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At Home: A Short History of Private Life by…

At Home: A Short History of Private Life (edition 2011)

by Bill Bryson

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3,2091561,718 (3.96)164
Title:At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Anchor (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 592 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:non-fiction, history

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At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

2010 (27) 2011 (49) architecture (74) audio (23) audiobook (35) Bill Bryson (23) Britain (16) culture (32) domestic history (37) domestic life (40) dwellings (16) ebook (32) England (77) history (483) home (71) homes (25) houses (61) humor (77) Kindle (32) library (16) non-fiction (440) private life (20) read (27) read in 2010 (18) read in 2011 (27) science (17) social history (131) sociology (53) to-read (72) unread (16)
  1. 30
    The Victorian House by Judith Flanders (digifish_books, Booksloth)
    digifish_books: A more detailed room-by-room consideration of domestic life in Victorian Britain
  2. 31
    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (petterw)
    petterw: Same style, same author, same enthusiasm, same fun
  3. 10
    Schott's Original Miscellany by Ben Schott (grizzly.anderson)
    grizzly.anderson: Bryson likes to wander from one topic to another, and toss in bits of trivia and history. Schott's Miscellany is a fascinating collection of trivia without the attempt to thread it together.
  4. 10
    Home; a Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski (liao)
  5. 00
    If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home by Lucy Worsley (Booksloth)
  6. 00
    Nails, Noggins and Newels: An Alternative History of Every House by Bill Laws (meggyweg)
  7. 00
    Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge (fannyprice)
    fannyprice: Bryson's discussion of the development of the home from a more open, collaborative space to a warren of special-purpose rooms as the concept of "privacy" became more important dovetails nicely with Lethbridge's discussion of the increasing physical separation between servants and the served in 18th and 19th century British homes.… (more)
  8. 00
    Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson (meggyweg)
  9. 00
    The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set on 1000 Square Feet of the Lower East Side by Katharine Greider (Othemts)
  10. 00
    House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live by Winifred Gallagher (jcbrunner)
    jcbrunner: Adds the developments of the 20th century to Bryson's story (from a US point of view).
  11. 00
    In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz (Othemts)
  12. 00
    How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand (Othemts)
  13. 01
    London 1849: A Victorian Murder Story by Michael Alpert (meggyweg)

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» See also 164 mentions

English (148)  Dutch (3)  German (2)  Danish (1)  Swedish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (156)
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
This is a great read - full of interesting, sometimes funny and sometimes appalling facts. The bits about dirt and sanitation were shiver making and made me glad to live in the 21st century.
I didn't enjoy it quite as much as "A short history of nearly everything" but otherwise well worth working your way through this tome. ( )
  infjsarah | Apr 12, 2014 |
Did you know the word vicar comes from the word vicarious? Or that the reverend who wrote the hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” also wrote the first novel featuring a werewolf? What about the phrase room and board, any idea where that came from? After reading At Home you’ll brain will be packed full of trivia about houses and everything connected to them.

Bill Bryson has an incredible skill for taking the most random and mundane topics and making them enthralling. This is technically a “history of private lives” but that covers a lot of ground.

“If you had to summarize it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly.”

From the bathroom to the living room, we make our way through modern rooms learning why salt and pepper are the most common spices and that women had a really hard time getting care from doctors in the past. Also, make sure your wallpaper isn’t colored by arsenic!

This book covers so much more than the “home.” It explores how humanity has changed over the centuries, adjusting our domiciles as we change our habits. It shows how we use those homes to interact with the world and to retreat from it.

Bryson goes on to details the world of furniture and meals and social interactions in a way that is surprisingly engrossing. I honestly wondered how he could get a whole book out of life “at home” but he delves into the details of our endless search for comfort with such infectious enthusiasm. I found myself laughing out loud as I listened to it. I would definitely suggest getting your hands on the audiobook, which he reads himself. His dry sense of humor is best translated when you hear it from his own lips.

