on August 7, 2008
I can't even remember how many times I've read this fantastic, hilarious, well-researched and touching account of author Bill Bryson's travels across distant Australia. There are endless anecdotes which are worked seamlessly into an already wonderful piece of writing. The chapter on cricket on the radio always stands out for me, my mom often quotes favorite lines from that particular section.
But most of all, when I first read this book I was 13. I didn't really know anything about Australia aside from the fact that it was the home of kangaroos and dingos. Well, In A Sunburned Country made me fall in love with Oz. Now I see it as a kind of Canada of the Southern Hemisphere, rugged and very nature driven with a small population and friendly peacful citizens.
Now that I'm 19? I've been accepted to study abroad in Melbourne, Australia and I'm planning on rereading my favorite Bill Bryson book over and over until I'm standing on Australian soil.
What higher praise can there be for an travel author than to inspire his readers to pick up and fly 15,000 km to see the place he's painted so vivid a picture of?
on December 10, 2003
I love to hear Bill Bryson read his books aloud. His 10 disc monologue on Australia was, by turns, fascinating, LOL amusing, astonishing, informative, good natured and good company. I won't describe the book's content here - others have done a fine job in their reviews. My focus is, instead, on the experience of LISTENING to Bill Bryson. I regularly listen to books on CD as I drive around Upstate New York for work. After spending many hundreds of hours hearing recordings of books, I fancy myself an experienced and discriminating listener. IMHO, Bryson is an engaging and sociable reader as well as a superb (virtual) travelling companion. I believe he genuinely enjoys the act of reading aloud for others. After hearing this generous yet informal treatment, I am reluctant to read the print verion. I fear that the inevitable change in my experience of Bryson's Voice, caused by experiencing him visually instead of with my ears, would strike me as a loss. Listening to the CD version of In a Sunburned Country, it was my happy experience to feel that Bryson was sharing his stories of Australia directly with me.
on June 16, 2003
Bryson delivers the world's biggest, best kept secret in IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY. Australia is a truly miraculous place. This is a country where a prime minister impetuously dives into the water while strolling on the beach with colleagues, never to be seen again, where the world's most lethal and otherwise poisonous species are concentrated in mind boggling numbers above and beyond the rest of the planet, where the ecosystem is the most diverse of any, where the ores and minerals have yet to be tapped for anything near their full potential, where the features of the landscape vary dramatically, with no look-alikes anywhere else. The world's largest living organism is there-the Great Barrier Reef; also, the world's oldest living organisms, stromatolites. It is the last continent to be colonized by Europeans, and then it was used as a penal colony at first, and as a nation it is barely a century old. It was been the scene of wretched racism and maltreatment of natives; more recently, it has chosen to throw the doors open to all nationalities. And does any of this make it to American news media? Noooo. There's lots to learn from this country and Bryson is an informative guide. In the manner honed in his earlier travel books, he imparts an amazing amount of information thoughtfully, in graceful, witty prose that evokes all the eccentricities and ironies of this mysterious, ancient place. Bryson is happy to tell the jokes, but in the end, he is much happier imparting the wonder.
Bryson loves England - that is obvious in Notes from a Small Island. In Australia, however, he is an outsider on a visit (not a resident) and the difference is obvious in the style and character of this book.
In 'Notes from a Small Island', Bryson skips easily from topic to topic, highlighting whichever particular memories strike his fancy. Here, however, we are presented with much more of a standard travelogue in which a good deal more historical and geographical detail provided. Most of it though, I am glad to say, is presented in the light, humorous way in which this author usually entertains me and I enjoyed it immensely. I am cognizant that some reviewers have criticized Bryson for being less than accurate and not 'in-depth' enough, but I didn't buy this book as a sociological, political, or 'what-have-you' treatise, I sometimes just liked to hear a story about somebody's experiences... that's what this book is. I should add that, while my wife and I have very different tastes in literature, I gave her this book before she took a trip to a conference in Sidney and she enjoyed it very much.
My only quibble about this book is as follows: When Bryson is at his most fluid and honest, his humor is easy and very natural. When he *tries* to be funny, however, the prose becomes noticeably forced and the resultant humor declines proportionately. In this book, he confesses to a fear of dogs and goes into a lengthy description of an encounter with one in suburban Sidney. Unfortunately, his particular reaction to canines is not one shared by most people so this whole attempt at to provide a comic 'filler' ended up being little more than tedious... for me at least.
