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Notes from a Small Island [Hardcover]

Bill Bryson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 7 1995
By the author of "The Lost Continent" and "Neither Here Nor There". Bryson moved to England in 1978 and settled in North Yorkshire. In this book, he turns an affectionate but ironic eye on his adopted country.

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Reacting to an itch common to Midwesterners since there's been a Midwest from which to escape, writer Bill Bryson moved from Iowa to Britain in 1973. Working for such places as Times of London, among others, he has lived quite happily there ever since. Now Bryson has decided his native country needs him--but first, he's going on a roundabout jaunt on the island he loves.

Britain fascinates Americans: it's familiar, yet alien; the same in some ways, yet so different. Bryson does an excellent job of showing his adopted home to a Yank audience, but you never get the feeling that Bryson is too much of an outsider to know the true nature of the country. Notes from a Small Island strikes a nice balance: the writing is American-silly with a British range of vocabulary. Bryson's marvelous ear is also in evidence: "... I noted the names of the little villages we passed through--Pinhead, West Stuttering, Bakelite, Ham Hocks, Sheepshanks ..." If you're an Anglophile, you'll devour Notes from a Small Island. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Before his return to the U.S. after a 20-year residence in England, journalist Bryson (Made in America) embarked on a farewell tour of his adopted homeland. His trenchant, witty and detailed observations of life in a variety of towns and villages will delight Anglophiles. Traveling only on public transportation and hiking whenever possible, Bryson wandered along the coast through Bournemouth and neighboring villages that reinforced his image of Britons as a people who rarely complain and are delighted by such small pleasures as a good tea. In Liverpool, the author's favorite English city, he visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum to experience its past as a great port. Interweaving descriptions of landscapes and everyday encounters with shopkeepers, pub customers and fellow travelers, Bryson shares what he loves best about the idiosyncrasies of everyday English life in this immensely entertaining travel memoir. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bryson does Britain Oct. 22 2002
Bill Bryson is usually known for books that provoke an uncontrollable urge to laugh out loud while reading them. That's certainly true of "A Walk in the Woods" where Bryson and a bibulous friend try manfully to hike the Appalacian Trail. It's not so true in "Notes from a Small Island."
Bryson doesn't have his hapless friend Katz along on this jaunt, a walking trip through Great Britain. But his sense of humor is intact and his eye sharp for local foibles. My favorite observation was actually his description of the boundless joy the British express when presented with a steaming hot cup of tea. "Ah, lovely..." At the fifth repetition of this, you begin to appreciate Bryson's description of the British people and their funny rules, such as one that applies to public paths (you can cut right through anything that lies on a public way, and Bryson struts through some remarkable places exercising this right.) He takes the predictable potshots at British Rail and the propensity for tearing down quaint buildings and putting up steel and concrete monstrosities, a trait that Americans seem to share with their British progenitors; I myself felt strangely at home in Birmingham--it could have been any American city except for driving on the wrong side of the road.
While this book was not as scream-with-laughter funny as "Walk in the Woods", it had its moments. If you are a Bryson fan you might be a bit disappointed as this books is a bit subdued compared to his others. And Katz is nowhere to be found. But if you don't require to be entertained every single page, you probably will find this an amusing book. I did.
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Mr. Bryson nails what England is like exactly and perfectly. I myself have had similarly bewildering encounters with the english when traveling there, and I was born and raised there. By far the funniest and most personal of his funny and personal "travel guides", it is an honest look at one person's experience with being immersed in a culture just foreign enough to be strange and endearing at the same time. I find some of his other travel books - Walk in the Woods for one and Neither Here nor There in particular - to be a bit mean-spirited, though still hilarious.
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4.0 out of 5 stars As curmudgeonly as ever Aug. 11 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While I will say that Bryson's writing improved over the years, it's hard not to enjoy reading his perspective on the United States. He is in a unique position as someone who has spent nearly two decades in each of the U.S. and the U.K. These experience are on display in this series of articles as his wit and sarcasm nicely reflect both American and British styles of humour.
