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In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
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In a Sunburned Country (2000)

by Bill Bryson

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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 |
Pleasant and mildly entertaining. I was surprised to hear many of the topics in the book (e.g., dissolution of the government by the queen's representative in the 1970s) surface in ordinary conversations with Australians during my trip. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
made me want to move to Australia ( )
  Jessi.Rhodes | Dec 31, 2013 |
After about half way into this book, I have been saying the same thing whenever I get the chance: "I'm never going to Australia!" This is usually followed by a re-telling of some of the stories Bryson writes about in this brilliantly humorous and well-written book. (My favorite humorous parts are his description of how he passes out in a car due to jet lag at the beginning of the book, and the red snapper discussion he has with his friend Allan and a waitress from Tassie.) I think Bryson is an exceptionally jolly traveler, a curious yet laid-back guy, who just likes to poke around, chat with the locals, go to museums no matter that they are displaying, and have a few cold beers watching the sun set. And if there is the added bonus of a bouncing marsupial in the distant horizon, or a monotreme passing by somehow, or giant testicles swinging up top, dangling off of a giant metal animal sculpture, all the better. So reading what Bryson managed to do in Australia was fun, hilarious, laugh-out-loud good.

Now, reading about the vast and unrelenting deserts that seem a bit too easy to get lost in and perhaps a bit too easy to die in, and the jelly fish that can kill you in a matter of seconds, not to mention the spiders and the snakes and the crocodiles and and and... Oh, my! Above all, the remoteness of the cities from each other and the very new, shiny history they have to offer... I don't know... As much as Bryson had fun and looooooooved the people and places he visited, I loved him writing about them rather than the actual places. Certainly, it seems very beautiful and unique. It also seems rather dangerous, dry, dehydrating, unnerving, and frankly, very suburban.

So I will probably never pay to travel to Australia after reading Bryson's book. I will, however, read more books by him for sure, and I will have to read more about the Aborigines, their origins as well as their very unique mythology. (I would also like to read about the maritime history relating to the escapades of white man who bumped into Australia by Giles Milton, so Mr. Milton, please write this book soon.) ( )
  bluepigeon | Dec 27, 2013 |
This account of the improbable and extravagant things one can find in Australia is greatly enhanced by the author's own voice reading it, even though the iconic associations one imagines are actually rather few. Now I feel I would like to pop down there for a month or two myself to take a look around. ( )
  rmagahiz | Dec 21, 2013 |
My globe-trotting sister bought me this book just before going to work a season or two as a veterinarian in New South Wales. I thought Down Under (first released as In a Sunburned Country) was simply the most enjoyable travel book I had ever read. When I finished it, I promptly read it through a second time, with no less enjoyment.

Among Bryson’s observations about what makes Australia unique:
  • It’s the only country where a prime minister can go for a swim and just disappear without a trace.
  • It has more deadly animals per square meter than anyplace else on earth.
  • Cult members apparently set off a nuclear bomb in the desert, but it took years for anyone else to notice.
  • It contains Uluru, the world’s most inexplicably arresting landmark: “Go to the third planet and fly around till you see the big red rock. You can’t miss it.”
( )
  Muscogulus | Oct 25, 2013 |
If you have not yet tried Bryson, you probably should seek psychiatric help. He's funny and informative; travel-writing (if you can call it that) at its best. His Walk in the Woods is a classic, and while this book about his visit to Australia is not as uproariously funny - the country is, after all, home to the ten most poisonous animals in the world - his descriptions of Australian institutions will delight you. His description of cricket, a game that has nothing wrong with it that "the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry," is a good example. "It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect." It is a very popular sport (?) that's "enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which the spectators burn as many calories as players - more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning." The pitcher runs at the batter (decked out with a riding hat and "heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioisotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg,") and throws the ball at his ankles. This can go on indefinitely until he is "coaxed into a mis-stroke that leads to his being put out [at which time] all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called. . . ." This usually goes on until your library books are all overdue and autumn has become winter. Of course, listening to cricket on the radio is truly something else: "That's right, Clive. I haven't known anyone start his delivery that far back since Stopcock caught his sleeve on the reversing mirror of a number 11 bus during the third test at Brisbane in 1957 and ended up in Goondiwindi four days later owing to some frightful confusion over a changed timetable at Toowoomba Junction." There are long silences during which the announcers have time to run some errands. "So we break for second luncheon, and with 11,200 balls remaining, Australia are 962 for two not half and England are four for a duck and hoping for rain."

