Monday, January 23, 2012

At Home

At Home: a short history of private life by Bill Bryson (2010)

In Bill Bryson's latest book, he takes a tour through his house exploring the history of each room, the objects found within it, and the aspects of life most closely associated with it. This ambitious work encompasses many more subjects than I had supposed it would, including architecture, building materials, energy sources, sewer systems, fashion, burial and cremation, household accidents, and medicine. Just a handful of the particular topics he touches on include the discovery of the neolithic village of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands, child labor, mice and rats, the origins of electricity, sumptuary laws, vitamins and minerals, bras, and the Library of Congress. You could say there is something for everyone.

Although most of the book is only loosely related to the house and the objects within it, I didn't mind. Despite the meandering nature of the book, he always brought it back to the room at hand and put each history in a household context. This is the kind of history I like reading - it relates to people and how they live. Most histories are fairly abstract and focus on nations and governments, and I never feel that I get a sense of anything concrete, or what it was actually like to live during those times, which makes it seem less real. But this is something I can wrap my mind around. I can picture what people's lives looked like, felt like, and (unfortunately) smelled like during different parts of history. It really puts everything in context when you have this kind of information.

Though lengthy, I found this book easy to read though I frequently had to set it aside to look something up that I wanted to read more about. There were many little factoids and subjects he touched on briefly that made me curious to learn more. (I also appreciate that this book has an index!)

Bryson's engaging writing style and sense of humor are exactly what a non-fiction-challenged person like me needs. I've already read A Walk in the Woods, but I'm looking forward to reading more of his books. I'm thinking that next I might tackle "A Short History of Nearly Everything." Similarly ambitious to "At Home," its focus is on the larger history of the world and civilization.

Have you read anything by Bill Bryson? What do you recommend?


Dennis Fischman said...

I liked A Short History, but I didn't finish it!

3goodrats said...

Perhaps it was too long :) He has a shorter version called something like "A very short history..."

C. Kriofske said...

"A Short History of Nearly Everything" is the only book of his I didn't love mostly due to my general disinterest in science. Nearly everything else he's done is fantastic, with my faves being "Neither Here Nor There" (travels in Europe), "In a Sunburned Country" (Australia), "The Lost Continent" (USA) and this one.