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Down Under by Bill Bryson
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Down Under (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Bill Bryson

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6,422161600 (3.97)169
Member:floriferous
Title:Down Under
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Black Swan (2001), Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:non fiction, read

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In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (2000)

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English (153)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (159)
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
On pages 314-317 of [b:In a Sunburned Country|24|In a Sunburned Country|Bill Bryson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1333579261s/24.jpg|2611786], [a:Bill Bryson|7|Bill Bryson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1189096502p2/7.jpg] ridicules American journalists for their shallow, uninformed opinions about Australia while covering the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. I find that a bit rich, given some of the immature opinions he himself has written in the preceding pages. And in the immediately following pages, actually: on pages 317-320 he whinges, without a hint of irony, about how journalists at the Sydney Olympics aren't given as much free junk as at the Super Bowl. Then he shares his chronicle of searching for the best souvenir.

Time and time again in this book Bryson seems oblivious to what's really important, preferring a self-centered, adolescent persona. This is a man who refers to someone as “a petite Oriental cleaning lady” (312), meaning to be very complimentary toward her. But the big problem for me was his attitude toward Australia's Aborigine population. If they are, as Bryson asserts, the “invisible people,” I would say that Bryson is contributing to the problem (and in his ebullient praise of the Olympics opening ceremony, he seems not to have noticed that although the Aborigines were present in the performance, they disappear forever with the arrival of the white man; and please: that little blonde girl in the opening ceremonies was unbelievably cheesy). In the whole book, in all of his amazing travels through Australia, not once does he actually speak with an actual Aborigine. He gazes at them in a town, telling us that they look like a pretty ill-favored lot. He's a bit overwhelmed and bewildered by the whole situation, concluding Chapter 17 with this:So without an original or helpful thought in my head, I just sat for some minutes and watched these poor disconnected people shuffle past. Then I did what most white Australians do. I read my newspaper and drank my coffee and didn't see them anymore.Turn the page and look at the opening sentence of Chapter 18: “Consider the platypus.” My goodness. Returned so quickly to the self-obsessed traveler. Sad. In an entire book showing the reader the distinctiveness of Australia, the Dreamtime gets one sentence:We stopped at the [Uluru] visitors' center for a cup of coffee and to look at the displays, which were all to do with interpretations of the Dreamtime—the Aborigines' traditional conception of how the earth was formed and operates. There was nothing instructive in a historical or geological sense. (257) (emphasis mine)But when he starts talking about an air museum that includes the remains of a plane that a search party flew to rescue Charles Kingsford Smith? Pages and pages of glowing, reverent prose. I just don't understand.

Reading Bryson is like listening to someone read me just the good parts of a book he's looking through. It's sometimes interesting, but often annoying. Who is this guy? Why do I assume that what he's interested in is all I need to hear? His authority is not enhanced by his occasional crudeness and immaturity. Numerous times in this book we get the pleasure of seeing him pull into a pub and get so drunk he doesn't remember anything about it the next morning. I'm embarrassed, seeing a pudgy, prissy, middle-aged guy acting like this. And this is the man who will tell me a few pages later that such-and-such a museum is “really quite splendid”? I'm probably in the minority, but I became really weary of the ethnocentric, ill-informed attitude—which is a shame, because he's a decent writer and there are a few absolutely hilarious bits in the book (mostly in the first half). Very likely this is just what travel writing is, and this is probably the reason I don't read much travel writing. ( )
  ethnosax | Aug 8, 2014 |
Australia is a terrifying and wonderful place. At least, that's the conclusion I came to after reading Bryson's hilarious travel narrative about his exploration of the country/continent (it's complicated). I knew Australia was huge, deadly, and endlessly fascinating, but I did not know the extent of any of these things until I read this book. It made me want to pack my bags and go on my own adventure across the country, even though I hate the heat, am terrified of bugs, and have next to no backpacking or camping skills.

Bryson writes about Australia with obvious love and reverence, and is quick to point out all the quirky charms that make the place great. I feel like I would love traveling with him, since we both share a fondness for seemingly boring novelty museums and kitschy tourist traps. He traveled through the big cities, like Sydney, but also explored the barren and lonely outback, where you can drive on the same stretch of highway for thousands of miles and literally not see anything but the flat desert land around you (I can't even fathom that, being from California). But Bryson somehow makes it all seem beautiful, which I love. He also delves into the strange, and often hilarious, history of the founding and exploration of Australia. Another thing I liked was his discussion on the Aboriginies, the indigenous people of Australia, who unfortunately have been virtually ignored in history books, media, policy, etc. not only in Australia but everywhere else in the world. However, I am lowering my grade for this book by half a star because I think this topic deserved a whole chapter or two instead of a few pages here and there (and because Bryson took a few too many jabs at overweight people, which I thought was in poor taste).