BOTTOM LINE: One of my favorite Bryson books! I felt like I learned so much and just when a topic started to get the tiniest bit tired he moved on to the next subject. If you’re a fan of nonfiction with a touch of humor and sarcasm (think Mary Roach or Sarah Vowell) I would highly recommend. ( )
  bookworm12 | Feb 24, 2014 |
Bryson is one of my favorites. His meandering, conversational is exactly how I like to learn history. Ostensibly a book of the history of the various parts of the house--living room, stairs, kitchen, and so on--Bryson weaves together changes in architecture, advances in engineering, shifts in social classes and the status of women, national trade relations, developments in cookery, and many many many other fascinating threads. ( )
1 vote Turrean | Feb 15, 2014 |
Terrifically self-indulgent -- yeah, it's all about you and your house, isn't it? Also very eurocentric, if that kind of thing bothers you. The thing that most bothers me, though, is that after going on and on about the deprivation and human misery rampant in Victorian London, he can then turn around and rail about the inheritance tax. "Hardly a great house in Britain didn't yield something at some point." All those fine works of art, gone! Lost forever! Oh, wait, no they aren't; they're just in the hands of some other rich bastard, and one who mostly likely didn't just inherit his money. Or better yet, they're actually (cue indiana jones voice) in a museum now. I'm as much an anglophile as the next person -- more, actually -- but why, exactly, should we be mourning the loss of houses that don't have adequate plumbing, heating, and electrical facilities and are way too big to be comfortable (remember all the space set aside of necessity to the now prohibitively expensive servants?)

That having been said, he's a great wordsmith, and the sheer volume of arcane detail in this book is frankly staggering. If you're into arcane detail as I am, it's definitely worth reading. ( )
  bradgers | Feb 6, 2014 |
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Reading this book shows how much fun history can be when told by a master.
The history of everyday life framed around the rooms within an old house is a wonderful collection of fascinating details on a vast range of diverse topics.
Each room acts as a sort of prod to begin poking around all sorts of subjects and describing the often obscure characters associated with them.
For instance, there are interesting passages on the Crystal Palace and the use of plate glass which leads into a discussion about the Great Exhibition itself.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book ( )
  rosiezbanks | Feb 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
“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. You do, somehow, maintain forward momentum and eventually get to the end. Bryson is fascinated by everything, and his curiosity is infectious.
In a sense, Bryson’s book is a history of “getting comfortable slowly,” and he notes that flushing toilets were the most popular feature at theCrystal Palace exhibition in 1851. Informative, readable and great fun.
added by khuggard | editKirkus Reviews (Jul 1, 2010)
Bryson is certainly famous enough to have got away with a far less bulging compendium. Instead, on our behalf, he’s been through those hundreds of books (508 according to the bibliography) some of which even the most assiduous readers among us might never have got around to: Jacques Gelis’s History of Childbirth: Fertility, Pregnancy and Birth in Early Modern Europe, say, or John A Templer’s The Staircase: Studies of Hazards, Falls and Safer Designs. He’s then extracted their most arresting material and turned the result into a book that, for all its winning randomness, is not just hugely readable but a genuine page-turner — mainly because you can’t wait to see what you’ll find out next.
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.
added by khuggard | editPublishers Weekly

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bill Brysonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Collica, MichaelDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keenan, JamieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Murillo, IsabelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Some time after we moved into a former Church of England rectory in a village of tranquil anonymity in Norfolk, I had occasion to go up into the attic to look for the source of a slow but mysterious drip.
Chapter I
The Year

In the autumn of 1850, in Hyde Park in London, there arose a most extraordinary structure: a giant iron-and-glass greenhouse covering nineteen acres of ground and containing within its airy vastness enough room for four St. Paul's Cathedrals.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767919386, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2010: Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) turns his attention from science to society in his authoritative history of domesticity, At Home: A Short History of Private Life. While walking through his own home, a former Church of England rectory built in the 19th century, Bryson reconstructs the fascinating history of the household, room by room. With waggish humor and a knack for unearthing the extraordinary stories behind the seemingly commonplace, he examines how everyday items--things like ice, cookbooks, glass windows, and salt and pepper--transformed the way people lived, and how houses evolved around these new commodities. "Houses are really quite odd things," Bryson writes, and, luckily for us, he is a writer who thrives on oddities. He gracefully draws connections between an eclectic array of events that have affected home life, covering everything from the relationship between cholera outbreaks and modern landscaping, to toxic makeup, highly flammable hoopskirts, and other unexpected hazards of fashion. Fans of Bryson's travel writing will find plenty to love here; his keen eye for detail and delightfully wry wit emerge in the most unlikely places, making At Home an engrossing journey through history, without ever leaving the house. --Lynette Mong

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:23 -0400)

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Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) takes readers on a tour of his house, a rural English parsonage, showing how each room has figured in the evolution of private life.

(summary from another edition)

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