Title: At Home

Author: Bill Bryson

Type: Non-Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 704

Rating: 4/5

This was a super interesting book to get to after having just read A Short History of Nearly Everything, as the two of them basically go hand in hand. It’s just that the other one is all about science, whereas this is much more about history and human civilisation. It’s pretty cool.

I also liked the way that Bryson tackled his subject. He basically leads us through his house, going room by room and investigating the history of each of the rooms and the items that they typically contain. Given that he lives in what was once a rectory in a small English village, there’s also a lot of cool stuff about the history of his own house and the man who first lived there.

It’s also cool because of its sheer depth and the number of different subjects that it touches on. We’re talking about everything from body snatching to the creation of a flushing toilet and the insane amount of washing up that used to be created for an individual meal. It made me glad that I wasn’t born 200 years earlier and forced to work in a kitchen. It’s bad enough doing my own washing up.

It’s interesting because it’s one of those books where there’s something new for you to learn on every page. It’s actually a challenge to remember everything because I took so much in that it gives me a kind of mental overload, and I’m also not always sure what was in this book and what was in the other book.

I should also mention that I’d been holding back on reading this one for a while because it’s such a huge book and I was worried that it was going to turn out to be a bedtime book, which is what I call them when I end up reading them bit by bit in bed instead of focussing on them as my main read. I shouldn’t have worried, though. Sure, it does take some time to get through it, but it’s not as though it’s a slog. Every page is just as interesting as the last.

I was also impressed by how Bryson managed to weave it into a narrative, despite the fact that he was basically writing about literally everything. It takes a lot of talent to be able to write a non-fiction book like that, and it’s also super difficult to write a non-fiction book that’s so engaging while conveying as much information as Bryson does here.

It makes me wonder how much time he had to spend researching this thing, and I’d guess at quite a lot given the fact that the last hundred pages or so are devoted entirely to a list of his sources, which provides a pretty impressive reading list if you want to learn more for yourself. Really, though, I can’t imagine that it would be worth it, because he’s basically already distilled the most interesting stuff for us. He’s done the hard work so that we don’t have to.

The result is a book that almost reminds me of the TV show QI, because it’s quite interesting from start to finish and there’s a little something there for everyone. If you’re into collecting antiques, you’ll love it. You’ll also love it if you’re just a curious soul who wants to know how we got to where we are today.

Bryson is pretty much the perfect person to write a book like this, because he has the kind of mind that forces him to seek answers when he doesn’t know something. I get the feeling that he probably sits bolt upright at night when he’s lying in bed and he suddenly starts wondering whether there are more doors or wheels in the world. The answer to that is almost definitely wheels, by the way.

The only downside is that while I was reading this book, I also found out that Bryson has retired from writing. I suppose he is getting on a bit though, and books like this must be so resource intensive that I imagine he’s exhausted himself.

Learn more about At Home.