Australia remade itself as a country following the Second World War. It realized that with such a small population, it could not afford to rely forever on Britain for its defense and it began to encourage immigration, "that if it didn't use all that empty land and fill those empty spaces someone from the outside might do it for them." They threw open their doors and the population more than doubled in the years following 1945. They welcomed people from all over Europe and "suddenly Australia was full of people who liked wine and good coffee and olives and eggplants, and realized that spaghetti didn't have to be a vivid orange and come from cans." By 1970, they also realized they had become an Asian nation and were no longer predominantly European and they simply eliminated the color bar they previously had used to ban "undesirables." "In a single generation, Australia remade itself. It went from being a half-forgotten outpost of Britain, provincial, dull, and culturally dependent, to being a nation infinitely more sophisticated, confident, interesting and outward-looking. And it did all this, by and large, without discord or disturbance, or serious mistakes - indeed often with a kind of grace."

Of course, if you are an Aborigine, the outlook is somewhat different and Bryson, to his credit, does not overlook the truly horrible discrimination and crimes committed against this venerable and ancient people - their history is truly astonishing. Whites in Australia had a tendency to treat them the way whites in this country treated the buffalo.

The vastness of Australia cannot be underestimated, and it's a naturalist's paradise with new species being discovered - and probably made extinct - almost daily. The mineral wealth is enormous and barely tapped, not to mention a biodiversity that includes living fossils. There is a species of living rock that dates back to the early eons of the earth and is worth a visit halfway around the world just to see it - if you can avoid the most venomous animals in the world, the sharks, the crocodiles and all the other poisonous stuff. A marvelous book. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
People had been telling me to read this book for a long time. Perhaps because I don't usually find non-fiction very interesting, I put it off for a long time. Having finally gotten around to it, I wish I had started sooner.

Bryson is a great writer who injects wit, humor and adventure into this interesting take on the history, geography, people and wildlife of Australia. It's a very accessible read that feels a lot like listening to a good friend over a couple of pints. His humor is self-deprecating and oddly British, reminding me a bit of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Series. Only, intriguingly enough, Bryson's fascinating guide describes a real place.

Give it a read if you're curious about Australia or just looking for a good laugh. In a Sunburned Country will not disappoint. ( )
  wethewatched | Sep 24, 2013 |
Very funny audiobook. I can't decide at the end whether I really want to visit Austrailia or am absolutely terrified. Probably visit. ( )
  renrav | Sep 22, 2013 |
Entertaining and informative, with Bryson's narration putting a humorous slant on many ways of life down under, and his wide-ranging curiosity delving into a host of subjects. ( )
  wdwilson3 | Sep 13, 2013 |
Absolutely hilarious! Even though the author gets seriously sunburnt and runs into terrifying creatures, he somehow still makes you want to visit Australia. I'd recommend (and have recommended) this book to anyone planning a trip down under. A pure joy to read...I was sorry to reach the last page. ( )
1 vote StephMWard | Sep 6, 2013 |
It's not easy to write a travel book and keep it interesting enough to hold the reader. But Bryson manages this with aplomb. I really enjoyed reading his account of Australia, and appreciated the way he intertwines, historical stories, descriptions and anecdotes. Having just visited Australia and been to some of the same places, I can say that Bryson manages to put into words many of thoughts and observations that Mindy and I had about the country and its ambience. Recommending reading for anyone considering a visit! ( )
  jvgravy | Aug 29, 2013 |
Bill Bryson tours around Australia and reports back on its people, places, history, and terrifying beasties what will eat you. Quintessential Bryson at his informative, tangential, morbid, awed, side-splitting best. I've never read a Bryson I didn't like (though At Home kind of hangs out at a sad bottom of the list), but this one and A Short History of Nearly Everything would battle it out for the honor of Best Bryson Ever (of those I've read--which is almost, but not all, of them). Recommended unreservedly. ( )
  lycomayflower | Aug 24, 2013 |
Like most avid readers, I have a large TBR pile. Most of this pile is pertinent to what I do in some way (writing and art), and much of it is training and study material I should complete yesterday. Quite by accident I strayed across Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country (a rather morbid story I’ll not relate here), his book about his travels across Australia. It’s a book that’s had me almost completely sidetracked.

