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4.4 out of 5 stars
At Home: A Short History of Private Life
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
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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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. The book is crammed with anecdotes and facts and is supported by a bibliography for those who want to do more reading about the various topics covered.

There is a sobering thought, rather than a neat ending, in the conclusion:

`The greatest possible irony would be if in our endless quest to fill our lives with comfort and happiness we created a world that had neither.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 10, 2012
This book caught my attention, in part, because I have read other books by the author and enjoyed them. I was also drawn to the topic, which purported to be a short history on private life. Well, while I enjoyed it overall, the author definitely went off on tangents and did not really deliver what he promised.

The author used his own home, a nineteenth century rectory, as the starting point for each chapter, which is named after each room in his home, plus the garden. As he goes through each of the chapters, which are really somewhat like essays in which he ruminates about the room and the things associated with them, he does goes off in many directions that often have little to do with the room in question. It is as if each room were merely a vehicle for expounding on various historical references and issues that caught his fancy.

Still, I found it enjoyable and interesting, though I do wonder about some of the assertions the author made, especially since the book contained an extensive bibliography but no footnotes or sources for his "history". In the final analysis, the book is a hodgepodge of historical trivia, tidbits that are often interesting and amusing, but hardly elevate to a cohesive history of any kind. It is a work of pure self-indulgence by the author and a guilty pleasure for the reader.
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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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on March 19, 2011
Some authors have that rare gift to take the drab, mundane, facts of history and make them sparkle and fascinate the reader...Bryson is one of these authors. I regretted getting to the end of 'At Home', but when I was done, I did check a few of his resources in book's bibliography. After a few days of checking a few items online, I was surprised at so much he had to leave out. There could be a sequel here, I hope.
Thank you, Bill for such an educational journey.
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on September 27, 2013
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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on December 10, 2011
Another fascinating collection of historical facts and anecdotes from a master of chatty storytelling. However does he manage to uncover so many abstruse details? I love his friendly, rambley style of writing. "At Home" did not grab me as did Bryson's "Short History of Nearly Everything" but nevertheless an excellent read for plane or train, or just relaxing.
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on December 8, 2014
I love Bill Bryson's friendly writing style. The book is strangely laid out but his writing is so much fun, I really don't care. An excellent read.
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