Thursday, August 25, 2011

At Home - A Short History of Private Life

At Home - A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

If someone were to tell me about a book that was written chronicling the history of the home, describing how it and the hundreds of items it usually contains arrived at their current state of being, my response would at best be ambivilance. If they then told me it was written by Bill Bryson, I'd open up my wallet and buy it.

I don't read much non-fiction, but I've read everything Bill Bryson has written and will continue to do so. His books are some of the funniest out there. The first book by Bryson that I read was I'm a Stranger Here Myself . . ., a memoir about returning to America after 20 years of living in England. I was reading that one when my wife was expecting our first child, and I made the mistake of reading it while she was laboring to give birth. My bursts of laughter were not appreciated by my wife while she was trying to go to her happy place during contractions. Lesson learned. With the remaining births, I made sure I was reading something deadly serious.

At Home . . . is not one of Bryson's "funny" books. With this one he uses his wit and dry sense of humor more sparingly, but consistently. This felt more like a history lesson being given by a favorite teacher. What did people go through before the modern toilet? When did we finally start washing ourselves regularly (at least us Americans). Why do forks have four prongs and not three or five? Why do men's jackets have three useless buttons at the end of each cuff? And whether it's true that the brassiere was invented by a man named Otto Titzling. Bryson did all the research so that you don't have to.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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