by Bill Bryson
Did you know the word vicar comes from the word vicarious? Or that the reverend who wrote the hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” also wrote the first novel featuring a werewolf? What about the phrase room and board, any idea where that came from? After reading At Home you’ll brain will be packed full of trivia about houses and everything connected to them.
Bill Bryson has an incredible skill for taking the most random and mundane topics and making them enthralling. This is technically a “history of private lives” but that covers a lot of ground.
“If you had to summarize it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly.”
From the bathroom to the living room, we make our way through modern rooms learning why salt and pepper are the most common spices and that women had a really hard time getting care from doctors in the past. Also, make sure your wallpaper isn’t colored by arsenic!
This book covers so much more than the “home.” It explores how humanity has changed over the centuries, adjusting our domiciles as we change our habits. It shows how we use those homes to interact with the world and to retreat from it.
Bryson goes on to details the world of furniture and meals and social interactions in a way that is surprisingly engrossing. I honestly wondered how he could get a whole book out of life “at home” but he delves into the details of our endless search for comfort with such infectious enthusiasm. I found myself laughing out loud as I listened to it. I would definitely suggest getting your hands on the audiobook, which he reads himself. His dry sense of humor is best translated when you hear it from his own lips.
BOTTOM LINE: One of my favorite Bryson books! I felt like I learned so much and just when a topic started to get the tiniest bit tired he moved on to the next subject. If you’re a fan of nonfiction with a touch of humor and sarcasm (think Mary Roach or Sarah Vowell) I would highly recommend.