Still a great book though :)
on October 21, 2007
This book was originally recommended to me by a co-worker when he found out I was taking my annual 3 week vacation this year to Australia. This will be my first trip Down Under. He advised that it was well written, witty, informative, and kept him in stitches. I wasn't disappointed when I bought it at a travel specialty store in downtown Vancouver. The book is written in such a way that it's like the author is discussing his adventures to you over a cup of coffee at a local cafe. He pokes fun at himself over the mistakes and misadventures he gets himself into with dry humour (a bit of self depreciation too), and the people that he works with and meets in Australia are not immune to his keen observations. He also includes historical facts from stories about the earliest explorers to the local flora and fauna. I happily read the first two chapters on my way home on the bus, my bursts of laughter causing glances from fellow passengers. Because this book is so easy to get lost in I have decided to leave the rest for my 18 hour flight to Sydney in November.
on January 11, 2002
Bill Bryson is not so much a travel writer as a teller of shaggy dog stories. He has travelled to Australia a number of times and this is the recounting of adventures that he had on one longer trip where he rented a car and drove huge distances around the country.
Each place he visits gives rise to a story. Thus he visits a small pub in the Norther Territory which used to be a stop of air strip in times when planes had shorter ranges than they do now. He gives a description of the "town" and some background and then recounts the exploits that he had staying there. The device he uses is to describe waking up and having a coffee with his travel companion. Both are hung over from a solid night on the booze and they work out what has happened by looking at the items they have in their pockets. As they do so the memories of a rightous and funny night come back.
One of the other great stories in the book are the description of listening to five days cricket commentary when Bryson is completely unaware of the rules of the game. His attempts to work out what is happening from the jargonised language of the broadcast is a classic.
The only slightly strange thing in this book is Bryson's gentleness in talking about Australia. He can be a little more biting but in this book he is rather complementary.
Once called "the Lucky Country," Australia may wonder if the designation still applies after Bryson's string of visits. Sunburned Country isn't a travel guide. It's a traveler's journal. This makes the book a bit difficult to assess. It's usually displayed in the Travel section of your local bookstore. If you're looking for recommendations of places to stay, you'll find little guidance here. If you're looking for places to visit, this book is a treasure. If you're looking for a good read, it's doubly a treasure. If you already have feelings about Australia, pro or con, then this book is certain to arouse ire. You cannot leave this book unmoved. Besides, for all its shortcomings, it's a fun read.
Divided into segments due to intermittent trips across the Equator, Bryson manages to present his journeys as a nearly continuous narrative. Americans travel journalists are uniformly surprised by the size of Australia, and Bryson's no exception. His travels around Australia are at a frenetic pace trying to cover the ground. He's dismayed to discover Brisbane isn't "just up the coast" from Sydney. Five minutes with a map would have disabused him of that myopic view. He seems always in haste, his pace leaving little opportunity for serendipitous exploration. Mostly standard travel fare, he targets the urban sites: Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Perth and The Alice. A couple of exceptions will be noted.
Bryson is concerned with his comfort. He never camps, preferring hotel/motel convenience - they usually have, or are near to, pubs. For most of the book he's on the road from one town to the next. The result, particularly driving from Darwin to the Alice, allows no time for close examination of what he terms "featureless" and "inexhaustible" deserts. A little more research might have directed him to the Red Center's fascinating variety. But you have to stop the car and walk around a bit to accomplish that. Part of the reason he failed to make even brief saunters is his nearly pathological fear of Australia's fauna. The worst aspect of this book is Bryson's litany of Australia's dangerous creatures. From the box jellyfish through taipans to the infamous redback spider [which he incorrectly describes], he presents the reader with numerous examples of how careless people have suffered their defense of territory. There's a strange ambivalence here, since he's clearly enthralled by many aspects of Australia's natural wonders. His circumvention of Uluru [Ayer's Rock] comprises but two hours, all of it by vehicle. He's disappointed with the monolith's colour, unaware of the impact of changing light on The Rock.
Yet, on occasion, when he deems it safe, he alights, closely viewing some of the natural wonders. How many travel writers have the acuity to visit [and recommend] Hamelin Pool in Western Australia? As Bryson is at pains to point out, Hamelin Pool should be one of the premier World Heritage sites. It contains one of the few sites where the original organisms leading to writers and readers [after some 3.5 thousand million years] still reside. It would have been an experience to stand beside him as he explained this phenomenon to the tourist woman who disparaged what she observed. Bryson, bless him, relies heavily on Richard Fortey's LIFE; AN UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY in educating this woman. He could find few better authorities to use. And he believes what he writes.
