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At Home: A Short History of Private Life Hardcover – Oct 5 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada; 1st Edition edition (Oct. 5 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385661630
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385661638
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 907 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #122,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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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4.5 out of 5 stars
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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
Bill Bryson is, of course, amusing and an enjoyable writer to read. However, while "At Home" is full of very interesting facts, some of his observations are a little exaggerated. A small, and probably silly example of this, would be his comments on wearing wigs. He points out to us that wigs were in high fashion in the late eighteenth century, a classic example of how people were (and still are) committed to fashion, no matter how uncomfortable. He describes how itchy and hot and generally disagreeable it was to have to wear wigs on a regular basis and how thankful we should be for not having to follow this absurd trend. Bill Bryson's comments here are clearly a way of entertaining us with historical "horrors" but anyone who wears wigs today(and there are quite a few people who do) realize that wigs are only itchy and uncomfortable the first few times you wear them. If you wear them over extended periods of time you don't notice them anymore. I assume it was true then and why the fashion lasted for so long. Bill Bryson makes other "entertaining" comments such as these throughout the book which makes "At Home" a fun read and helps us to appreciate living in the twenty-first century, but does not make a great history book. But I guess one doesn't read Bill Bryson for his historical research.

Definitely a fun and relaxing book to read before you go to bed.
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