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

Bill Bryson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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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
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
For many of us, history is about battles and wars and well-known historical figures. But these events and those lives take place amidst centuries in which most people quietly live their lives striving for food, shelter and a degree of comfort. Bill Bryson realised that we can learn more about history by looking at the homes in which we live, and how they have developed.

This led Bill Bryson to journey around his own home, an old rectory in the UK. As he travelled from room to room, considering how the home developed and how the functions of rooms have evolved over time, his research and reading uncovered some fascinating information. The book is organised by room, and the history behind each room leads us through topics as diverse as architecture, electricity and the telephone, food preservation, the search for and use of spices, epidemics, toilets, crinolines and servants. In surveying his home from cellar to attic, Bill Bryson provides information about the developments and inventions (such as the fireplace) that have enabled mankind to build bigger homes. The house Mr Bryson lives in was built in 1851, and while some aspects of the original design will be familiar to most of us almost 160 years later, the house itself has been adapted for the world of relative comfort enabled by electricity.

I found this book fascinating. Reading about how homes have evolved: consider the hall. Once the hall was the most important part of a home, now it exists as an antechamber- a place for donning, shedding and storing hats and coats. Moving from a communal hall to rooms with separate functions and purposes took time, relative prosperity - and servants.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Classic Bryson Dec 8 2010
By Luanne Ollivier #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
I'm a long time fan of Bill Bryson. I jumped at the chance to read his newest book At Home.

The premise for the book was fascinating.' Bryson lives in a Victorian parsonage in a quiet part of England. He decided to go room by room and write about the history and impact on personal lives. So, for example the bedroom investigates sex, death, sleep, the bathroom - hygiene, the nursery- children's lives, the kitchen provides a wealth of subject matter. Indeed Bryson covers 17 different areas of his home, including the attic, stairs, the fuse box, the garden and many more. But if you think it's just household minutiae, you're mistaken. The narrative begins in the house buts slips out on tangents to encompass a much broader picture and then comes back full circle.

I loved At Home. It's not a book to be devoured, but rather slowly sipped and enjoyed. Bryson's investigative skills combined with his talent for turning those facts into absolutely captivating anecdotes made this a truly enjoyable read. I love British history and At Home was an entertaining account told in a totally unique manner.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Again Perfect!
Again Perfect!
Published 1 month ago by Wixit
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Gotta love 'em!
Published 2 months ago by Guy L. Storms
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book
I enjoy reading interesting historical facts and how and why they affected the period in which they occurred.
The book is well written and humorous. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jeanne Dorie
5.0 out of 5 stars must read!
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. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mohd Russel
5.0 out of 5 stars Typical Bill Bryson - fascinating and funny
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). Read more
Published 10 months ago by J. Obee
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but messy read
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. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Insomniac Reader
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting collection of anecdotes
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... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Christian Robichaud
5.0 out of 5 stars UK husband is a big fan
My husband and I moved here from the UK 5 years ago and Bill Bryson is his fav!! He enjoyed this book!
Published 21 months ago by Margo
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 24 months ago by Pierre Gauthier
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Bill Bryson tour de force
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... Read more
Published 24 months ago by Marjorie Tuck
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