At Home: A Short History of Private Life – Review – ****
The first Bryson book I ever read was A Walk in the Woods. It’s a good starting point – short, interesting, and absolutely hilarious, I’ve been a fan of his ever since. (Sorry James May.) But recently, Bryson has moved away from travel writing and starting focusing more on history: social and scientific. He also seems to have moved away from laugh-out-loud funny, to simply incredibly interesting. This is not a bad thing.
The conceit of the book is a tour of Bryson’s old country house in England, which he uses as a backdrop to explain the history of the house from prehistory to the modern day. Each chapter describes a specific room or area of the house, while telling the story of how it came to be that way today.
The book is a bit of a brick in hardcover, but at just under 500 pages, its scope is enormous. It is incredible the number of times things that actually came up in my life in the days I was reading this book were mentioned, directly, in the book. The origin of the phrase “room and board,” the reason “K” means “strike out” in baseball, the architecture of Palladio, and more (although I was surprised that there was no mention of Tesla in the section on light bulbs). Not directly applicable to that week, but equally interesting, were the discussions on the history of salt, sex, and fashion as they relate to the development of the home.
The book is filed under the category of “social history,” which may turn some people off, but I would suggest you give it a chance. Bryson, as usual, takes us on a very accessible and entertaining journey. At Home is a great way to increase your general knowledge without having to do anything more than enjoy a book.
Cannonball Read III: 10/52