Leave it to Bill Bryson to shift his view from expansive (A Short History of Nearly Everything) to contained (At Home: A Short History of Private Life) and still draw the reader in with the rich storytelling has come to mark Bryson’s work for the past few years. At Home begins, aptly enough, in Bryson’s own home, as he begins to weave a rich tapestry of history behind each of the rooms, the furniture, the architecture and more that we mostly ignore in our day-to-day lives. At Home makes us look closer at what it is that makes our home our home. We spend some time in each chapter inside his home as Bryson focuses his gaze on his own English place, even providing us with the original architectural plans (and the revised ones that actually got built). All you need is a cup of tea, and maybe a cracker or two, and it is like spending time with an old friend who can talk your ear off for hours in a way that rarely gets boring.
The book is as much a history of England (with some early America thrown into the mix) as it is about why we have bathrooms, why the best bed in the house was often the one not slept in, how the nursery came to evolve in a time of high child mortality, and more stories of disease and illness than you really want to know, and yet, Bryson keeps you hooked amid all that pestilence and grief. Don’t even ask about the rats, lice and other critters …
I find it fascinating how Bryson is able to cobble together such rich prose out of some mundane ideas, or so I often thought, and yet, I could barely put At Home down, and I even know in whose hands I am going to pass this book to. That is the mark of a good read — you know who would love it next. At Home is a sure winner for those looking for an unexpected non-fiction treasure right inside your own four walls.
Peace (in our homes),