A must read for anyone who is a fan of Bill Bryson and worthwhile for those looking for an easy, fun read.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson's best book July 6 2004
Bryson's best book is "Notes From a Small Island," about traveling in Great Britain. It's one of the funniest books I've read. The British are funny, and Bryson knows them well after living in Britain for 20+ years.
His book about Australia, "In a Sunburned Country," is also entertaining. He studied Australian history, met many interesting locals, etc. After reading it, I feel like an expert on Australia and its people.
His book about Europe, "Neither Here Nor There," isn't so good. The problem is that he speaks no languages other than English. He didn't talk to anyone on this trip. Wwithout any characters (other than Bryson) the book isn't engaging. The book has only one joke, which he repeats: "The waiter/hotel clerk/taxi driver didn't speak English so I tried to make him understand that I needed..." Some of these moments are quite funny, but they don't constitute a book. Bryson didn't study the places he visits. Unlike the Australian book, you learn almost nothing about the countries he visited.
Bryson's book about America, "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," failed to make me laugh. It reads like a series of Erma Bombeck columns. Bryson comments about various aspects of his life in a small town in New England. Not other people's lives, which might have been interesting, but only about his domestic life.
I got only a few chapters into his book about the Appalachian Trail, "A Walk in the Woods." I wasn't amused that two people with no backpacking experience would attempt a six-month hike. After several chapters of Bryson repeating one joke -- "I know nothing about any of this!" -- I stopped reading.
This suggests that the old advice "write about what you know" is worth following.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book is a Little Slice of Heaven March 22 2005
Like many people, I read this book during an airplane flight, while returning from one of my semi-regular trips to the UK. This is one of those books that make you howl with laughter despite the odd looks from strangers alongside. It's a perfect book to read while travelling, or indeed just about anywhere. If you are at all familiar with England (and I mean on a first-hand basis, NOT by watching Hugh Grant movies), you are going to find this book screamingly funny. If not, it will probably make you want to visit the UK. Bill Bryson is no twee, chocolate-boxy travel writer - he relates all the disasters along with the fun, in a manner that reminds you that most so-called travel disasters are never as bad as they seem. Bryson is not entirely uncritical of his adopted nation (and that's the fun part), but he's never nasty - and it's plain that his enthusiasm for England and all things English comes from deep in his heart.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A favourite
I have read this book a half dozen times or so. It is Bryson (almost) at his best. There is very little in the way of historical fact, or socio-economic observations here, rather,... Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2010 by C. J. Thompson
1.0 out of 5 stars repetitive and excruciatingly boring
I usually enjoy brysons work but this book was painful to finish. very few interesting insights into the british. Read more
Published on March 28 2010 by Jason Certi
4.0 out of 5 stars A casual stroll through the UK
Bryson is much less critical about his country of adoption than he is of his homeland in The Lost Continent. Read more
Published on June 30 2006 by Hugo Trepanier
4.0 out of 5 stars An honest, hilarious and rather true diary!
I saved reading this book for my lastest trip to England, and finished it on the plane home. Bryson gives a fantastic, tongue-in-cheek description of small town, and well, large... Read more
Published on Jan. 1 2005 by L Merryweather
4.0 out of 5 stars Addressed as much to Americans as to the British
Bill Bryson first came to the attention of the British public through the readings from his book of a journey across the USA, 'The Lost Continent'. Read more
Published on July 16 2004 by Gavin Wilson
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful Background
Having learnt of Bill Bryson via the Australian book (tape, really), I set out to read and/or listen to all his stuff. The man can use the language, wonderfully. Read more
Published on June 23 2004 by Steve Woodard
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read.
I'm a Bryson fan, and I enjoyed this book a great deal. I did not think it measured up to 'A Walk In the Woods', or even his latest ('Brief History'), but it is a solid book. Read more
Published on June 2 2004 by J. Boley
5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson at his best.
Before returning to America from England in 1994, Bill Bryson (A WALK IN THE WOODS, A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING) embarked on a grand farewell tour around the "green... Read more
Published on May 31 2004 by G. Merritt
4.0 out of 5 stars Bill Bryson
WOW!! Bill Bryson did it again. From notes from a small island to notes from a big country. This was amazing. I'm only 11 and usually wouldnt understand this, but it was GREAT. Read more
Published on May 5 2004
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