Bill Bryson: At Home. A Short History of Private Life

Sometimes, a good history book is not about the latest findings, recent discoveries, or new theories.
Sometimes, a good history book is a book of good stories.
Sometimes – once in a while – an author can make us look at the most common and mundane objects that surround us every day, and see them in a whole new light, as if we had never noticed them before. He can take some well-known facts, and some not-so-well-known stories, and put them together in such a way that all of a sudden connections become visible, relations seem to emerge, causalities are revealed, that may have been there all along, but have never caught our attention before.
In his great book „At Home“, Bill Bryson does just that. He takes his readers with him as he wanders around his house, a 19th century English rectory, and wonders about the layout and purpose of each of the individual rooms, how they came to be called „study“ or „drawing room“, and more generally, how domestic living developed over the centuries. Equipped with almost child-like curiosity, but also an extensive library and vast knowledge, he invites us on a journey through time and space.
His map is the floor plan of his house. And since each of the rooms serves one or more specific purposes, Bryson is able to cover such diverse subjects as cooking and nutrition, sexuality and marriage, lighting and reading, dress and fashion, childhood and upbringing, air pollution, wages, and many, many more. His main focus lies on Great Britain and the United States, and the 18th and 19th centuries, when domestic life gradually took the shape we are so familiar with today. But he also ventures deep into pre-history and ancient times, following the trails of art and artefacts, the traces of civilisation and mankind.
Bryson is a great entertainer and good writer with a good eye for all the funny, tragic, and ironic little details in history. Even his accounts of rather well-known facts or episodes have a certain twist to them, a different, unexpected perspective. He finds the right mix of learnedness and humour to not allow for a single moment of boredom throughout the 600+ pages of his work. „At Home“ is a treasure chest of knowledge, facts, stories, anecdotes, wisdom, and fun that you don‘t want to lay aside until you‘ve finished it, and then want to read it again, and quote it at your next dinner party. (Why is it called „dinner“? Bryson gives the answer!)
Sometimes, all it takes for a good book is a fresh perspective on a mundane subject. But it takes a great writer to accomplish that. Thumbs up for Bill Bryson and „At Home“!

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert.