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At Home : a short history of private life

by Bill Bryson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,4512651,498 (3.94)286
Bryson takes readers on a tour of his house, a rural English parsonage, showing how each room has figured in the evolution of private life.
  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. 51
    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. 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
    Nails, Noggins and Newels: An Alternative History of Every House by Bill Laws (meggyweg)
  7. 00
    The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars (grizzly.anderson)
    grizzly.anderson: What Bryson does for the home, taking it one room at a time and looking at how we got where we are, Mars & Kohlstedt do for cities and infrastructure.
  8. 00
    How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: Both books address some of the same technological advances, such as refrigeration and electricity and artificial light, for a popular audience.
  9. 00
    Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Tangential histories of commonplace things.
  10. 00
    How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand (Othemts)
  11. 00
    If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley (Booksloth)
  12. 00
    Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson (meggyweg)
  13. 00
    In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz (Othemts)
  14. 00
    The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set on a Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side by Katharine Greider (Othemts)
  15. 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).
  16. 00
    The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners by Margaret Visser (fannyprice)
  17. 01
    London 1849: A Victorian Murder Story by Michael Alpert (meggyweg)
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» See also 286 mentions

English (247)  Dutch (5)  Spanish (4)  German (4)  French (2)  Romanian (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (266)
Showing 1-5 of 247 (next | show all)
Bryson writes beautifully and I found the information here very interesting. I've always been far more interested in social history and the mundane and that great and the grand (and never good at dates). This book fits that bill precisely, it's full of minutiae that engaged me for all that it's quite a big book. I didn't get tired of reading and was in fact surprised to suddenly find I had finished (the bibliography is quite long so I was fooled as the the length of the text). My only complaint is that although I found almost everything Bryson wrote about interesting, I didn't think it made a coherent whole. It went this way and that, and I enjoyed the trip in every direction, but as to his claim that all this has to do with our homes, I don't think so, no more so than everything in history has to do with us and our homes. ( )
  dvoratreis | May 22, 2024 |
Possibly my favourite Bill Bryson ever. Within each chapter/room of the house he ties in lots of history and goes off into fascinating explorations of many things -- he either has an incredible brain or an incredible research staff or both. It took me ages to finish -- it's not the kind of book I can read straight through -- but I relished every hour spent with it, and I already want to start it again. ( )
  Abcdarian | May 18, 2024 |
(Print: May 27, 2010; Doubleday (UK); 9780385608275; Hardcover; 536 pages; illustrated.)
Audio: 10/5/2010; 9780307707383; Penguin Random House Publishing Group; duration 16:33:39; 13 parts.
(Feature Film: No).

SUMMARY/EVALUATION:
I selected this one when I saw it displayed somewhere—not sure where, probably Goodreads, but not necessarily. I hadn’t read anything by this author and decided to try it….now, I want to read everything by this author.
The author took me through his home in Wramplingham (Norfolk). He explains that it was a rectory and describes it’s surroundings as seen from a top floor landing. And then, before I knew it, I was learning about Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and really wishing I could have been there to see it!
Punctuated with light touches of humor throughout, the book continues as a tour through each area of the house, which, while it includes a description of that area in his home, also finds numerous associations to reveal to us — the origin of the area and its historical uses-often in both the United Kingdom and in America, the history of various appointments one would find in the room—a discussion of dining chairs included the origin of Chippendale furniture, etc.
The audio is 16 hours long, so I had to check it out from the library more than once (which meant long periods of waiting for my "hold".), but I was determined to complete it because there is so much fascinating information.

AUTHOR:
Bill Bryson (12/8/1951) Wikipedia tells me that Bill was born in Des Moines, Iowa. He attended Drake University for a couple of years but gave it up to backpack in Europe in 1973 with a friend. He liked it enough to decide to stay. He returned to America with his wife in 1975 to complete his education at Drake. They then returned to Britain in 1977 where they have spent most of their lives since. Bryson writes non-fiction. These are just a few of his earlier works that I hope to get to:
"The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words"; 26 April 1984; Language; Republished in 2002, as “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words”.
"The Palace under the Alps and Over 200 Other Unusual, Unspoiled and Infrequently Visited Spots in 16 European Countries"; January 1985; Travel.
"The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America"; August 1989; Travel.
"The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way" (US) / "Mother Tongue: The English Language" (UK); 1 June 1990; Language. Adapted for "Journeys in English" in 2004 for BBC Radio.
"The Penguin Dictionary for Writers and Editors"; 29 August 1991; Language; Republished, in 2009, as “Bryson’s Dictionary: for Writers and Editors”.
"Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe"; 1 February 1992; Travel Featuring Stephen Katz.
"Made in America" (UK) / "Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States" (U.S.); 4 July 1994; Language.
"Notes from a Small Island"; 16 May 1996; Travel; Adapted for television by Carlton Television in 1998.
"A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail"; 4 May 1998; Travel Featuring Stephen Katz; Adapted into a feature film in 2015.
"Notes from a Big Country" (UK) / "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" (U.S.); 1 January 1999; Travel.

