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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

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,6771791,430 (3.94)192
Title:At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Anchor (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 592 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

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

  1. 40
    The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed 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
    Home; a Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski (liao)
  4. 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.
  5. 10
    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)
  6. 00
    If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley (Booksloth)
  7. 00
    Nails, Noggins and Newels: An Alternative History of Every House by Bill Laws (meggyweg)
  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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Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
This is a fun, fascinating book about our modern age and how it got here - and got into our homes.

Bryson uses his own English country home as a framework for exploring innovations and history - and even words - in our everyday lives. From the food in your kitchen to sex and health in your bedroom to entertaining in the drawing room, Bryson explores the innovations and innovators.

The framework breaks down here and there - the attic for a look at science? - but on the whole, it's an entertaining series of anecdotes and ah-ha moments. ( )
  ralphz | Oct 23, 2015 |
wide ranging, hugely interesting, too long, love his sense of the ironic, absurd, unexpected or amazing trivia ( )
  siri51 | Oct 3, 2015 |
3.75 stars

In this book, Bill Bryson looks at the history of domestic life, including architecture, furniture, servants, food, electricity, and much more. He goes room-by-room to address various aspects of this history.

It may not sound like much (or maybe that's just my completely inadequate description!), but it's actually pretty interesting. Even the history of some words/phrases came out of the house and though they may not make sense anymore that that's where those words or phrases came from, it makes sense when you learn what they originally meant. I listened to the audio, and though I did enjoy it, I do suspect I missed a few things I otherwise wouldn't have had I read it in print or via ebook. ( )
  LibraryCin | Sep 26, 2015 |
This was a little more wandering than I expected, but I enjoyed the journey and collected a multitude of interesting facts along the way (see below). For those who are interested in history (mostly the past 150 years but some much older), discovery, and invention, and who like Bryson's easy style and dry humor, I can't imagine a better book.

See also: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum, Birth by Tina Cassidy, The Remedy by Thomas Goetz, Downton Abbey


We are so used to having a lot of comfort in our lives - to being clean, warm, and well fed - that we forget how recent most of that is. In fact, achieving these things took forever, and then they mostly came in a rush. (Introduction, p. 8)

As far as we can tell, virtually all of the infectious diseases have become endemic only since people took to living together....Sedentism meant poorer diets, more illness, lots of tooth and gum disease, and earlier deaths. What is truly extraordinary is that these are all still factors in our lives today. (The Setting, 46)

Chicago became the epicenter of the railway industry in part because it could generate and keep enormous quantities of ice....For the first time in history food didn't have to be consumed close to where it was produced. (The Kitchen, 89)

Households had servants the way modern people have appliances. (The Scullery and Larder, 105)

...guests at Wentworth House...were given silver boxes containing personalized confetti, which they could sprinkle through the corridors to help find their way back to, or between, rooms. (The Scullery and Larder, 106)

A curious inverse relationship had arisen, it seems, between the amount of effort and expense that went into a house and the extent to which it was actually habitable. The great age of housebuilding brought new levels of elegance and grandeur to private life in Britain, but almost nothing in the way of softness, warmth, and convenience. (The Drawing Room, 183)

Vitamins are curious things. It is odd, to begin with, that we cannot produce them ourselves when we are so very dependent on them for our well-being. If a potato can produce vitamin C, why can't we? (The Dining Room, 199)

It is fairly amazing that we don't get poisoned more often. According to one computation, no fewer than twenty thousand chemicals in common use are poisonous to humans if "touched, ingested or inhaled." Most are twentieth-century creations. (footnote, 200)

[Tea] was the first beverage in history to belong to no class, and the first to have its own ritual slot in the day: teatime. (The Dining Room, 214)

No one, other than perhaps the Luftwaffe, has done more to change the look of London than Josh Nash did. (The Cellar, 240)

[Americans] were, for one thing, so smitten with the idea of progress that they invented things without having any idea whether or not those things would be of any use. (The Passage, 263)

When we fall on stairs, we tend to blame ourselves....In fact, design substantially influences the likelihood of whether you will fall, and how hurt you will feel....An inescapable problem with stairs is that they have to convey people safely in both directions, whereas the mechanics of locomotion require different postures in each direction....In a perfect world, stairs would change shape slightly depending on whether a user was going up or down them. In practice, every staircase is a compromise. (The Stairs, 366-367)

...nineteenth-century divorce acts, like everything else to do with marriage, were overwhelmingly biased in favor of men....A wife had no legal personhood at all. (The Bedroom, 387)

Perhaps nothing separates us more completely from the past than how staggeringly ineffectual - and often petrifyingly disagreeable - medical treatments once were. Doctors were lost in the face of all but a narrow range of maladies. Often their treatment merely made matters worse. (The Bedroom, 393)

For anyone of a rational disposition, fashion is often nearly impossible to fathom. (The Dressing Room, 450)

By withholding affection to children when they were young, but also then endeavoring to control their behavior well into adulthood, Victorians were in the very odd position of simultaneously trying to suppress childhood and make it last forever. It is perhaps little wonder that the end of Victorianism almost exactly coincided with the invention of psychoanalysis. (The Nursery, 506)

The term [weekend] is not recorded in English before 1879....Not until the 1890s did it become universally understood, if not universally enjoyed, but an entitlement to relaxation was unquestionably on its way. (The Attic, 528) ( )
  JennyArch | Aug 17, 2015 |
In this book, Bill Bryson gives a history of the household, room by room. It sounded like an interesting premise, and I have enjoyed other things I have read by Bryson, so I was intrigued. I was sadly disappointed. The writing and setup was extremely disorganized. A lot of the information was boring and irrelevant. The book was largely a social history of 17th-19th century upper class England, and relied heavily on anecdotal evidence for support (Thanks, Kim). I realize there isn’t really any other way to know what life was like in the house hundreds of years ago, but Bryson made many broad claims based on the diaries of few individuals, and it made it hard to believe there was much validity to what he said. He also made a lot of claims based on when a word was coined. I know that language is telling, but just because there isn’t a precise word for something, doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t exist in society. The scope of the book is so broad and Bryson is clearly not an expert in these areas. I was not impressed with his research.

There were a few parts of the book I found interesting, but ultimately, I found myself skimming through endless facts about architecture, furniture, and fabric design to get there.
( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 169 (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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:45 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

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.

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