This is one of those books that’s best read when it falls into your lap as a break from other books. One day you’re slogging your way through a tome of ungodly proportions, wondering how in God’s name this book ever got published, when a book like IASC falls into your lap and you pounce on it with the enthusiasm of a bobcat devouring a goat. Soon you find you must shirk all of your daily duties until the book is finished. This, people, is not only the mark of a good book, it is the mark of a good travel book. Even better is one that makes you want to visit Australia—which is remarkable when you consider Australia has more imaginative and horrible ways to kill you than pretty much any other place on earth. It’s the second most inhospitable climate on earth (the first is Antarctica).

But all Antartica can do is kill you with its cold. Australia is home to fluffy caterpillars that can kill you, species of spiders that can kill you with just a pinprick of venom, and the world’s deadliest snake: the taipan. (Interesting fact: the taipan is fifty times more venomous than the world’s second deadliest snake, the cobra. You get bit by a taipan and it’s bye bye baby, goodbye.) (Little show tune humor there you’ll (hopefully) appreciate when you read the book.) Not to mention, there are sharks, poisonous jellyfish (“blueys”), and man-eating crocodiles. And desert. Lots and lots of unforgiving desert. While most Australians aren’t bothered by the rest of the lot, the crocodiles even scare them.

That said, Bryson makes Australia—a country, he notes, to which Americans pay little attention (Russell Crowe notwithstanding)—sound like the world’s friendliest and warmest place on planet Earth. Australians do sound like a very friendly and welcoming folk. That they managed to make a country at all is to their immense credit, though, according to Bryson, they’ll not thank you for mentioning that their country essentially started off as a penal colony. (The “criminals,” by the way, were not at all a bad lot; many were only there because of harsh sentences that were common for the lower classes in England at the time. If you stole five cucumbers, you could choose between your own hanging or … a move to Australia.)

There were many places in the book where Bryson made me burst out laughing. I tried to read a passage to a friend, but I could barely get it out because I was laughing too hard. And he’s not just good as a humorist, either. He’s great at the factual stuff. What otherwise might be dry and sleep-inducing comes alive in Bryson’s writing, and he kept me as riveted as any high-octane novelist. He truly is a delight to read, and I can’t wait to read more of his books. Highly recommended.
( )
  stacy_chambers | Aug 22, 2013 |
I listened to the audio version, which Bryson narrates.
Although from Iowa, he has an interesting accent, which is
vaguely English, where he spent many years, and vaguely
indefinable. This book is Very VERY funny. I thought that
I should immediately give it to my brother-in-law, who is
Australian, but then it occurred to me that it may not be
quite so funny for people from Australia. There is a lot of
Aussie history included, which I was not aware of. The
sights, both famous and not so famous, are analyzed quite
well so that the reader (or listener) gets a good idea of the
scope of Australian history, geography and landscape as
well as the wonders, manmade and natural, well worth
visiting. ( )
  jlapac | Aug 14, 2013 |
Bryson spends weeks traveling through all parts of Australia by car, plane, ferry and on foot, and sees and comments on Australian subjects. He marvels that anyone could survive in a country with few water sources, a brutal sun and the most poisonous creatures on earth. He sees many animals, reptiles, flowers and trees that only exist in that one spot and writes of the many early explorers who barely lived or died to make new discoveries. He examines the treatment of the Aborigines by White Australians, both in history and in modern times. And he drinks.
I put this book in my "New To Me" category because, while I've read an essay by Bryson years ago, I've never read one of his books. Okay, now I get why he's popular; he has the journalism background that gives his stories depth and answers the questions his readers would have about, say, gigantic earthworms, while being snarky enough to include the name of the hotel where the staff were lazy and rude to him. His humor is often self-deprecating and actually funny. And he visits museums. I love museums and most travel writers seem to avoid them.
I'm sure that many things, such as environmental laws, have changed since the 2001 publication of this book, but it still seems fresh and modern. ( )
  mstrust | Jun 26, 2013 |
Bryson himself admits that he has no other goal in writing this book than to show everyone that Australia is strangely awesome. And how strangely awesome it is. A short list of wonderful things I learned:

1. the Aborigine people have the oldest culture on Earth, probably dating to at least 40,000 years. They crossed the sea to Australia using god-knows what maritime technology at a time when Neanderthals still existed. Yet no one remembers this remarkable accomplishment. Indeed, not remembering the Aborigines is an Australian pastime and a dark spot on their otherwise congenial culture.