NARRATOR:
Bill Bryson. He’s among the minority of authors who narrate their own books quite well.

GENRE:
Non-fiction, History, Architecture

SUBJECTS: (not a comprehensive list) Architecture, Great Britain history, American history, archeology, diseases, households, landscape architecture, sociology, antiques, furniture, Volkerwanderung (Great Migration), Skara Brae, Samuel Pepys, Victorian England, Monticello, Jefferson, Mount Vernon, Washington.

SAMPLE QUOTATION:
From “The Kitchen”
“In the summer of 1662, Samuel Pepys, then a rising young figure in the British Navy Office, invited his boss, Naval Commissioner Peter Pett, to dinner at his home on Seething Lane, near the Tower of London. Pepys was twenty -nine years old and presumably hoped to impress his superior. Instead, to his horror and dismay, he discovered when his plate of sturgeon was set before him that it had within it ‘many little worms creeping’.
Finding one’s food in an advanced state of animation was not a common-place event even in Pepys’s day – he was truly mortified – but being at least a little uncertain about the freshness and integrity of food was a fairly usual condition. If it wasn’t rapidly decomposing from inadequate preservation, there was every chance that it was coloured or bulked with some dangerous and unappealing substances.
Almost nothing, it seems, escaped the devious wiles of food adulterers. Sugar and other expensive ingredients were often stretched with gypsum, plaster of Paris, sand, dust and other forms of ‘daft’, as such additives were collectively known. Butter reportedly was bulked out with tallow and lard. A tea drinker, according to various authorities, might unwittingly take in anything from sawdust to powdered sheep’s dung. One closely inspected shipment, Judith Flanders reports, proved to be only slightly more than half tea; the rest was made up of sand and dirt. Sulphuric acid was added to vinegar for extra sharpness, chalk to milk, turpentine to gin. Arsenite of copper was used to make vegetables greener or to make jellies glisten. Lead chromate gave bakery products a golden glow and brought radiance to mustard. Lead acetate was added to drinks as a sweetener, and red lead somehow made Gloucester cheese lovelier to behold, if not safer to eat.”

RATING:
I gave this book 5 stars. It would seem a great deal of research went into this book. I enjoyed the humor and felt it was quite well written, and though long, it held my interest.
( )
  TraSea | Apr 29, 2024 |
Classic Bill Bryson at his most tangentially fascinating. I've been reading this gradually for about nine months and it's always a joy to pick up. Biggest downside is somewhat unexamined decision to focus on history of the western Europe and the US, but a book has to set boundaries somewhere.... ( )
  caedocyon | Mar 18, 2024 |
Four stars because I really enjoy Bryson's style and sense of humor.

Much of this book is fascinating but at the same time reading it is a bit like doing boring reading for homework. It's a great source of obscure and interesting facts and history - the kind of things that sink deep into your brain and you don't even remember knowing them until you find yourself watching Jeopardy and you realize you know who built the Erie canal.

It didn't enthrall me enough to keep me running back to it but I still enjoyed it. I think it would be a really good book to read at the same time you are reading a novel. ( )
  hmonkeyreads | Jan 25, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 247 (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.
 
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.
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bryson, BillNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Collica, MichaelDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keenan, JamieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Murillo, IsabelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Jesse & Wyatt
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Introduction

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.
Quotations
Jane Loudon published "Gardening for Ladies" in 1841. It was the first book to encourage women of elevated classes to get their hands dirty and even to take on a faint glow of perspiration. It bravely insisted that women could manage gardening independent of male supervision if they simply observed a few sensible precautions - working steadily but not too vigorously, using only light tools, never standing on damp ground because of the unhealthy emanations that would rise up though their skirts.
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.
If I had to summarize it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly.
Not until 1954 was the work complete. Nearly two hundred years after Jefferson started on it, Monticello was finally the house he had intended it to be.
We now come to the most dangerous part of the house—in fact, one of the most hazardous environments anywhere: the stairs.
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Bryson 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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