DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Oct 11 2013

Bill Bryson

by Jesse M

Although the majority of my reading material tends to be fiction, I like to mix it up every once in a while with a good nonfiction book, and in today’s post I’ll talk about one of my go-to non-fiction authors, Bill Bryson.

Bryson writes on a number of topics, ranging from science, history, and etymology, but he is perhaps best known for his travel writing (he has actually been mentioned before on this blog in that context). Whatever his topic of choice, Bryson thoroughly explores the subject with his trademark wit and humor, using a writing style that is easy and pleasant to read (and listen to as well; he even narrates many of his own audiobooks!).

Interested readers can find the majority of Bryson’s output in the DCPL catalog, but if you’re new to his work, allow me to recommend some of my favorites:

A walk in the woods coverA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering the Appalachian Trail describes his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail, interspersed with discussions of matters relating to the trail’s history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people. It is as much a book of personal discovery as it is an exploration of the Appalachian Trail, and it is hard to say which aspect of the book I enjoyed more.

In a sunburned country cover In a Sunburned Country, written in a similar style to A Walk in the Woods, details his travels by car and rail throughout Australia, with asides concerning the history, geography and ecology of the country, along with his wry impressions of the life, culture and amenities (or lack thereof) in each locality. This book has the distinction of being the funniest that I’ve read by him, which is saying something since all of his work is quite humorous.

A Short History of Nearly Everything coverA Short History of Nearly Everything deviates from the travel guide style of the previous two books, instead focusing on the history of scientific discovery and an exploration of the individuals who made the discoveries. In this fashion he covers a variety of topics including chemistry, geology, astronomy, and particle physics, moving through scientific history from the Big Bang to the discovery of quantum mechanics. The book has won multiple awards, claiming the Aventis prize in 2004 for best general science book and the Descartes Prize the following year for science communication.

At home coverAt Home: A Short History of Private Life is a history of domestic life told through a tour of Bryson’s Norfolk home, a former rectory in rural England. The book covers topics of the commerce, architecture, technology and geography that have shaped homes into what they are today, showing how each room has figured in the evolution of private life. Possibly my favorite of Bryson’s many works, this is a must read for anyone interested in the fascinating history of everyday things whose existence most of us take for granted. To get an idea of the breadth of what the book covers, take a look at the wikipedia page.

One Summer coverBryson has recently published a new book, titled One Summer: America, 1927, which examines the events and personalities of the summer of 1927, a momentous season that begins in May with Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and ends with Babe Ruth hitting his then-record-setting 60th home run on the last day of September, amongst many other notable events. Bryson will actually be in Decatur this evening (Friday, October 11 2013, 7:00 pm—9:00 pm) at First Baptist Church Decatur as part of the Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers series to promote the new book. For more details visit this page.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg October 12, 2013 at 10:54 AM

I saw Bill Bryson speak last night. He was a wonderful speaker and seemed genuinely grateful for the turnout. If the Decatur First Baptist Church wasn’t filled to capacity, it was very close to it. He might not be able (or want) to hold a pen for a few days because at least a couple hundred waited in line to get their book signed and many of them carried at least a few of Mr. Bryson’s books for signing. He was friendly to everyone and seemed more than prepared to sign everything anyone presented. It was a tremendous event and Joe Davich, as well as a number of very nice folks from Decatur First Baptist, did a masterful job of maintaining order.

Hope L October 14, 2013 at 2:12 PM

Jesse, thanks for whetting my appetite for these great books! I’ll definitely be checking one out soon!

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