At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Publication Date: May 27, 2010

 

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill BrysonAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson is a collection of stories that deal with everyday historical aspects. Bill Bryson, who lives in a historic parish in Norfolk, tours his house with his readers and talks about the life of the previous owner. Let At Home: A Short History of Private Life take you on a journey into the past

 Going through different rooms and floors, he gives us an unusual glimpse of everyday things. These include food, fashion, electricity, servants and housekeepers and Roman bath culture but also earth-shattering topics like epidemics. As Bryson says in his book:

“It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
 
How long have people had homes? What kind of sleeping, bathing and eating habits did people have in medieval times and how does this relate to us today? When did houses start having glass windows and when did mass glass manufacturing start? Why were fireplaces invented in the fourteenth century and when did houses become smoke-free? Why is it that we have salt and pepper shakers on our tables? And why do our forks have four tines?
At Home: A Short History of Private Life answers these questions. Excellently researched, Bryson gives us an exciting look at people going along with their daily business centuries ago. He explains why things in our household are the way they are — who invented them and why we still use them today, or not. The work deals mainly with Great Britain but also contains some information about different countries. One chapter is dedicated to the World Trade Fair in London where the first toilet was introduced to the public. 
 
“The most notable feature about anecdotes involving toilet practices is that they always—really, always—involve people from one country being appalled by the habits of those from another.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
 
Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life is a captive and engaging book. He presents everyday social and cultural anecdotes with a loose connection to the house. The book has an abundance of information, and readers can count on some very unusual insights and bizarre anecdotes.
 
“Even though sugar was very expensive, people consumed it till their teeth turned black, and if their teeth didn’t turn black naturally, they blackened them artificially to show how wealthy and marvellously self-indulgent they were.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
 
 Bryson opens the door to a better understanding of everyday things that we believe to be seemingly self-evident and, sometimes, readers will have the feeling that some things never change. According to the book, ice was exported from the U.S.A. to Great Britain, of course, without refrigeration since this didn’t exist at that time. It makes you wonder why they took the efforts to do this anyway considering the possible outcome. In the case of ice exports, the customs officials were the importer’s worst nightmare. 
“Widespread commercial distribution of ice was so new that 300 tons of the precious commodity melted at one port while customs officials tried to figure out how to classify it.”
― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
 
Bill Bryson’s writing is fluid and manages to balance knowledge on a vast range of topics, very often, written in depth and, with a dash of humor. I don’t know how often I caught myself smiling while reading. I highly recommend At Home: A Short History of Private Life for readers that a looking for a different historical approach. Even though readers may not be able to remember all the numbers, dates and facts, the book is humorous and never boring.
 
At Home: A Short History of Private Life is divided into chapters according to the house (“The Kitchen,” “The Hall,” etc.) that can be easily read as stories of their own and also makes rereading fun. Some readers may be annoyed by the author’s frequent digressions (a.k.a. info dump), but this is an added value when rereading the chapters.
 
Read an excerpt and buy At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson on
 

About Bill Bryson
For more information about Bryson and his work, visit his website. You can connect with him on Goodreads and Facebook.

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