As a travel writer, he deals with many people. Hotel clerks, restaurant waitresses, museum tenders and other tourist contacts. As in any country, there are the good ones and the others. He's forthright in his assessments, but his comfort and convenience stand paramount. He's good at laughing at himself, especially in regard to his fear of venomous creatures. Mostly the journeys are solitary, but his trips to the Barrier Reef and along the highway from Darwin to Alice Springs are in company with journalist Allan Sherwin. It becomes another chance to expound on the wildlife - particularly the deadlier forms. Among his chants of dangerous fauna, he manages to provide numerous historical anecdotes. He truly shines here, bringing to life people who have crossed the Australian scene. From the first Dutch landings [where stranded mutineers gained notoriety as the first white "settlers"] to the "dullest man in Australia [Prime Minister John Howard], Bryson fills in details on places and events. If nothing else, these vignettes provide excellent background material for his travels. It may be enough to prompt reading another Bryson book. There's a wealth of them to choose from.
on May 10, 2002
This was my first Bill Bryson book and as a result of reading it, I have now read all of his books. It is informative and full of neat facts without being scientific or dull. And, as always with Bill Bryson, truly funny. I am always amazed at how a middle-aged guy travelling alone can make his days sound so interesting.
I read this book before my husband had the chance and was constantly interupting him to read him passages, even though they were sometimes incomprehensible because I was laughing so hard!! The interesting thing is that once he started reading the book, he read the same passages aloud to me, even though he knew full well that I knew exactly what he was going to say. The best part was they were just as enjoyable the second time.
I love how Bryson seems to portray himself and his experiences honestly. Sometimes I am reading along thinking what a jerk he is for describing people or places with so little tact, but then I realize that he is only daring to write the things so many of us often think. I respect, too, that he applies those same critical eyes to himself and his own behavior.
There is one thing that ticked me off - this book is also published under the title "Down Under". So, I, of course, grabbed it off the shelf in the airport, thinking I was getting volume two of Bryson's escapes in Australia. It is a great book, but I don't need two copies!! Don't make the same mistake as me.
on December 2, 2001
Bill Bryson is the incredulous tourist, no matter where he goes. In this book, he sets his sights on Australia, that vast undiscovered and mostly-ignored continent-country in the Southern Hemisphere.
His descriptions of Australia, its people, flora, fauna, and landscape are by turns amusing and insightful. With wide-eyed wonder, he tells us the story of the Prime Minister who just disappeared into the surf, the American couple left behind on a diving expedition, and several stories of people just discovering something by walking through the bush. Imagine walking back into town with a 60-pound nugget of gold, that had just been sitting in the desert!
In some places, his writing is uneven. Sometimes we are walked though pages about something he finds interesting, but which made me yawn; other times he skips over what I think is fascinating. His humour makes up for the oversights, but these oversights keep me from giving the book a fifth star.
If you've ever lived in Australia, it's useful to see the country from an outsider's point of view. If you haven't been there, but would love to go, pick up this book for an entertaining introduction to the country. It's not a heavy-hitter, certainly not something you'd read if you want an introduction to Australia's vast history, but amusing and informative nonetheless.
on October 29, 2001
Mr Bryson undoubtedly is, as well as an original thinker who should also provoke thought in others.
Funny that in 10 years of living in Australia, I never encountered any of the life-threatening creatures he writes so obsessively about - were they more interesting than the people?
The bizarre fetish for creatures less likely to cross your path than a flash of lightening would put anyone off traveling anywhere : you know, Canada has cougars, bears and wolves; Italy has earthquakes and volcanoes; for many Europeans the US is frightening because of the large number of citizens who own guns.
Funny that anyone from North America should presume (as Mr. Bryson offers to do at the end of Chapter 17) to advise the Australian government on its policies regarding indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Australians. I remember learning a lot in French high school about Wounded Knee and other wars, battles and forced removals committed in North America by colonists on the indigenous peoples.
Not so funny : the problems of aboriginal Australians' and aboriginal Americans' health. According to the US public health service website : "Indians experience disproportionately high mortality compared to other Americans from : Alcoholism : 740% higher, tuberculosis: 500% higher, diabetes: 390% higher, injuries: 340 % higher: suicide, 190%..." If Mr. Bryson has advice for the US government, I'm sure he can contact them through the site [...]