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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir (2006)

by Bill Bryson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,1452281,337 (3.88)207
Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century--1951--in the middle of the United States--Des Moines, Iowa--in the middle of the largest generation in American history--the baby boomers. As one of the funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his all-American childhood for memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood wearing a jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck, vanquishing evildoers--in his head--as "The Thunderbolt Kid." Using his fantasy-life persona as a springboard, Bryson re-creates the life of his family in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality--a life at once familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy--From publisher description.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 224 (next | show all)
Bill Bryson has a gift of storytelling punctuated by a wonderful turn of phrase, and this no doubt inherited from his parents who were both writers at the Des Moines Register and Tribune. So it's in his blood, and good for him. What he picked up somewhere is a distinct liberal bent in which his "Blame America First" gene became expressive, and too bad for that.

In the story Bryson relates his boyhood experiences in his unique literary voice, eliciting numerous giggles and a few belly laughs. However, as the "The Thunderbolt Kid" grows, he frequently leaves his pre-pubescent self and morphs into Ed Asner's Lou Grant, commenting on not so much the way things were when he lived them but rather the way things now align with his contemporary liberal bent. "Presentism" I believe they call it. His "Blame America First" gene expressed itself despite Bryson's considerable talent as a writer. Seriously, it was like two different characters inhabiting the body of the “Thunderbolt Kid.” And again, too bad for that.

It would have been a fine book if he had just stayed in character but he didn't, and if I were to recommend this book (unlikely) I would suggest that the last three chapters be skipped in that you've already heard a steady drumbeat of this drivel on the nightly news.

Still, there were many nice images from which to remember the 1950s in a way that made one proud of America. But Bryson had to point out NASA's numerous televised rocket failures without ever mentioning that after the fall of the Soviet Empire, a plethora of videos detailing the numerous and catastrophic failures of the Soviet space program. And maybe, just maybe, that's why they didn't win the race to the moon. Just saying. Still, no one in the 60s saw these of course because the Soviets were - well - Soviets. Three and a half stars: five stars for the nostalgia and the laughs minus one and a half for the social/political drivel. Take it for what it's worth. ( )
  Renzomalo | Jun 17, 2022 |

This is a story about growing up in the 1950's and what a wonderful period it was. But it also explores some of the shadows and how SIMILAR it is to now.

Things were for the most part more innocent. But they still had their problems. Communism threatened local life similar to today's terrorism. Rock N Roll was the devil's music. People still drove drunk, tried to burn (attempted murder) their parents, students bombed their teachers' houses because they disagree with their teaching practices, people still got away with murder (as long as it was a black victim), and underaged drivers still drove in reverse in attempt to change the odometer a la Ferris Bueller.

Charming book of a time when people didn't worry as much even though they had just as much too worry about. Sometimes, it's nice to read a book that basically says ... ya know, things aren't perfect but we'll come out OK any way. ( )
  wellington299 | Feb 19, 2022 |
I'm not american but I really liked reading this book. It´s funny and gives us a firs person view of a small american town during the 50's. Reading this book made me realize that life was way more simple and better before the big food and shopping companies came and destroyed the small shops. It was also interesting to know how a kid entertained himself (and I think they lived happier that we do now) despite being under the nuclear threat. Well done, Bill Bryson, well done. ( )
  _Marcia_94_ | Sep 21, 2021 |
adult biography/memoir ; humor. This was my first Bill Bryson and I'm glad that I finally read one. There are lots of laugh out loud moments, and as a narrator (relating his childhood in the 50s) he reminds me quite a lot of the kid the "A Christmas Story" movie. Definitely recommend. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
I was born in 1950, a year before Bryson was born. This memoir brings back memories of that era for anyone born during this idyllic decade, although others would enjoy it too. Bryson’s humor and writing talent are unmatched these days. I’ve read one other Bryson book, “A Walk in the Woods,” and this one is equally hilarious, but like it, “A Walk in the Woods” carries serious messages as well. Bryson is able to use his humor to expose culture’s weaknesses in a critical light where many humorists would rather not tread. A few warnings if you plan to read Bryson, especially this particular book: don’t read while eating or drinking. Whatever is in your mouth is likely to be ejected before you finish a sentence. And if you are like me and you read at bedtime to gently carry you to slumber, don’t try to use “Thunderbolt Kid” this way. You’ll be wide awake trying to stifle laughter and, if there is a partner next to you, he or she will be wide awake too compliments of your bed shaking. Only difference is he or she won’t be nearly as amused as you. Unless, of course, you read Bryson out loud and share the laughter. And that’s the last point I’d like to make. Bryson’s books, at least the two I’ve read, are “share books.” It’s impossible to read Bryson and not stop once or twice every page to read a sentence or a paragraph out loud to whoever is sitting near you. The guy is just too talented to waste on just one person at a time. You don’t have to be from Des Moines, Bryson’s home town, to appreciate “Thunderbolt Kid,” but if you’re from the Iowa capital or really anywhere in Iowa, you’ll experience another level of appreciation for what he has to say. Des Moines’ transformation during the 1950s is much like the transformation of most of urban America: inevitable but not altogether desirable. I spent part of my high school and college days living in Iowa, so I can appreciate what is happening to Iowa and many Midwestern cities and towns. Bryson speaks to this transformation with a critical eye that is worth reading the book even if it weren’t the funniest book I’ve ever read. Bryson rolls the best of the likes of Bombeck, Martin, and Franken into the perfect read for a time when we need intelligent humor to carry us, albeit temporarily, from this nightmare that was 2020. ( )
  DanDiercks | Dec 26, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 224 (next | show all)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson is a memoir of growing up in Iowa, during the 1950's. The memoir was classic fun and an exploration into memories of growing up in the middle of America in the middle of the twentieth century. The book begins with a panoramic point of view on what the 1950's were about, and then Bryson gets closer and closer into his personal life. He masterfully pens his memories of pranks, jobs, candy, sex, politics, main-street, with a well crafted efficacy. So many memories of growing up in Longmont Colorado in the 1970's bubbled up. A fun listen.
 
Bill Bryson is erudite, irreverent, funny and exuberant, making the temptation to quote endlessly from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir (Broadway, $25) hard to resist. Bryson interweaves childhood reminiscences seamlessly with observations about 1950s America, evoking a zeitgeist that will be familiar to almost everyone past middle age.
 
Had he written a purely personal view of his youth and left out the bits explaining how 1950s America was the best country in the world, my chuckles might not so often have given way to groans of annoyance.
added by MikeBriggs | editThe Spectator, Zenga Longmore (Sep 30, 2006)
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Diderich, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sibony, JulieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
In memory of Jed Mattes
First words
In the late 1950s, the Royal Canadian Air Force produced a booklet on isometrics, a form of exercise that enjoyed a short but devoted vogue with my father.
Quotations
You really should never fuck with the Thunderbolt Kid....He had, as he would boast in later years, a pornographic memory.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Abridged versions should not be combined with the full work.   "Parts of this book first appeared in somewhat different form in The New Yorker." T.p. verso
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Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century--1951--in the middle of the United States--Des Moines, Iowa--in the middle of the largest generation in American history--the baby boomers. As one of the funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his all-American childhood for memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood wearing a jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck, vanquishing evildoers--in his head--as "The Thunderbolt Kid." Using his fantasy-life persona as a springboard, Bryson re-creates the life of his family in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality--a life at once familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy--From publisher description.

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