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At Home: A Short History of Private Life [Hardcover]

Bill Bryson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 34.95
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Book Description

Oct. 5 2010
From the author of that classic of modern science writing, A Short History of Nearly Everything, comes a work of what you might call domestic science: our homes, how they work, and the fascinating history of how they got that way.

Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as found in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to "write a history of the world without leaving home." The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has figured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demostrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.

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At Home: A Short History of Private Life + A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail + In a Sunburned Country
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Review

"Bryson is fascinated by everything, and his curiosity is infectious . . . [his] enthusiasm brightens any dull corner. . . . You'll be given a delightful smattering of information about everything but . . . the kitchen sink."
The New York Times Book Review

"Bryson's gift for finding amazing facts and fascinating connections between people and events makes this another enjoyable sprawling read through many things you didn't know you wanted to know."
— National Post

“Absolutely fascinating.”
—The Moderate Voice

About the Author

BILL BRYSON's books include A Walk in the Woods, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, A Short History of Nearly Everything, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and Bryson's Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Bryson ... Entertaining if not deep Oct. 11 2010
By C. J. Thompson TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It is not possible to state, with any precision, what this book is about. It would probably be closer to say it is about just about everything as opposed to anything in particular. Mr Bryson uses the various rooms in his Victorian parsonage as inspiration for essay subjects and then skips onwards and upwards in ever more prodigious bounds to touch on the most disparate and delightful topics...

Did you know that ambergris is an intestinal accretion in sperm whales composed of partially digested squid beaks? I did know that actually, but it wasn't until I read this book that I learned that the substance has a vanilla like taste and Thomas Jefferson enjoyed eating it with eggs. Similarly, until delving into this rich little tome I remained totally ignorant of the unique method used by certain rats at a poultry market in Greenwich Village to steal eggs without breaking them (I won't spoil the book by spilling the secret here, though.)

Sometimes, Mr Bryson's research is a little shaky, indeed I noted one point where he is categorically wrong, but I bought this book for entertainment, not as a research tool for a doctoral thesis. Happily, that is exactly what I got.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Book About Pretty Much Everything Oct. 22 2010
By Alison S. Coad TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bill Bryson has an inquisitive mind; when he sets out to learn the history of the dining room, for example, he does so by way of tracing the history of the spice trade as it impacted Britain, which of course leads to a discussion of the East India Company, but which also leads to an explanation as to why salt and pepper are the common condiments found on every dining room table, as well as the arrival of tea and coffee to the UK, the reason why dinner moved from a midday meal to one sometimes quite late at night and much much more. His new book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, is a delightful wander through his own home, a former parsonage built in 1851, and while I'm not sure that I learned a lot about how specific rooms came to serve different purposes, I did learn a lot about, among other things, why the US became powerful when Canada did not (it has to do with the Erie Canal, which displaced the perfectly usable - and already existent - St. Lawrence Seaway as being the chief means of transporting goods to and from the interior of the continent), how cholera affected all classes though it was first considered a (deserved) disease of the poor, and why John Lubbock was so important to British history, yet so forgotten now. I read it straight through, but it would also work very well as a book to dip into from time to time, reading the odd chapter here and there, and giving one's brain the opportunity to absorb all the fascinating trivia included on every page. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars must read! March 13 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
What a fantastic book! The writer wrote in such a way that I felt like I was there. His easy to read style of writing makes that possible, I guess. I have a much greater appreciation for most of what I used take for granted in my everyday life. The information in this book in invaluable. I'm glad I chose to read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Typical Bill Bryson - fascinating and funny Jan. 2 2014
By J. Obee
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am almost through the book - I am finding it to be completely engrossing (and sometimes gross - he is, after all, talking about housing and amenities going back centuries). I am amazed at the research that he does, and the humor with which he shares that research.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good but messy read Nov. 18 2013
Format:Paperback
Let me start by saying I love Bill Bryson, and I've been eagerly making my way through his collection. Therefore, I was salivating in anticipation of reading his "At Home" book. And I'm a Victorian buff (Judith Flanders's seminal study on the Victorian Home is amazing).

But "At Home" is disappointing. Sure, it's chock full of Brysonian tidbits. (I'm sure the man must be a Trivial Pursuit fiend.) But it jumps so inconsistently from one topic to another that it really drove me mad sometimes. Usually, I can't put a Bryson book down - I read it straight through. But this one is more of a pick it up, read a few pages, and then put it down for a week, maybe two.

In summary: it's a good read, but not up to Bryson's normal standards.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting collection of anecdotes Sept. 27 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book very much, but some chapters at the end were a little long.

Overall, we see how homes have evolved enormously in the last 150-200 years in the Western world.

The last paragrahs of the book remind of so many things we take for granted: electricity, telephones, plumbing and therefore water, comfortable spaces in winter and summer, etc. were not so commonplace not so long ago.
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5.0 out of 5 stars UK husband is a big fan Feb. 4 2013
By Margo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My husband and I moved here from the UK 5 years ago and Bill Bryson is his fav!! He enjoyed this book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Bill Bryson tour de force Nov. 29 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bill Bryson uses the example of his English home, a Victorian parsonage, as he moves from room to room, to take us on a journey of the historical background of ordinary household rooms and objects. In his usual fashion, Bryson uses his enormous amount of research to amuse and amaze.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but not Rigorous!
This work is not so much a history of private life in the UK and the United States as a wide collection of anecdotes on this theme, taken broadly. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Pierre Gauthier
5.0 out of 5 stars Bill Bryson At Home
If you love Bill Bryson, you'll love this absolute mine of information. How he links each room of the house to the interesting facts is just amazing. I just got lost in it.
Published on June 27 2012 by NanAnne
4.0 out of 5 stars A SHORT HISTORY ABOUT WHATEVER THE AUTHOR WANTS TO WRITE...,
This book caught my attention, in part, because I have read other books by the author and enjoyed them. Read more
Published on April 10 2012 by Lawyeraau
5.0 out of 5 stars At Home
I had this book read to me, on cd,by the author Bill Bryson. I had me totally captivated and I was looking for excuses to go for a drive to listen to more. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2012 by wilbrun
5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson at His Finest
With this book, it seems like Bill Bryson is trying to top 'Sunburned Country' for witty and interesting historical and quasi-scientific trivia. He hit it way out of the park. Read more
Published on Dec 28 2011 by Greg Tomkins
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Another fascinating collection of historical facts and anecdotes from a master of chatty storytelling. However does he manage to uncover so many abstruse details? Read more
Published on Dec 10 2011 by David
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
What a wonderful book. I must admit the title didn't exactly grab my interest, and I might never have picked it up were it not for the fact that it was written by one of my... Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2011 by Daniel Kelly
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