I have the edition with the added appendix on the Sydney Olympics, which was pretty interesting. Everything seemed to go extraordinarily well, especially when you consider the Winter Games that just happened in Sochi...

All in all, a very entertaining and humorous book that shows what a fascinating place Australia is. I'm excited to read more of Bryson's stuff. ( )
1 vote kaylaraeintheway | May 1, 2014 |
I enjoyed this book enormously. Although I had read quite a bit about Australia previously, I learned a huge amount about what it would actually be like to travel around its vast distances and spend time there. Bill Bryson is informative but also of course very funny in places. The few pages in which he reflects on cricket had me literally weeping with laughter. Highly recommended. ( )
  Matt_B | Mar 4, 2014 |
Hugely funny! I'm glad he did the traveling for me. Wonderful writer. Great wit. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
3.5 stars.

This book follows Bryson as he travels around Australia.

It was good, but this was the audio book (my first audio book), and I’m fairly certain I would have liked it more if I’d read it as a real book. As a result, my review is almost as much reviewing an audio book, as it will review this particular book. I found I got distracted fairly easily – depending what I was doing as I listened – and so I ended up missing things. It was more effort than it was worth most of the time to back up and try to find where I was when my mind first wandered.

Back to the book – Bryson adds a lot of history and interesting tidbits of information along the way as well. He did go to some interesting places, and he is humourous in his writing. Overall, I guess I enjoyed it, but it’s just too hard to separate the book from the audio. ( )
  LibraryCin | Feb 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
Boisterous and contagious, Bryson’s writing is a constant affectionate tease aimed at prodding the reader as much as the society and place that he is describing. Bryson loves Australia and he wants you to share his enthusiasm for it. Wherever Bryson is: gaping at a giant stuffed lobster on the roadside in the middle of the Australian outback, cursing himself as he tries to snorkel unsuccessfully in the Great Barrier Reef, or admiring Sydney’s harbor he writes with a love and a ruthlessness that only a sibling or best friend would dare to use.
added by mikeg2 | editYale University, Noam Schimmel (Jun 10, 2001)
 

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bill Brysonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gower, NeilIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To David, Felicity, Catherine, and Sam
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Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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published in Britain as "Down Under"
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Book description
The author of "A Walk in the Woods" now chronicles his exploration of Australia. This good-humoured traveller relates his outback adventures with anecdotes
about the history and local inhabitants. Describes the harsh terrain and hostile wildlife including crocodiles, poisonous snakes, and attacking seashells.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767903862, Paperback)

Bill Bryson follows his Appalachian amble, A Walk in the Woods, with the story of his exploits in Australia, where A-bombs go off unnoticed, prime ministers disappear into the surf, and cheery citizens coexist with the world's deadliest creatures: toxic caterpillars, aggressive seashells, crocodiles, sharks, snakes, and the deadliest of them all, the dreaded box jellyfish. And that's just the beginning, as Bryson treks through sunbaked deserts and up endless coastlines, crisscrossing the "under-discovered" Down Under in search of all things interesting.

Bryson, who could make a pile of dirt compelling--and yes, Australia is mostly dirt--finds no shortage of curiosities. When he isn't dodging Portuguese man-of-wars or considering the virtues of the remarkable platypus, he visits southwest Gippsland, home of the world's largest earthworms (up to 12 feet in length). He discovers that Australia, which began nationhood as a prison, contains the longest straight stretch of railroad track in the world (297 miles), as well as the world's largest monolith (the majestic Uluru) and largest living thing (the Great Barrier Reef). He finds ridiculous place names: "Mullumbimby Ewylamartup, Jiggalong, and the supremely satisfying Tittybong," and manages to catch a cricket game on the radio, which is like

listening to two men sitting in a rowboat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren't biting; it's like having a nap without losing consciousness. It actually helps not to know quite what's going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distraction.

"You see," Bryson observes, "Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I'm saying." Of course, Bryson--who is as much a travel writer here as a humorist, naturalist, and historian--says much more, and does so with generous amounts of wit and hilarity. Australia may be "mostly empty and a long way away," but it's a little closer now. --Rob McDonald

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:35 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

The author takes readers on a tour of the land Down Under that goes far beyond packaged-tour routes.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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