2. the flora and fauna found there are abundant and diverse. Stromatolites, platypi, “only” fourteen species of venomous snakes, cute and cuddly wallabies, and tons of species that will likely never be recorded because…

3. Australia is HUGE. Astoundingly large. And in addition to being a hulking continent/country/island hybrid land mass, it is empty. An immense void in the Pacific.

4. many explorers have gotten lost in the Outback, and desperately thirsty, have deigned to drink their own urine and the urine of their companions. Important lesson for any potential explorers: the salt in the urine will actually exacerbate your thirst.

5. Australia is the least wooded continent aside from Antarctica yet it is the world’s largest exporter of woodchips.

Being a Bryson book, it has hilarious moments. I envy this man’s ability to collect the most ridiculous true stories and encounter the most interesting real people. I have so many highlighted bits, but here’s a funny paragraph where Bryson, obsessed with the plethora of lethal creatures out to kill him in Oz, discusses the Australians’ attitudes toward them: Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.
Reading one of Bill Bryson’s travelogues is always a fantastic time. You laugh, you learn, you marvel. He stuffs your head with useless trivia and reminds you how valuable our world and our fellow people are. I need to stop reading his books because I always finish and make haste to airline sites, researching plane prices for impossible journeys, adding another place to my lengthy Must-See-Before-Dead list. But I can’t stop. He’s perfect at what he does. ( )
  IAmChrysanthemum | Jun 8, 2013 |
Bryson brings the reader on a tour of Australia, peppered with his usual interesting facts about the vastness of Australia, the venomousness of its creatures, the hostility of environment, etc. A little out of date now, but very entertaining. Bryson narrates the audiobook version himself, which gives a flavor of authenticity but makes you really notice how often he says things like “Here’s the thing.” ( )
  jholcomb | May 14, 2013 |
Bill Bryson is Fabulous. ( )
  squirrelontherun | Apr 13, 2013 |
In Down Under Bill Bryson takes on Australia as well as all those many and varied creatures that might just have it in for him and cause either a fast or slow, but either way painful death. Over the course of two separate trips to Australia Bryson falls in love with this vast and harsh country and the people which inhabit it.

I enjoyed Down Under more than Neither Here, Nor There, perhaps because Down Under only deals with one country. The more homogenous culture allowed Bryson to write in more depth and offer more insight. Bryson’s fantastic ability to discover through his research the most curious and oddball facts is always on show, and adds a lot of interest while educating his readers with obscure facts. He also has a great perspective that emphasises inane habits or the complete wrongness of a particular situation or event.

Travelling by train, plane, car, and 4WD, and down highways, back roads and outback tracks, Bryson manages to convey a sense of just how vast a continent this is.

Bryson also touches on the both the historical and modern plight of the Aboriginal people, and their seeming invisibility in their own land. The chapter which dealt with The Stolen Generation was quite emotional, and although not detailed, we do get a good insight into what is a seriously complex issue.

Before reading the first page I had a look at the maps at the front of the book. Almost immediately I was fascinated by a place called The Bungle Bungles. What an awesome name for a place, and what on earth is the story behind it?! This was my one disappointment with Down Under - The Bungle Bungles wasn’t mentioned until page 419 of 422, and only then in passing, with no explanation of the name or history given.

This is a fun, fast read with lots of Bryson’s trademark wit. ( )
  SouthernKiwi | Apr 6, 2013 |
I love Bill Byron's books even more so when he reads to me! Given some of the facts I now know about Australia I am not sure it will remain on my list of places to visit. ( )
  lindap69 | Apr 5, 2013 |
I love Bill Bryson. He manages to effortlessly shift from entertaining and funny to serious and informative all without boring or meandering off into unnecessary tangents. He always makes me want to see what he's describing or research more about the people and events he's recounting. Lovely. He's also a great narrator. I want to get all his audiobooks where he does the narrating. Wonderful. ( )
  akmargie | Apr 4, 2013 |
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