Books for Christmas #2 – At Home, Bill Bryson’s Latest Book

November 30th, 2010

I just finished Bill Bryson’s latest book, At Home and as soon as I stop itching all over my body, I am sure I will consider it a fine book and one that would make an excellent Christmas/Hanukah/whatever/gift.

In his latest effort, Bryson takes a walk through his home while simultaneously taking a walk through history and discovers that the two things have more in common than one might assume.  It turns out that houses have not always had kitchens, dining rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, electricity, furniture, nor even that most basic of human needs – an absence of fecal matter and live rodents living together in the floor.

Prepare to be grossed out should you decide to read this book.  Prepare to be sickened by the living conditions of your ancestors over and over again.  Prepare to grow paranoid about lice and vermin and bed bugs and dust mites.  Prepare to be amazed that humans have managed to survive at all – what with disease, poor hygiene, years of famine and crops that failed regularly about every fourth year, death at childbirth, death in infancy and death from getting chewed to death by a rat during toddler-hood, it is miraculous that the human race survived at all.  We’ve come a long way from the low slung hall filled with rodent infested straw, creating a tinderbox just waiting for a stray spark to go up in flames to the three bedroom, one and a half bath with a two car garage where the only vermin in the home is a litter box trained cat named Fluffy.

‘Tis a very enjoyable read – plus learning.  Just take a few breaks now and then for a nice loofah scrub all over your entire body.  Because one can only read so much about humankind’s past life among the pestilence before one starts to feel a bit itchy all the hell over the place.


  • Deb C.:

    Have you read his book “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid”? If not, I highly recommend it. I found it hysterical, but it may be because I am close to his age and could relate to his perspective. My sides hurt reading it. I will have to check this one out.

    PS Love the Pie Near Woman – good stuff!

    • Rechelle:

      Yes I read it. I love all of his books, but have never read the one about the history of everything. I can’t remember the title.

      • km:

        Thanks for the tip. I’m on a Mary Roach kick now, just read “Stiff” all about cadavers in present day and the past. I’m now on her Mars book, all about space travel .

        Mo, my 10 year old loves the Percy Jackson series. It starts with the LIghtning thief. It seems like a lot of the 10-12yr guys are reading that. It’s very popular on the swim meet circuit (lots of reading during the hours of waiting, huge bonus!!)

      • Kay in KCMO:

        That would be “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” It’s very entertaining and very accessible for people who are non-scientists (which would be most of us). It’s a great read.

  • judy:

    Will have to take a look at this, love most everything he’s written.

  • Mo:

    Rechelle, do your boys enjoy reading for pleasure and would they have any book recommendations? I know you are not running a gift idea service here but I have nephews in the same age range as your sons and I am stupmped every year. (If you say “my boys recommend not giving books as gifts” then I will go with gift cards, yet again.) (Or coal.)

    • Mo, my 10-yr old son loves the Percy Jackson series, and the ’39 Clues’ series. I like ’39 Clues’, too. It’s sort of a cross between ‘The Davinci Code’ and ‘National Treasure’ for kids. My son loves the interesting historical facts in the books, as well as the trading cards that come with each book that allow him to play an online game.

    • Rechelle:

      I have one son who is an avid reader. I have tried to get him to do a few write ups for me and his response is to roll his eyes and then ask me if we have anything to eat around the house. Ethan has read the Percy Jackson books that km recommended. Another series that I think is very nice for boys are the ‘Young James Bond’ books by Charlie Higson. The first one in that series is especially nice and called ‘Silver Fin’. I think boys up to about thirteen would enjoy them and also moms of any age.

      • DirtyKSmama - Nikki:

        My son is 13 and daughter is almost 12. Both love the ‘Rangers Apprentice’ series, they like ‘Percy Jackson’, and my son recently enjoyed the original ‘Dune’ series Daughter liked ‘Guardians of Ga’Hoole’ series, but son didn’t. Gift cards to the book store are common around here, or at least a book and a gift receipt for if they’ve already read the book.

    • Clay:

      I know this is a question about books for boys, but for those who might want to know of a good book for girls, I never miss a chance to throw in a plug for Janet Taylor Lisle’s “Afternoon of the Elves (for grades 4+). It is the only children’s book I’ve ever read that seems to be written for both children and adults at the same time. Your child will see the story as a child and you will see it as an adult. A very popular book, it has been translated to a number of languages and turned into a play.

  • Jill:

    This sounds so interesting. I will have to see if the library has it. Has anyone read anything by Michael Foucoult? My boyfriend has The Birth of the Clinic (and several others). I tried to read it but it was a little too dry for me. Just wondered if Bill Bryson’s books were similar?

    • Rechelle:

      Bill Bryson writes very funny travel books, but the one in this review is not really his typical humorous book. Instead I would call it brisk and engaging. I wouldn’t say it was dry.

  • Mo:

    Thanks everyone!

  • I love Bill Bryson, I think ‘A Walk in the Woods’ is one of my all time faves! I laughed until my sides ached! But, since I am itching just reading your review I may have to pass on this one. Oh, and I have a nephew that loved the Inkheart trilogy.

    • Rechelle:

      A Walk in the Woods is in my top ten all time favorite books. I laughed so hard when I was reading it.

      • km:

        writing down quickly on library list…..

  • Cheyenne:

    I love A Walk in the Woods too. I have to read it every few years for a good laugh. The part where Katz (sp?) throws everything into the woods including the tp made me laugh so loud that the hubby raised his eyebrow at me, lol. I also really liked I’m A Stranger Here Myself, and A Short History of Nearly Everything. I’m sure I’ll read this one too.

    • Haahaha one of my favorite parts too!!

      “what about that cheese?”

      he shook his head… “Flung.”




      “Really Flung!”

      If you haven’t read ‘In a Sunburned Country” you should check it out, it’s hilarious as well. Although, I have now crossed that off my list of places to visit thanks to my knowledge of the Funnel Web Spider *shudder*, the Box jelly fish and various other deadly creatures native only to Australia.

      I swear to God, between reading too much and an abundance of shows on the Discovery Channel my world is shrinking rapidly on a daily basis.

    • Rechelle:

      Yes! That is the funniest part! I loved Katz. Bryson needs to write another book with him in it.

      • Cheyenne:

        Oh, yeah (rereading), he flung the coffee filters, not the toilet paper, but I knew there was something about toilet paper in there! Skimming through makes me want to read it again, but I’ve got too many others on my list first.

  • I teach high school science. I read parts of “A Short History About Everything” to my classes. They love it.