Genre: Arts, History & Current Affairs
Published: 27 May 2010
Publisher: Doubleday

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

by Bill Bryson


In AT HOME, Bill Bryson applies the same irrepressible curiosity, irresistible wit, stylish prose and masterful storytelling that made A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING one of the most lauded books of the last decade, and delivers one of the most entertaining and illuminating books ever written about the history of the way we live.

Bill Bryson was struck one day by the thought that we devote a lot more time to studying the battles and wars of history than to considering what history really consists of: centuries of people quietly going about their daily business – eating, sleeping and merely endeavouring to get more comfortable. And that most of the key discoveries for humankind can be found in the very fabric of the houses in which we live.

This inspired him to start a journey around his own house, an old rectory in Norfolk, wandering from room to room considering how the ordinary things in life came to be. Along the way he did a prodigious amount of research on the history of anything and everything, from architecture to electricity, from food preservation to epidemics, from the spice trade to the Eiffel Tower, from crinolines to toilets; and on the brilliant, creative and often eccentric minds behind them.

And he discovered that, although there may seem to be nothing as unremarkable as our domestic lives, there is a huge amount of history, interest and excitement – and even a little danger – lurking in the corners of every home.

"AT HOME takes us on a tour not merely of Bryson's house but of the amazingly well-stocked mind of a man who can see a world in a grain of sand. He addresses his readers as if they were welcome visitors to his home whom he is eager both to inform and to entertain; he is a guide of inexhaustible patience, good humour, and irresistible enthusiasm." - Susan Hill, author of THE LADY IN BLACK
"Bryson tackled science in his brilliant A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING... the result is extraordinarily entertaining...It helps that, as a guide to the past, Bryson is a delight. He brings all the curiosity, affability and gentle mockery that we expect from his travel writing to his historical wanderings...There would be few visions more appealing to most of its readers than an evening spent in Bryson’s beautiful house; curled up in a deep armchair, in front of a fire, perhaps nursing a dram, and listening to him tell wry tales from the history of private life. AT HOME is the next best thing." - Antonia Senior, The Times
"A work of constant delight and discovery. Bryson's wit is both dry and charmingly goofy. His great skill is to make daily life simultaneously strange and familiar, and in so doing, help us to recognise ourselves. AT HOME is a treasure: don't leave home without it." - Judith Flanders, Sunday Telegraph
"Enchanting...a book about reinventing the ordinary, and finding the extraordinary in the humdrum business of living...Bryson tackled science in his brilliant A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING. This new book could as easily be categorised as 'a short history of nearly everything else'...extraordinarily entertaining." - The Times
"A charming read that blends scholarship with warm writing and provides an endless source of banter for dinner parties." - Good Housekeeping
"Entertaining, fact-packed...He is a cheery, idiosyncratic guide, eclectic rather than scholarly, a true populariser. AT HOME will have every reader eyeing home rather differently." - Penelope Liveley, Financial Times
"There are many guilty pleasures, from Bryson's droll prose...to the many tantalizing glimpses behind closed doors at aristocratic English country houses. In demonstrating how everything we take for granted, from comfortable furniture to smoke-free air, went from unimaginable luxury to humdrum routine, Bryson shows us how odd and improbable our own lives really are." - Starred review, Publishers Weekly
"All great writing is travel writing: The tale begins in one place, whether metaphorical or geographical, and ends somewhere unexpected. Despite its focus on domestic life, Bill Bryson’s newest book is no exception. What begins as a carefree jaunt through the rooms of a Victorian parsonage ends as a sobering message about the home of all mankind: Planet Earth... Bryson is constitutionally incapable of writing a jeremiad. His disposition... is too friendly for that. Yet the message in his recent writing is clear: All is not well here at home – on Earth... Perhaps Bill Bryson is just the prophet of doom our species needs: He’s reasonable; he’s convincing; and he delivers even the worse diagnosis with a reassuring we’re-all-in-it-together tone. Maybe that will get our attention. If the family hearth is a refuge, AT HOME is a provocative reminder that we may need one more than ever in the decades ahead." - Buzzy Jackson, Boston Globe
"Readers who enjoyed Mr. Bryson’s apparently inexhaustible supply of nifty facts in such previous books as A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING (2004) or THE MOTHER TONGUE (1991) will be happy to find the author’s pen as nimble and his narrative persona as genial as ever. This time Mr. Bryson uses his own house as a framework for exploring the origins of domestic objects and customs that most of us take for granted." - Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal
"If this book doesn’t provide you with five years of dinner conversation, you’re not paying attention." - Kyle Smith, People
"Readers of Mr Bryson’s previous books will find many familiar pleasures: effortlessly digestible prose, wry self-deprecating humour and lightly-worn erudition. His cellar-to-attic survey of his beloved house covers the habits, gadgets and techniques that have allowed mankind to move from cave to hovel to mansion... everyone will find something to surprise them." - The Economist
"It is always difficult to review a Bill Bryson book, since I’m tempted to indulge in sweeping declarations (“Bill Bryson may well be the wittiest man on the planet,” for instance) and then support such bold assertions with numerous quotes from his book. Problem is, I also want to say that he is exceptionally insightful, that he sports a keen sense of the English language and its peccadilloes, and on and on. And somehow I have to fit all that into the brief space of a review. Never has this been more the case than with his latest book, AT HOME." - Bruce Tierney, Bookpage
"AT HOME is baggy, loose-jointed and genial. It moves along at a vigorously restless pace with the energy of a Labrador retriever off the leash, racing up to each person it encounters, pawing and sniffing and barking at every fragrant thing, plunging into icy waters only to dash off again, invigorated... Bryson is fascinated by everything, and his curiosity is infectious... enthusiasm brightens any dull corner. I recommend that you hand over control and simply enjoy the ride. You’ll be given a delightful smattering of information about everything but, weirdly, the kitchen sink." - Dominique Browning, New York Times Book Review
"The experience of reading a Bill Bryson book is something you don't want to stop -- a pip and a spree and, almost incidentally, a serious education. And never tiresome, for Bryson has the gift of being the student and not the tutor. His books follow the natural wave patterns of his own curiosity, but they answer the questions that have always, or maybe never, been rustling at the back of your brain." - Louis Bayard, Washington Post
"This book is less residential walkabout than a curio shop crammed to the rafters with things that Bryson finds interesting... he is an enchanting raconteur... with AT HOME he joins the quintessentially British rank of historians such as Elizabeth David, Lucinda Lambton and Reay Tannahill, all mordant, all brilliant, and all of whom viewed the history of the world through a domestic lens." - Emily Green, Los Angeles Times