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Down Under by Bill Bryson

Down Under (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Bill Bryson

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6,653171564 (3.97)188
Title:Down Under
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Black Swan (2001), Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:non fiction, read

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In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (2000)


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Showing 1-5 of 160 (next | show all)
This is the first Bill Bryson book I've read, and I have to say I enjoyed it. Bill is hilarious and infuriating at the same time, which surprisingly to me makes for a very entertaining combination. I'm sure he's not telling the full story in this book -- its just not possible for someone so ill prepared to not just die in the outback somewhere. Take his visit to Canberra for example -- he drives down from Sydney, hits the first hotel he finds and then spends three days there. No wonder he's bored. Eventually he bothers to drive for another five minutes and finds there is more to the city than one hotel. On the other hand, he maligns my home town in such a hilarious manner I just can't be angry at him.

I loved this book, highly recommended.

http://www.stillhq.com/book/Bill_Bryson/In_A_Sunburned_Country.html ( )
  mikal | Jun 1, 2015 |
I decided to give Bill Bryson another try, as I enjoyed his writing style in [A Walk in the Woods]. In this travel memoir, Bryson heads to Australia, providing readers with his experiences and a bit of history concerning a country that (the author argues) goes fairly "unnoticed." Unfortunately, I had such high hopes for this book, but my expectations seem to have fallen flat. While the narration is good, and the history of the country is interesting to read about, I am so disappointed by the meat of Bryson's personal experiences. In my opinion, the bulk of the personal portion of his book is simply him wandering from town to town, trying to find pubs and decent hotels. Although he does spend some time sharing the information he learns about in various museums/displays/etc., I was hoping for more about his experience traveling in the country. I give him credit for going to the Great Barrier Reef, but the experience he shares is essentially him sputtering about like he is drowning, deciding he is unable to snorkel, and sunbathing instead. Seriously?!! Although he talks about the wildlife, he doesn't go out of his way to see any of it himself. He doesn't really spend any time in the Bush, or with Aborigines - although he does give the history of these subjects. All in all, a disappointment. I guess I was expecting something more. ( )
  skrouhan | May 28, 2015 |
Bill Bryson tackles Australia, in all its vast emptiness and cheerful friendliness, in his novel, In a Sunburned Country. Far from hitting the "big ones" (everyone knows Sydney; a few hard-pressed ones may be able to name Melbourne and Perth; and I doubt a solitary soul would be able to name Darwin), Bryson visits the small towns and lonesome outback towns that people call home.

Bryson, of course, relishes a chance to deliver an acerbic commentary on the downfalls of the places he visits, much to the delight of lovers of wit everywhere. (As a sidenote, it is both a disappointment and a relief that he has not, so far as I know of, tackled Texas in any of his books.) However, even Bryson is not immune to the singular charm of Australia; quite the opposite, in fact, he loves every bit of it.

He explores Sydney and Perth and Melbourne, of course, but also visits Canberra and Darwin and Alice Springs, paying childish delight to the roadside novelties like giant lobsters and the provincial, often deeply weird and focused, museums that dot the landscape. Interspersed with random anecdotes, a bit of history - though one might be inclined to believe that Australia somehow skipped from the 1800s to the 1950s, given the facts he chooses to relate, and some geography, he paints a loving picture of a hopelessly lovable place.

His amazement at the sheer vastness, and the sheer emptiness of that vastness, is palpable. Most Americans by now probably have a vagueish disconnected idea that Australia has two parts: Sydney, the city that looks not too different from any other city in the world, and the outback, a dry desert devoid of life and scorchingly hot. Bryson can certainly verify these, but disabuses one of the notion that there is not much else. Among other things, he mentions the treetop canopy walk, which sounds utterly delightful; the lush description of Queensland; and Darwin, which quite frankly, I only know because every single crocodile attack seems to take place there. I am half under the impression that if you announced you were moving to Darwin, it could be ruled as attempted suicide. (See: Cage of Death)

The point is, Australia is big and weird and full of things that can kill you*, but also of some truly wonderful things as well. Platypuses and koalas and kangaroos, yes, but also giant worms that reach up to 12 feet in length, and the deadly but strangely compelling box jellyfish, the grouper, the list goes on. And Bryson shows the same delight and enjoyment at learning about these isolated evolutionary anomalies as one should.

I confess that toward the end of the book, my interest lagged. The stromatolites are built up to somewhat absurd heights. At one point he quotes paleontologist Richard Fortey as saying, "This is truly time travelling, and if the world were attuned to its real wonders this sight would be as well-known as the pyramids of Giza" (298). I am afraid that I am woefully untuned, because I can't seem to muster enthusiasm over gray blobs that occasionally let out streams of bubbles, any more than I can about testing yeast.

He also has an additional appendix devoted to the Olympic Games, which I have never much had an interest in - thankfully, neither does he, it seems, other than to admire the Australian people in their generosity, efficiency, and general amiability, and make some trenchant comments regarding the spirit of the games themselves.

Perhaps most engagingly, Bryson paints a picture of how truly wonderful the continent is: the diversity of life, the history made there, and the compelling thought that here is a landmass which has been known for quite some time, and there are still portions of it uncharted. That is amazing to me, and evidently to Bryson as well.

He cynically notes that "it seems that an awfully large part of travel these days is to see things while you still can" (279) that particularly struck me. While reading about his adventures, about the cafes and the people and the disappearing landscapes under masses of careless tourism and bungling bureaucracies, there is a definite pang of loss there - if I were to go there, would the town still be homey and comfortable? What happened to Mike and Val Cantrall - are they still there or happily wandering around? Will the Great Barrier Reef look the same if I hopped on a plane today?

It is some comfort, at least, to know that books such as these preserve - in writing, if nothing else - a snapshot of what things looked like then.

*To this note, Bryson has written my second favorite line about Australia: "... as I later learned from browsing through a fat book titled, if I recall, Things That Will Kill You Horridly in Australia, volume 19". The first will always go to a certain section in The Lost Continent by Terry Pratchett. ( )
  kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
Ok, this one was pretty good. Still more about Bryson than about the peoples & places, but at least this time he wasn't whining. Or should I say whinging - as I've been given to understand (elsewhere) Aussies dot it. I am discussing the book on Aussie Readers before I return it to the library. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
After my break from reading Bryson i was expecting to return and find him as funny as others do, unfortunately i dont. An ok read ( )
  Tony2704 | Mar 23, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 160 (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 (9 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:14 -0400)

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

(summary from another edition)

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