At Home

By Bill Bryson

As I didn’t have to be in work till 11 o’clock this morning I stayed in bed with a cup of coffee and finally finished the book I’d started when I went to Norfolk. It’s taken me a while as it’s so chunky – 632 pages of text and another 70 pages of bibliography and indexing.

I chose to read this book in Norfolk as it was the only book I could find with a Norfolk connection, albeit a bit of a tenuous one. Bill Bryson lived in the UK for years with his English family before returning to the States for a few years. When he came back to the UK he moved to Norfolk and bought an old rectory. The rectory was built in 1851 which I think is the year my houses were built.

Bryson became interested in the history of his house and using each room as a starting point ended up writing what seems to be an all-encompassing social history. He discusses the history of servants, food, clothing, childhood, sex, comfort and luxury, hygiene, plants, science, and so on and so on. He sets the scene by referring to events going on at the time his house (and so my houses too) was built. The Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace was in 1851. This was also the time that Darwin was first finding fame (with a large and detailed book on barnacles) and the year that Moby Dick was published.

Bryson lives up to his usual standard of writing an easy to read, page-turner of a book that is informative and engaging and full of facts about the evolution of everyday products that I’ve always taken for granted and didn’t know I needed informing about. The book is injected with light humour, but finished with a detailed bibliography for those who want to take it all more seriously and maybe do some further reading on a particular topic.

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