History for homebodies

At Home: A Short History of Private LifeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bill Bryson is one of those writers whose books I buy sight unseen – so I can’t really understand how I missed this one. I got it as a very welcome Christmas gift and read it in small portions over the holiday – the book is ostensibly a walk through an old English house, room for room, but that framework serves only to very loosely organize a barrage of anecdotes and historical trends.

It is obvious that Bryson enjoyed writing this book – perhaps more than any other he has written. As one reviewer noted, it seems written in the pajamas. Many, if not most, of the stories he retells I have read before, but that doesn’t take away any of the pleasure of hearing Bill Bryson tell them again.

And sometimes you find a local connection – I currently live in Brookline, MA, and liked the story of John Longyear, who moved his whole 65-room house from Battle Creek, Michigan to Brookline in 1902. Longyear, of course, is the same business magnate who founded what eventually became Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani and gave his name to Longyearbyen. The enormous house is just a few blocks up from where I live, now part of a condominium complex.

Like his “Short History of Almost Everything”, this book is neither short nor a traditional history book, but it is immensely enjoyable. Preferably at home, with your feet up in front of the fire.

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