At Home: A Short History of Private Life is Bill Bryson’s answer to his own work, A Short History of Nearly Everything, which was about basically the entire universe*. What’s the opposite of the history of everything? Apparently the history of just one place: the home.
*I haven’t read it yet and maybe never will, because he talks about the supervolcano in it, and just . . . no. I can’t deal with the supervolcano. LA LA LA.
Bryson and his family live in a country parsonage in England, and Bryson became curious first about the history of his own home, and then logically, about the history of homes in general. We spend so much time thinking and writing about the big events in history, the wars and famines and political upheavals, but very little time thinking about the history of the objects and small places we encounter in our everyday lives. It’s amazing the amount of history bound up in something as common as salt, for instance, or our mattresses, or the dining table, etc. As he states in the book, “Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.”
As always, Bryson is delightful. He obviously takes such pleasure in uncovering these small, almost forgotten moments, and he always does so with affection for even the most unscrupulous of his subjects. There was so much in this book that I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. It seems like every other page I would be shocked into saying something like, “What? Really? That’s where that came from?” I’m sure I will never be able to remember it all, but it was damn fun reading all the same. There was a bit in the middle when he went on and on about architecture and architects when I was rather bored (apparently I don’t like reading about architects, which is something I’ve just learned about myself), but for the most part everything in here was great. I listened to it on audibook, which was a good choice, I think. The only thing about the audiobook: I was a little thrown by Bryson’s accent. He’s American by birth but has spent decades with an English wife, living in England, and it ends up sounding like his accent is having an identity crisis. This didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of the book. It was just a bit strange.
Still didn’t enjoy this as much as I enjoyed Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, but it’s pretty hard to top a book about Australia, honestly, because that place is CRAZY.