Tuesday Book Review: At Home, Bill Bryson

It sounds ridiculous to say ‘I accidentally read a book,’ but hear me out.  I listen to a lot of my current reading via audiobook. This allows me to engage with text whilst I’m driving, cleaning, exercising, etc. For Christmas I was given a pair of Aftershock bone-conduction headphones and I use these for most of my audiobook experiences.  More recently, I’ve changed cars (I now drive a white one!) and this vehicle has bluetooth technology enabled. This means I can get into the car, listening to an audiobook on my headphones, and the technology takes over when I key the ignition and the car starts to play my audiobook through its speakers.   I found this out, wanted to test the whole thing for consistency and the quality of sound reproduction, and ended up using an old copy of At Home as part of the experiment.

Because the book is so damned compelling, I ended up ‘accidentally’ listening to all of it.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, follows Bill Bryson as he goes around his home, examining each room and its contents, and discussing the history behind each innovation. Bryson is a masterful storyteller and he makes everything in this book sound fascinating. Whether he’s talking about all the death and destruction that are behind the history of the salt and pepper pots on an average dining table; the types of cement that are used to keep house bricks together and how the technology behind this innovation contributed to the construction of the Erie Canal; or how one tenth of the weight of a six year old pillow usually consists of sloughed skin and mite droppings: Bryson always manages to find an interesting angle that humanises the story and makes it incredibly relevant to the reader.

There are so many fun parts to this book.

The construction is based on following Bryson as he goes from room to room, which compartmentalises the narrative into subject-specific areas. A visit to the dressing-room looks at sumptuary laws, the history of clothing, and even discusses those pointless buttons that appear on the cuffs of every suit jacket ever made. Standing in the hall, Bryson reminds us that the original houses occupied by our ancestors were nothing but the hall, and he guides us through an overview of this story.  

Maybe I’m just a Bill Bryson fanboy. Or maybe this is one of those marvels of research that allows us to see the wonderous story behind every item in our modern homes. Either way: I 100% recommend this title.

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