained way of "A Walk in the Woods", as opposed to the guffaw-fest that is "Neither Here Nor There".
You don't have to be at all familiar with Australia to appreciate and enjoy this book. I am, sadly, one of those Australians to which Bryson refers that has never seen Ayers Rock / Uluru myself. In fact, I have never been to the majority of places Bryson visits. It was a revelation for me, too.
Bryson once again recounts numerous historical and trivial anecdotes which, together with his unique view of the world, elevate this book well above the mere travel genre. This is insightful, this is informative, this is FUNNY.
Perversely, my only criticism is perhaps that he likes Australia a little too much. God knows, I'm so pleased that he does. However, he is, I believe, at his best when distressed.
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Format: Hardcover
I am an unreserved Bryson fan. I love "Made In America" about the English language, and, as an Australian living in England for an extended time, thought he captured perfectly both the expat experience, and the endearing and irritating qualities of the Brits in "Notes from a small island" . This book is factually correct. That might sound inane, but there is nothing more irritating than reading about your own place and finding it tritely stereotypical or factually incorrect. Bill scores well on both counts.
Bill's take on the Australian Prime Minister of the day (a small, invisible and colourless entity) is a reasonably brave thing to say in a sense - an outsider commenting on a political identity invites derision, but he captures the essence of the man so well.
The other special moment for me is his discovery of cricket on the radio...when all other stations fade out to static, there is the mighty game. Somehow or other, despite writing nonsense words, he captures the rhythm and cadences of radio cricket commentary PERFECTLY. To me, cricket on the radio is as much about summer as cicadas, running under the sprinkler and crackling heat. Beautifully pulled off!
A good read, and for the first time since leaving school I actually engaged with some of the stories of explorers! A wry but never cynical tone makes for an entertaining read. I am glad he pays "homage" to that other good 'outsider's book' - "Sydney" by Jan Morris.
Bill Bryson covers much of the same terrain as the other great US travel writer, Paul Theroux, and seems to meet as many odd or intersting characters. Bill's disposition, however, makes him far more open to LIKING a place, and enormously less self-absorbed.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Bill Bryson is best known for writing very humorous travel books, and "In a Sunburned Country" is indeed a funny account of his travels in Australia. Those who love Bill Bryson's books for their humor won't be disappointed.

But unlike most people, I like Bill Bryson best when he's NOT trying to be funny, and my appreciation of this book is mostly due to the great amount of very interesting information presented.

Bill Bryson amazes you with loads of information about the geology, the animal life, the plants and insects, the history, the statistics, the folklore, etc., etc. The many dangers: poisonous snakes, poisonous insects, poisonous jellyfish, crocodiles, sharks, and rip currents - they're all out to get you. The inhospitable deserts, the beautiful beaches, the huge distances; Bill Bryson gives you a feeling of what it's all like.

The book goes into detail about many aspects of Australian life that are fairly unknown, including the discovery (and re-discovery) of Australia, the settlement by British prisoners, the early expeditions to explore the interior, the gold rushes, the outlaws, and the devastation caused by rabbits and other imported animals and plants. Bill Bryson talks about the many unusual animal species found only in Australia, including giant earthworms that grow up to 1 meter (and can be stretched to 4 meters) and the platypus, a cross between a reptile and a mammal. He talks about Australians and the Australian society, and the situation regarding the native people, the aboriginals.

Bill Bryson doesn't cover all of Australia from the geographical point of view, and the parts he does cover are somewhat random.
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