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

by |May 21, 2010

I believe we may have something in common…  In the last few years there is a good chance we both bought at least one book by Bill Bryson… which just might mean you share my love for Bill Bryson’s writing.

If you do, I have news, Bill Bryson has written a new book – At Home – A Short History of Private Life.

My love of Bill Bryson’s books started years ago with Neither Here Nor There. A book so funny I could not read it in public for fear of embarrassing myself terribly. How so? I cannot say in polite company, it involves snot. Lots and lots of snot.

Bill Bryson’s travel books are funny, endearing and informative, his honesty, intelligence and openness make him the best of guides.

And yet, it wasn’t until I read A Short History of Nearly Everything and soon after, Shakespeare, that I really came to appreciate the true scope of Bill Bryson’s brilliance. He offers us the greatest subjects known to man – science and art – and instead of lecturing us, or boring us, or patronising us he makes us feel as though we are learning together. His enthusiasm is contagious.

In At Home, Bill Bryson applies the same irrepressible curiosity, irresistible wit, stylish prose and masterful storytelling that made A Short History of Nearly Everything one of the most lauded books of the last decade, and delivers one of the most entertaining and illuminating books ever written about the history of the way we live.

Bill Bryson was struck one day by the thought that we devote a lot more time to studying the battles and wars of history than to considering what history really consists of: centuries of people quietly going about their daily business – eating, sleeping and merely endeavouring to get more comfortable. And that most of the key discoveries for humankind can be found in the very fabric of the houses in which we live.

This inspired him to start a journey around his own house, an old rectory in Norfolk, wandering from room to room considering how the ordinary things in life came to be. Along the way he did a prodigious amount of research on the history of anything and everything, from architecture to electricity, from food preservation to epidemics, from the spice trade to the Eiffel Tower, from crinolines to toilets; and on the brilliant, creative and often eccentric minds behind them. And he discovered that, although there may seem to be nothing as unremarkable as our domestic lives, there is a huge amount of history, interest and excitement – and even a little danger – lurking in the corners of every home.

Where the prizewinning A Short History of Nearly Everything was a sweeping survey of Earth, the universe and everything, At Home is an inwards look at all human life through a domestic telescope. Because, as Bryson says, our homes aren’t refuges from history. They are where history begins and ends.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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